Friday, April 28, 2017
Last Easter Sunday seven of us decided that we would do the 111-mile cycle ride to Montego Bay.Of course I had to eat at Peppa's as soon as I got there, which I think is one of the best kept secrets in Montego Bay, and then stayed at my friend, Terrence Jarret's Altamont West, located right on the Hip Strip, which I haven't visited in a while.
After showering and resting for a while, I ventured out to meet a friend of mine who was visiting from overseas, to have a quick chat and then head back to the room for a good sleep.
I deliberately stayed on the Hip Strip because I could just walk from the hotel to meet up with my friend. Everything had gone well so far: We had a great ride to MoBay, ate good food, the room was good, and after the meeting I thought I'd just walk back to my hotel.
Everything was good until I started walking along the Hip Strip. This immediately struck me as urban decay in action.
The pan chicken and other vendors had all taken up residence along the side of the street and even under the bus stops, allowing little room for any pedestrian traffic.
The sidewalks had obviously not been repaired in many years, and one could see the concrete breaking up. The roads had been cleaned but were badly stained from the vending activities that take place there night after night. And the traffic was horrendous, with taxis stopping wherever they pleased.
I thought to myself: “This is a prime example of why we find it so difficult to develop the country.” Tourism, as we know, is the number one foreign exchange earner (apart from remittances which are not based on productive activity, and Trump may soon reverse that).
Additionally, Montego Bay is the tourist capital of Jamaica, and the main area of attraction has always been touted as the Hip Strip. So in effect this strip could be referred to as the proverbial “goose that lays the golden egg”. But it seems as if we are trying to strangle that goose.
I cannot understand why we do not have a grand vision for the Hip Strip. If we do, why has it not been implemented? I can picture the Hip Strip as a well-kept road, where only pedestrian traffic is allowed, or specially designated shuttles, operated by the Tourist Board, paid for by advertisements displayed by tourism interests. The sidewalks and streets are well maintained.
No vending is allowed, and the type of business activity is well regulated. Against this backdrop thousands of tourists are traversing the Hip Strip 24 hours a day, and because of this experience the cost of a room is double what it is now, which means soaring real estate values.
In essence, the Hip Strip would become a global tourist attraction. However, once I wake up from that dream I come to the realisation that the Hip Strip is being allowed to go the route of downtown Montego Bay, which is dirty and absolutely chaotic.
Urban decay has been allowed to creep into residential communities because zoning laws have not been implemented; inadequate planning and the support of the “disturb my neighbour mentality” prevail as loud music is the norm across the country, with no regard for the citizens who want to enjoy the peace and quiet of their homes.
This is another assault on the market value of real estate across the country, as if we are not satisfied with the decay we have brought to the garrison communities in defiance of the euphoria and vision that Jamaicans had in 1962.
But let's not stop there, because we have allowed this same type of decay to beset downtown Kingston, which we are now trying to redevelop, while at the same time allowing the decay and indiscipline to creep into New Kingston.
New Kingston is now a place where many people say they dread going to because the sidewalk infrastructure is decaying; homeless people loiter on the streets all day - some establishing car wash businesses on the streets, in addition to the begging; the parking restrictions are ignored and whenever you go there, a line of illegally parked vehicles can be seen (even though there is a police post); and then there is the traffic which is blended in with the reckless driving.
For too long (for fiscal and other reasons) we have ignored the infrastructure and have been underspending, and it is important to reverse that trend. Think of it like a balloon.
A balloon can hold a certain amount of air in it, depending on the size. If you put more air than it can hold, then it will burst, and this is an undesirable outcome as you will lose both the air and the balloon. Similarly, economic growth is like the air in the balloon, and the capital infrastructure is the balloon.
In order to expand your economic and social development, infrastructure is important. So if we think about the tourism product, it is not going to be possible to increase the tourism value added if we do not improve the tourism product. And the tourism product cannot be improved unless we put the necessary infrastructure in place to support the improvement.
So the all-inclusives, such as Sandals, and similar hotels which have done a fantastic job with a fragile environment, cannot grow geometrically if we do not provide the environmental infrastructure to grow. Even on a micro level, can you imagine the growth in tourism we would see if we could improve the infrastructure and environment around the Hip Strip - even without developing beyond that, though that too is necessary.
Or can you imagine the growth in business and real estate values if we were to halt the decay in New Kingston and solve the traffic problems?
As far as I am concerned, this is a sound argument for the use of funds like the TEF and NHT. We shouldn't only be talking about using these funds for fiscal support.
We must think outside the box and start envisioning what is possible if we properly utilise these funds to provide this environmental support, and find the will to instill the discipline and order that we need.
What I am certain of is that investing in our infrastructure will increase our capacity for growth, and allow us to see the geometric expansion we need, rather than the incremental growth we have become accustomed to.
Monday, April 10, 2017
A few years ago someone asked me what I was passionate about. I mentioned that one of the things I really am passionate about is Jamaica and Jamaicans. It is that passion for Jamaica and to see Jamaicans in a better place that often drives me to write and make comments, as I think this is the best way I can contribute.
I really believe in the potential of Jamaica, and when I speak at any event overseas I always try to portray that. Recently I was at a regional conference and spoke to what Jamaica has done since 2012 in transforming our economic fortunes, and what I discovered was that many people are aware of our progress and have a lot of respect for what we have done. We need to understand that this was no easy task, and people overseas understand this much more than we seem to.
Where we are today is undoubtedly one of the best opportunities we have to shine, and I can’t remember in my lifetime such an opportunity. Speaking to people who are older than I am, I get the feeling that we are feeling somewhat like we did in 1962 — the year we achieved independence.
At that time, I am told, there was a feeling of invincibility - a feeling that we could achieve anything we wanted. History has shown us that those responsible for charting that course have messed up badly, and they have to live with that. Today, however, I think we have a chance to once again realise that dream, and if we do not do so now, then I am not sure we will be able to do so any time soon. So we must ensure that we grab the opportunity and “run with it”.
In order to do so, it will take extraordinary leadership. Note carefully I said leadership, not management. Because it won’t be about just checking some boxes and saying that we have completed a set of tasks or initiatives. What it will require is leadership that will mobilise and motivate the people to be the best that they can be. This is the resolve that the Government will have to find to lead this country on a path to real prosperity and development, which means allowing people to reach their full potential and success by their own efforts - and not through handouts as we have come to think development means.
At the present time I think that both political parties have two leaders who are capable of delivering on such a vision. Andrew Holness and Peter Phillips — both of whom I have a lot of respect for — have the ability to lead that change via different paths. Based on my interactions, I believe they are both committed to seeing a better Jamaica. But commitment alone never got anyone anywhere, because in the end it is how one leads and manages to mobilise his/her team that will make the difference.
Team in this case means all Jamaicans, not just the ones who vote for either side. This distinction is very important, as too often we act as if there are two Jamaicas, and one can survive without the other.
One of my greatest fears is that I will become mentally disabled and unable to think properly — an affliction that overcomes many coherent people from time to time. As far as I am concerned, anyone who defends a party position irrespective of the illogic behind it suffers from some form of mental disability and lack of independent thought.
In the past I have voted for both parties based on the agenda that they placed in front of me during the election campaign, because I think that success is not based on the colour of the party flag, but rather on ideas and the ability to lead. As a matter of fact, if one is blinded politically by “party colour”, how can one criticise a racist who is blinded by “race colour”? I am not saying that one should not have political ideals, but just remember that John McCain — a Republican — criticises any perceived wrong move by Donald Trump.
This is the real challenge that the “chosen leader” will have to face. In order for us to move forward as a country, we must unite around common goals and not ostracise someone else just because they hold a different opinion. Sadly, I see this happening all too frequently on social media.
The leadership we need must not only be able to see beyond “party colours” and unite the nation around a common goal, but must also ensure that there is consultation with the people. This does not mean that one must talk to everyone about everything, but a good leader can always feel the pulse of his people. Think about Bustamante and Michael Manley.
This is what I take away from the “Call to Action” report done by the Economic Growth Council when it says that citizen security should be at the heart of our development. This could not be better stated. What we must remember is that nations are not successful because they have fiscal surpluses, stable exchange rates, and highways. Countries are successful because they have successful citizens who live in an environment they feel comfortable in. This is what created the nostalgic feeling in 1962, and it is what we need to focus on if we are to be a truly successful country.
Of course, this means creating an orderly and disciplined society where people feel it is “the place of choice to live, raise families, work, and do business”. Show me someone who goes home and sleeps with his bank account every night and feels satisfied. Show me someone who feels good knowing that he has amassed a lot of wealth but needs to have constant security around him 24/7, or else face possible criminal attacks.
To be a successful country also means not just creating an orderly and disciplined society. We must also create EQUAL opportunities for everyone to be the best that they can be. The circumstances of our birth shouldn’t matter; we should all have the ability to excel based on our own efforts. This means removing the obstacles that prevent people from moving forward - like excessive bureaucracy, taxes, corruption, and crime.
In addition, we must protect our children so that they don’t grow up abused and angry, and we must create an efficient system of justice, where if someone is accused of a crime they don’t spend years waiting to get a verdict.
Like others looking on from overseas, I believe that Jamaica and Jamaicans have accomplished a lot over the past four years, and we have an opportunity to shine. This will require the type of leadership to unite and put every citizen at the centre of all policy decisions.