Davies urges Jamaicans overseas to take advantage of investment opportunities

(JIS) – Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. Hon. Omar Davies, has encouraged Jamaicans overseas to participate in the country’s development by taking advantage of investment opportunities in tourism and other growth sectors. He also urged them to increase their partnership with the government in advancing the country’s interests.

Dr. Davies was speaking at a community forum in Washington on Tuesday September 27, where he provided an outlook of the country’s overall macroeconomic situation and expressed optimism that current growth sectors, including tourism and mining, would continue to fuel an expansion in the Jamaican economy and serve to enhance prospects for greater levels of employment, particularly among women and young persons entering the workforce.

He stressed that notwithstanding the focus on increasing the economic momentum, the government remained committed to balancing the country’s budget by sticking to a program of fiscal discipline and consolidation, while building and expanding social partnerships in order to facilitate this objective.

He further emphasized that a prudent debt management plan, which “continued to show positive results,” would be aggressively adhered to despite the environmental and external economic shocks with which the country was faced, citing the passage of hurricanes over the last year, which had served to undermine productive capacity, especially within the agricultural sector.

Pointing to the deepening “social partnership consensus” underway in Jamaica, precipitated by a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the government and labor unions, the Finance Minister said that this had served “to demonstrate greater maturity and a more cooperative approach” to solving wage-related problems within the public sector.

He noted that despite predictions to the contrary, “this collaboration between the government and the labor unions has endured” and he further indicated that there “was an agreement to commence discussions, which would lead to a successor pact.”

Dr. Davies further expressed his satisfaction with steps made by the government to control inflation, noting that since a spike in rates in May 2003, the government had achieved significant reductions, which would in turn serve to facilitate more effective debt servicing. He also mentioned the return to single-digit inflation, which was maintained for seven years before trending upwards in 2003.

“Even as we (see) successes in reducing both inflation and our debt, we have also had successes in maintaining a very liquid foreign exchange market,” he also informed, noting that as at September 9, net international reserves (NIR) stood at a healthy US$2.1 billion, the equivalent of 32 weeks of imported goods.

“It is important to note that this stability has been maintained despite external shocks, such as our coping with the effects of recent natural disasters,” the Minister told the audience.

Stating that the escalating energy prices presented “a major challenge, which has significant implications for the Jamaican economy,” the Finance Minister outlined several initiatives that were being undertaken to decrease Jamaica’s dependence on imported petroleum products and diversify the country’s energy sources.

He noted that a range of sources including wind, bagasse, hydro-electricity, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and solar energy were all being explored, and provided an update on developments at the Petrojam refinery, which was recently reopened after a 10-month closure.

Dr. Davies also took the opportunity to detail the benefits of the recently concluded PetroCaribe Agreement, which was signed with the Government of Venezuela. The agreement extended credit to Jamaica for the purchase of oil, and also enabled the expansion and modernization of Petrojam.

He mentioned that funds from the facility would facilitate the repayment of debt, allow for greater levels of investment in development projects and allow the government to undertake preparatory work towards a major LNG project.

Turning to natural disaster preparedness, Dr. Davies said: “We are well prepared to manage natural disasters and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has (instituted) a well-coordinated community-based disaster management program, which includes a wide network of shelters, close collaboration with the National Works Agency (NWA) and the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), which are prepared and equipped to respond quickly.”

In addition, he informed that, “our utility companies, including the JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company) as well as (land) telephone and cellular providers, have been successful in maintaining as well as restoring service,” in the aftermath of major hurricanes.

The meeting, which was also attended by representatives of agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS), was part of a roster of activities, which included two days of extensive discussions with the international financial community, as well as private investment interests in the American capital.

During his visit, the Minister also attended a function at the Inter-American Development Bank, which also honored Caribbean leaders and visiting officials, including Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo and Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

Dr. Davies was introduced at the community forum by Jamaica’s Ambassador to the US Professor Gordon Shirley.

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