USAID Unfolds ‘Plan Jamaica’

(JIS)-The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is reviewing proposals to help it carry out its latest economic development strategy for Jamaica, a five-year joint initiative whose stated, primary goal is to “improve the education of targeted Jamaican youth.” The agency began soliciting proposals in late May, and has set a July 15 deadline for proposal submissions.

Among the many segments of the USAID plan – which is formally known as the Sustainable Development Strategy for Jamaica 2005-2009 – are initiatives to get parents more involved in their children’s school systems, to reduce violent and disruptive behavior of young men, and to increase government accountability to control corruption.

While the buzz phrase for the overall initiative is, “Transformational Change to Accelerate Sustainable and Equitable Growth In a More Competitive World,” closer inspection of the USAID strategy reveals an overarching policy objective of shoring up defenses against what the Bush Administration views as a potential hole in the United States’ “Third Border.” Similarly, while the explicit policy goals are to bolster literacy rates and reduce violence – which no doubt are admirable humanitarian aims that can greatly benefit Jamaican society – the implicit goal is to keep Jamaican drug traffickers and HIV/AIDS sufferers in check as a matter of U.S. national security.

“The large number of U.S. citizens of Jamaican origin, the country’s proximity to the United States, and its importance as a U.S. tourist destination mean that joblessness, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, drug trafficking, environmental degradation and recurrent natural disasters can directly affect the United States’ national interests,” the document says.

This policy document includes a brief section emphasizing the need to strengthen the role of the media, a measure designed to help achieve the plan’s anti-corruption goals. It refers to “possible support” for efforts to remove or modify legal structures such as Jamaica’s present defamation law, “which act as deterrents to the serious development of investigative journalism,” the Plan Jamaica document says.

The media support element would be part of a larger effort to strengthen civil society organizations and “watchdog” groups such the Auditor General and Contractor General. A corresponding element of this effort is the promotion of “good governance” across all levels of Jamaican government.

“Deep partisan divisions dominate the electoral process, which frequently has been marred by violence, intimidation and fraud,” the strategy document says. “Political tribalism is manifest in “garrison” communities, where powerful local ‘dons’ wield power and undermine legitimate authority.” (CO-EDITOR’S NOTE: Fortunately, the executive branch of the U.S. government serves as a Beacon of Light representing partisan cooperation, integrity in elections, and has an obvious disdain for “violence, intimidation and fraud,” or else the citizens of Jamaica might not take this part of the initiative seriously).

Corporate sponsorships, in addition to enhanced civic participation in local school affairs, are among some of the approaches advocated via Plan Jamaica to improve the nation’s educational system.

Education will be improved by engaging private sector resources at the corporate and civic levels through corporate school sponsorship, education foundation funding and national education system assistance at the local school level. The direct engagement and exchange of ideas with people in the business world will bring multi-dimensional advantages, including better appreciation of the role of education by the private sector and better understanding of the entrepreneurial imperatives among educators and students.

Despite the corporate sponsorship angle, it hasn’t been independently confirmed whether Kingston Tech will be consider changing its name to the Alcoa Bauxite-Alumina High School, or whether Kingston Intermediate will offer naming rights in exchange for a new moniker, such as Tommy Hilfiger Sweatshop Elementary.

The proposed funding level for the five-year plan is $90.0 million, or $18 million annually, although USAID says the “optimal, and preferred, funding level” would be $107.5 million, or $21.5 million annually. The higher funding level would have “a greater impact on rural development; fiscal and macroeconomic adjustments; slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS, especially through work with NGOs; combating corruption, and strengthening civil society,” USAID claims.

Numerous other governmental and private sector donor-groups also contribute significant resources to development in Jamaica, the strategy points out.
Among the bilateral donors, CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency] and DFID [U.K. Dept. For International Development] both have substantial programs that complement USAID’s in several areas. CIDA’s new strategy will provide $30-34 million over five years, with good governance the lead programming priority. DFID anticipates about $8 million per year for its Jamaica program, which emphasizes working with other donors and partners to reduce poverty. The European Union plans to provide $91 million for private-sector capacity building and finance, budget support including security and youth programs, and road maintenance and upgrading.

Several UN agencies, such as UNICEF, are also active in Jamaica. UNICEF has committed $3 million for its programs, which USAID says “closely complements its adolescent health and education activities.”

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