Jamaican government clashes with opposition on crime and IMF on growth

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness. JIS photo

By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
youri@caribbeannewsnow.com

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Jamaican economy recorded growth of 1.8 percent for the April–June 2018 quarter compared with the corresponding quarter of 2017, according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ).

The PIOJ director general, Dr Wayne Henry, reported at the Institute’s quarterly press briefing that this represented the strongest quarterly growth in approximately two years that is, since July–September 2016 and marked 14 consecutive quarters of positive growth.

Improved weather conditions; the positive impact of resumption of operations at Jamaica’s largest alumina refinery; and higher levels of construction activities contributed to this growth. However, further growth was stymied by plant downtime, which impacted output in the manufacturing sector; as well as a decline in the average length-of-stay by foreign visitors, which negatively impacted real value added in the hotels and restaurants industry.

Henry also noted that the outlook for the July–September 2018 quarter was generally positive. Growth is expected to be in the range of 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent, and is expected to be driven by mining and quarrying, due to the resumption of production at the Alpart alumina plant; construction, reflecting the anticipated increase in housing starts, continued hotel construction and expansion, as well as an uptick in road construction and expansion works; and hotels and restaurants, facilitated by increased room stock resulting from the expansion of existing properties and the construction of new hotels.

Henry stated that the overall forecast for calendar year, 2018 for the Jamaican economy is that growth will be within the range of 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent, and for Fiscal Year 2018/19, growth is projected to be within the range of 2.0 percent to 3.0 percent.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in their most recent Article IV Consultation Report for Jamaica, released on August 16, 2018, stated that growth is being revised downward for Jamaica and also that GDP growth is estimated to have been a “disappointing” 0.5 percent for the year, 2017.

The IMF went on to state that weaknesses in agriculture, slow recovery in mining, and a deceleration in manufacturing offset growth in tourism and construction.

The IMF also stated that the overall growth forecast is being revised down to 0.9 percent in FY17/18 and about 2.25 percent in the medium term, citing that the expected growth dividends from five years of reforms are somewhat offset by remaining structural issues, crime, and implementation capacity constraints.

As crime was highlighted as a major determinant to economic growth in Jamaica, and coming off of the heels of states of emergency declared during the past year by the government of Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness just last week called for a new commission on crime to be established and blamed the opposition for not being supportive of his administration’s crime plans.

The announcement of this new crime commission was made in Kingston on Monday at the 49th annual general assembly of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union and Public Media Alliance.

Holness also urged the media to assist with combatting crime and encouraged members of the media to become more active in addressing the high levels of violence, and added that the media need to be careful on how it “promotes, projects, produces and publicises content that could any way support violence”.

Further turning his attention to the media, Holness also stated: “Content with violent overtones can’t be left without editorial note to say this is not good for our society, or this is not the behaviour that we promote. Yes, you are a free press; and yes, you can put out whatever content you choose to but there is always the concern for the public good. What do you stand for as media; what are the standards that you maintain in your media house? And there is nothing wrong with you putting out, promoting or projecting the high standards that you maintain so that the public has balance and has enough information to place what they are with bombarded with every day in context.”

Holness also admonished members of the opposition, claiming that they are wrong to suggest that his government does not have an effective crime strategy.

Holness also shared with the audience of journalists that figures released by the Jamaican police force shows that between January and August 11, murders have declined by 16.8 percent; shootings are down 15.1 percent; aggravated assault has fallen 22 percent, robbery has dropped by 9.4 percent while break-ins have declined by 7.2 percent.

Along with the call for a new commission on crime, the Holness administration has also instituted two district states of emergency (SOE) over the last eight months, the first in the St James Parish, which includes the tourist area of Montego Bay, and the second in the St Catherine North district.

At a press conference in May announcing the SOE it was revealed that in St Catherine North there were 30 murders in the area last year, but there is a total 48 for this year already in the similar period. Also, there was a total of 136 murders recorded in 2017 for that area alone, and the trend is spiking to upwards of 330 murders for the area for 2018.

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