Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed members of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, and distinguished guests, good afternoon!
As I stand before you today at our 2023 Annual General Meeting, I would paraphrase a line from Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address to say that “The shadow of the COVID-19 crisis has passed, and the state of the private sector is strong”. Thanks, in no short way, to our immediate past President, Mr. Keith Duncan. Reflecting on the past year, this journey for me has been eye-opening and challenging but certainly rewarding.
We have successfully navigated unprecedented challenges, emerging not only as a more robust organisation but also as a stronger private sector. Our unwavering commitment, coupled with innovative strategies and adaptability in the face of rapidly changing market conditions, has underscored our resilience and determination in achieving our strategic goals.
Collectively, we have secured the growth and prosperity of our organization while making substantial contributions to the development of Jamaica’s private sector and the transformation of its business landscape.
The foundation of our success was firmly established in the work of 2022, a year marked by the essential need to adapt, develop, and assist in executing strategic goals, deeply intertwined with resilience and recovery. At that time, these strategic goals were crucial for enhancing the competitiveness of Jamaica’s private sector.
The PSOJ recognised that helping businesses to recover from the pandemic’s crippling effects required a collective effort. As a result, we engaged in collaborative initiatives, such as public-private partnerships and alliances with non-governmental organizations, to champion economic, digital, social, and environmental transformation, thereby strengthening businesses across Jamaica.
Economic Resilience and Policy Implementation
Economically, the PSOJ has been rigorously carving out a path of resilience for Jamaican businesses, taking the lead on pivotal economic policy discussions. A significant focus has been our advocacy with the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) for a cautious approach towards the monetary policy rate, particularly in the face of heightened inflation. We have maintained that striking a delicate balance with the monetary policy is essential to temper inflation while ensuring economic stability. As a result, our regular quarterly meetings with the BOJ have become crucial forums for shaping effective monetary policies.
In addition to these efforts, our proactive engagement with the government, notably through constructive dialogues with Dr the Hon. Nigel Clarke, Minister of Finance and the Public Service, has been instrumental. These interactions have allowed us to voice the diverse concerns of our members and push for a business-friendly environment.
In line with these efforts, we continue to advocate for the removal of asset tax. A reduction of the Asset Tax was announced during the 2021/2022 budget; however, this has not been implemented. The removal of the Asset Tax could create a more conducive business environment, by easing the financial burdens on businesses, thereby freeing up capital for reinvestment in people and technology. This shift would not only bolster the financial health of businesses but also empower the broader private sector to reinvest and grow, thus strengthening the overall economy.
Also, whilst the PSOJ is a business organisation, we must be mindful that all citizens play an integral role in the development of our economy, and it is incumbent on us at The PSOJ to urge the Government to review certain anomalies that currently exist in our duty structure, causing increased inflation to the vulnerable in our society.
Through these initiatives, we continue to drive forward policies that not only support the current needs of our economy but also lay the groundwork for sustainable future growth.
Promoting an Export-Driven Economy
The PSOJ acknowledges Jamaica’s economy as a good example of post-pandemic resurgence, evidenced by several key economic indicators. So far, for 2023, the nation has achieved a fiscal surplus of $7.8 billion, equivalent to 0.3% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), coupled with a historically low unemployment rate of 4.5%, and an inflation rate slightly above the target at 6.8%.
These achievements highlight the strength and stability of our economic landscape. However, the forecasted 1.5% annual GDP growth for 2023 indicates a period of steady yet low growth.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Jamaica’s projected growth rates for 2023 and 2024 are among the lowest in the region. The PSOJ immediately recognised the urgency of addressing this challenge. Our strategic plans and initiatives are geared towards empowering companies to adopt and implement effective economic growth strategies.
We have demonstrated our commitment to promoting an export-driven focus by supporting diverse trade missions and establishing groundbreaking partnerships. The Jamaica-Dominican Republic Business Forum and the Keys to Latin American Conference are prime examples of our dedication to fostering an export-driven economy and leveraging trade treaties for broader market access.
Our collaboration with CONEP – our private sector business support counterpart in the Dominican Republic – symbolised by the signing of an MoU, is a milestone in promoting knowledge exchange and enhancing commercial and investment relationships between our two nations.
Commitment to a Logistics-Centred Economy
We also remain dedicated to our strategic focus on establishing Jamaica as a logistics-centred economy, recognising its pivotal role in our nation’s economic development. Central to this vision is the expansion and effective operation of our Special Economic Zones (SEZs). SEZs are not just geographical areas; they are the bedrock of our strategy to enhance Jamaica’s position in the global supply chain; Jamaica can be the Singapore of this Caribbean region.
To this end, we continue to advocate for necessary legislative reforms and sensitization in this area. These reforms are crucial to ensure that the SEZs operate efficiently and are attractive to both local and international investors. The PSOJ has fervently established linkages with multi-national agencies and private sector investors for the development of the Caymanas Estates, the largest piece of contiguous land which can be used to enhance Jamaica’s SEZ landscape and, ultimately, our export-led strategy.
Furthermore, our export-led focus extends beyond the physical infrastructure. We are proactively working with the Government and private sector stakeholders to identify and develop industries that have the potential to compete internationally.
Our focus is on industries that can provide value-added services, thereby not only contributing to the global market but also bringing substantial revenue back into our economy. This approach is designed to leverage Jamaica’s unique strengths and position in the global economy, transforming our nation into a hub of innovation and productivity.
In essence, our commitment to positioning Jamaica as a logistics-centred economy is a multi-faceted effort. It involves infrastructural development, legislative advocacy, and strategic identification of competitive industries.
Combatting Crime and Violence: PSOJ’s Strategic Advocacy
Now, I wish to address another critical component of our advocacy and one that, without resolving, all else that we do is a waste of time: our approach to the nation’s escalating problem with crime and violence. The PSOJ has actively advocated across various platforms for the re-engagement of both political parties in the Crime Monitoring and Oversight Committee (CMOC). The CMOC, an independent and non-partisan entity, brings together stakeholders from the private sector, civil society, academia, and the political directorate. We firmly believe that CMOC plays a crucial role in the broader strategy to reduce crime, violence, and corruption in Jamaica.
Understanding the multifaceted nature of these issues, we are committed to proactive engagement with our political leaders, including both the Government and the Opposition. Our focus is on directly addressing these challenges, with an urgent call for the identification of revised targets under the National Consensus On Crime and the acceleration of implementing key legislative measures for effective crime management.
Our communication with both sides of the political fence has been resolute, underscoring the need to cut through bureaucracy and political manoeuvres that obstruct critical legislative reforms. This includes advocating for laws such as the Illicit Enrichment Act, measures against Unexplained Wealth, and the review of existing legislation to ensure their relevance and efficacy over time.
Additionally, our focus on corporate governance and accountability has been unwavering. We continue to advocate for integrity, transparency, and accountability from our political directorate and agencies responsible for maintaining these standards. This commitment is integral to our ethos and is reflected in all our endeavours.
We have also been vocal in lobbying for legislative reforms through our Corporate Governance Committee, including significant contributions to the Integrity Commission Act, The Companies Act, the Corporate Trust and Service Provider Act, and the Protected Disclosures Act, just to name a few.
Environment & Climate Change
Separately but equally important has been our focus on environmental and infrastructural issues, particularly our Waste to Energy Programme and renewable energy initiatives, which remain a critical aspect of our strategy.
We are dedicated to overcoming long-standing challenges in these areas through collaborative efforts.
Our ongoing dialogues with key stakeholders, including the Hon. Daryl Vaz, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining, are essential in addressing bureaucratic and procurement obstacles that hinder the effective implementation of these programs.
The energy sector is a top priority for the PSOJ, aligning with our strategic goal to support Jamaica in achieving 30% renewable energy by 2030. Jamaica’s position, ranking 142nd out of 146 countries in terms of high electricity costs – more than double the global average – has galvanised our efforts. This situation has led the PSOJ to vigorously promote and advocate for a diverse energy mix in both government and business sectors, exploring alternatives like nuclear energy alongside other renewable sources.
Furthermore, our review of the Integrated Resource Plan and contributions to the dialogue on Electricity (Wheeling) Regulations demonstrate our firm commitment to diversifying Jamaica’s energy portfolio and boosting the integration of renewable energy sources.
Labour force development and productivity
Undoubtedly, Jamaica’s private sector is currently facing a significant skills gap and labour shortage. This challenge is intensified by increased migration, stagnant population growth, and a shrinking employable population.
From 2000 to 2023, Jamaica experienced only a 7.7% population growth, with an annual rate below 1% since 1998. Furthermore, the net migration rate of -3.792 (per 1000 population) highlights a notable outflow, contributing to a labour supply shortfall that severely impacts various economic sectors. Moreover, while technological innovation is valuable, it alone cannot fully address the productivity challenges in Jamaica. These factors collectively impede the growth and productivity of the Jamaican economy.
Jamaica’s labour productivity decreased annually at an average rate of 0.8 per cent over the period 2018–2022, according to a Planning Institute of Jamaica report. Additionally, HEART NSTA has identified 133 skills gaps in our labour force, and a PSOJ survey of its members revealed shortages in key areas such as top leadership, project management, digital skills, and customer service. These are essential skills not only for increasing productivity but also for societal transformation.
To this end, significant progress has been made in addressing Jamaica’s skills gap. The Human Capital Development Committee’s study on Immigration Policy, Labor Market Diversification, and Economic Growth Analysis is poised to influence the evolution of immigration policies with evidence-based recommendations. As the business support organisation with a deep interest in the nation’s economic advancement, we advocated for the implementation of these short-term, evidence-based immigration policies to address labour shortages and contribute to a competitive economy.
The PSOJ’s position paper “Jamaica as a Digital Society” offers a comprehensive plan for the country’s digital transformation, contributing significantly to national digital strategy. It focuses on essential areas such as investing in digital infrastructure, improving digital literacy, and fostering digital innovation and entrepreneurship.
A crucial aspect of this transformation is the incorporation of change management strategies, ensuring that two-thirds of our population is not left behind in this shift. To help with this process, in partnership with the IDB, we launched the “EmpowerJA: Building Bridges for Success“ series, focusing on enhancing expertise in digital transformation, cybersecurity, and sustainable workforce development.
PSOJ’s New Era: Broadening Strategic Focus
As we venture into a new era, the PSOJ is expanding our strategic focus to encompass critical sectors that are vital to both our economy and the social fabric of society. These initiatives represent a significant shift, underlining our commitment to a broader, more inclusive approach that aligns with the evolving needs of Jamaica.
Sports and Entertainment Committee & National Values and Attitudes Advancement Committee (NVAAC)
As we adapt to Jamaica’s ever-changing needs, it is vital to recognise the private sector’s role as a key driver of societal progress. To this end, I am proud to announce the launch of two new Standing Committees in 2024: the Sports & Entertainment Committee and the National Values and Attitudes Advancement Committee (NVAAC).
The Sports & Entertainment Committee is being established in recognition of the immense value these sectors have brought to Jamaica, both locally and on the global stage. Sports and entertainment are not just vital parts of our cultural identity; they are also significant economic drivers that have brought international acclaim and investment to our country.
Understanding this, our responsibility extends beyond mere recognition. The private sector must actively advocate for policies that secure the growth and sustainability of these industries. This committee will work collaboratively with key stakeholders to facilitate and amplify the development of sports and entertainment, ensuring they continue to be vibrant, dynamic contributors to our economy and national identity.
Thanks to Dave Cameron for your support and leading on this initiative.
We’re pleased to welcome Jeffrey Campbell, Zachary Harding, Solomon Sharpe and Mike Fennell
Bourne out of a speech given by Howard Mitchell at his induction at the 2023 PSOJ Hall Of Fame, and in response to the noticeable decline in societal values and attitudes, the National Values and Attitudes Advancement Committee (NVAAC) will address the need for social cohesion, public order, decency, and unity.
Through strategic steering groups where we will insert a team of experts, including social anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle, minister of religion and social commentator, Rev. Devon Dick, and behavioural psychologist Dr Marina Ramkissoon, the NVAAC will embark on sustained initiatives to guide our country towards a better path, integrating values that embody our cultural ethos into our business practices and community life.
Together, these committees represent a holistic approach to national development, balancing economic dynamism with the moral and social fabric of our nation. Their establishment underscores our commitment to ensuring that Jamaica’s growth is comprehensive, inclusive, and reflective of our core values.
In conclusion, our journey thus far has been one of determination and collaboration. As we look to the future, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to all those who have played a pivotal role in our journey. To all Committee Chairs and members, thank you for your invaluable service, expertise, and time that have been instrumental in propelling the advocacy of the PSOJ. Your contributions are the cornerstone of our success.
To our dedicated Executives, Council, and Officers, your effectiveness in supporting the advancement of the PSOJ’s mission has been vital in building a more resilient and thriving private sector. Your confidence in my leadership is both humbling and inspiring, and I am grateful for your unwavering support.
A special thanks to our Secretariat for their hard work and steadfast commitment to the goals of our organization. I extend my appreciation to Imega Breese McNab our former executive director who demitted office in 2023, and to our new Executive Director, Sacha Vaccianna-Riley, who made the transition as seamless as possible.
Your efforts are the backbone of our daily operations and the driving force behind our achievements.
Most importantly, I extend my heartfelt thanks to our members, who are at the very core of who we are and what we do at the PSOJ.
Your engagement, support, and feedback are essential to our continued success. As we forge ahead, let us remain the leading force in driving policy reforms and societal change, ensuring that Jamaica’s private sector not only thrives but also sets a global example.
Together, we will continue to make strides towards a brighter and more prosperous future for our beloved country.