Reflections on visit to Jamaica
12th August 2012 by Andrew Needs, Ottawa | No Comments
During my stay in Kingston I made a series of calls on political leaders, officials, businesses and the University. The highlight was a meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was both gracious and generous with her time. Jamaica is, at any time of the year, a country with a strong focus on sports. The Prime Minister is also the Minister for Sport so is not just a passionate Jamaican but also has an official role in promoting the national benefits of a strong sporting culture and tradition. The last few weeks have of course been a sporting frenzy as the nation geared up to see whether Usain Bolt could repeat in the sprints at the London Olympics. The Prime Minister was quick to remind me that while Bolt dominated the headlines, Jamaica had a team full of athletes, especially sprinters, men and women who would be doing the country proud- as demonstrated when Bolt had with him fellow Jamaicans on the medal podium for the men’s 200m, and Fraser-Pryce excelled in sprints as well.
We had an interesting discussion about how small countries like Jamaica and New Zealand, who do not have high international profiles, can leverage off events such as the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup and cultural events such as Oscar success, both with regard to tourism, business and investment.
The Olympics coincided not just with Emancipation Day (when Jamaicans were freed from slavery in 1838) but also Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. In our discussion the Prime Minister took some time to reflect on the nation’s achievements but also discussed its various challenges. Jamaica is well situated for access to the US market (only 90 minutes flight from Miami), but its capacity to service that market is significantly constrained by the domestic cost of electricity production. Once again, this structural constraint is resonant with the Pacific, which is so reliant on oil powered generators. In this context, the Prime Minister was very interested in New Zealand’s work on development of solar power, most recently in Tonga and Tokelau. The extent to which solar is part of the energy solution for Jamaica is unclear, compared to the clear potential in the more isolated and less populace Pacific Islands which is being worked on with New Zealand development assistance funding: