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july-04-2021
Concrete Wall

News Week: JULY 4, 2021

Many countries look to Jamaica for ganja

More than more countries are looking to Jamaica for ganja, according to the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA).

It reported that in recent months it has been issuing export permits “to territories as far away as Australia and Germany, which are seeking local cannabis for research and medical purposes”.

 In total, the Authority issued 42 export authorisations to 10 entities trading with various regions of the globe – Africa, North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Oceania.

 According to the Authority, since the start of the year, it issued 19 export permits and there is an increase in export permit requests by licensees.


“What this tells us is that we have been producing cannabis to the standards required of these other jurisdictions and therefore there is potential for commercial quantities to be exported in the future once markets are opened,” said the acting CEO of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, Faith Graham.

Police get masks, gloves from Chinese group

Jamaica’s law enforcement officers have received a special donation from the Association of Chinese Enterprises in Jamaica (ACEJ). The group gave items valued in excess of US$10,000 to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). These included 40,000 pieces of medical masks, 8,000 pairs of medical gloves, 16 gallons of sanitizers and 152 litres of rubbing alcohol.

The ACEJ is comprised of Chinese companies and enterprises engaged in the construction, production, sales, import\export trade, and other business activities, along with local Chinese companies and enterprises.

Yafen Chen, the association’s Operations Officer, stated, “We appreciate the great efforts JCF has made to Jamaican community. It was our pleasure to contribute in fighting against the pandemic.”

Accepting the donation on behalf of the Jamaica Constabulary Force was Senior Superintendent Cameron Powell. Representatives from the association, Mr. Dangran Bi (CHEC), Mr. Zhenwei Wu (CHEC), Mr. Jiazhe Zhao (HUAWEI), Mr. Yongwei Xin (B.Y.D.), Ms. Yafen Chen, attended the handover ceremony.

Toll Authority gives 40 tablets to Portmore school

The Portsmouth Primary School in Portmore, St. Catherine, has received a donation of 50 tablets from the Toll Authority of Jamaica under the ‘One Laptop or Tablet per Child’ Initiative.

The devices, valued at $1.4 million, which come with protective cases and warranties, will benefit needy students who are not on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

At the handover ceremony, Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague, noted the importance of investing in the education of the nation’s children. “Money is not spent on education; money is invested in education… . It is an investment that will pay off many times over in the future. We are investing (in our children) because it is in them that we have hope for a better and brighter tomorrow,” he said.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams, who participated in the ceremony, thanked the Toll Authority for the donation, which, she said, will better support online learning. “I want to express my deep appreciation for this tangible support of the ‘One Laptop or Tablet per Child’ Initiative. This will allow needy students who are not on the PATH programme to better participate in online learning and make use of the facilities for remote teaching and learning provided by the Ministry,” she noted.

Principal of the Portsmouth Primary, Lennox Davis, in expressing gratitude, said that the donation will “certainly help us to bridge the digital divide, one tablet, one laptop per child”. At same time, Chief Executive Officer, Toll Authority of Jamaica, Lerone Laing, said, “We are hoping to involve some other schools in Portmore because we are targeting that area, but also some select rural schools as well, because the toll network is not only urban, it is rural as well.”

$70m loan scheme for transport operators in tourism

Operators in the tourism ground transportation sub-sector negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are set to get help.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett disclosed that the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jamaica National Small Business Loans Ltd (JNSBL) to make J$70 million accessible to them.


“I am happy to announce that we have finalized plans for our latest relief initiative for tourism workers. The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has put in motion an injection of J$70 million to support tourism ground transportation operators who have suffered tremendously from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive downturn in tourism over the last year,” he said. 

“The loans, become accessible at any JN branch starting July 1, 2021, and will be offered at zero per cent interest rate; with an eight-month moratorium on the principal and a maximum repayment period of three years, with no processing fees,” Minister Bartlett explained.

Jamaica wants more investments in casino sector

In a bid to increase economic activity and spur economic recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Government is seeking to attract investments in the country through amendments to the Casino Gaming legislation.

Minister of Finance Dr. Nigel Clarke said amendments are being made to the Casino Gaming Act, “with the goal of having, hopefully, billions of US dollars in investments being made in Jamaica over the next few years”, through integrated resort developments.

“We don’t simply want to recover what we have lost; we want to recover stronger; we want to recover better. As such, one of the recommendations in the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force, which I chaired last year, was to promulgate amendments to the Casino Gaming legislation that will deliver results in the form of investments and jobs,” he said.

Dr. Clarke noted that amendments to the legislation will allow for “yet another product that can be the anchor for another type of tourism business” that will diversify Jamaica’s tourism product, diversify arrival patterns and seasonal trends and make Jamaica’s tourism product more resilient.

july-11-2021

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Concrete Wall

News Week: JULY 11, 2021

13 health facilities in line for upgrade in Jamaica

Primary healthcare facilities will be built and upgraded in select rural communities through a $1.8-billion non-reimbursable grant from the European Union  (EU).

The EU has committed the funds under its Caribbean Investment Facility in support of the Government of Jamaica Health Systems Strengthening Programme.

It will augment the US$50-million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) investment loan for the programme, which will see the upgrading and development of 13 health facilities – three hospitals and 10 health centres – to benefit some 800,000 Jamaicans.

The non-reimbursable support from the EU is for the work to be done on the health centres.

The programme, which has the objective of improving the management, quality and efficiency of health services, also entails the introduction and implementation of an information systems for health, including remote patient monitoring, e-prescription and electronic health record.

Get ready for Christmas in July!

Several new participants will showcase their locally made gifts and souvenir items at this year’s staging of the Christmas in July Trade Show.

Christmas in July will be streamed live on Instagram and Facebook @tefjamaica and on the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) YouTube channel on July 22, beginning at 2:00 p.m.

The event, being hosted by the Tourism Linkages Network, a division of the TEF, aims to provide a gifting solution to the tourism industry and by extension corporate Jamaica and retail consumers.

Director of the Tourism Linkages Network, Carolyn McDonald Riley, said that 250 applications were received, but 146 participants were selected. “The repeat applicants this year are 107, a little less than half, so it is telling you that we have a significant number of new persons coming in,” said Mrs. McDonald Riley.

Chukka pumps more dollars into attractions

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says the investments made by Chukka Caribbean Adventures to upgrade and reopen facilities in Jamaica, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, is an indication of investor confidence in the strengthening of the local tourism sector.

Chukka spent US$2 million on a new nature adventure park, which opened in Sandy Bay, Hanover last December, and a further US$250,000 to upgrade its Good Hope attraction in Trelawny, which reopened July 2.

“The money spent on remodeling and reinventing the experience at both facilities, to make them both COVID-19 compliant and to put them in a position where they can be compared favourably with all the top attractions of the world where the new visitors would want to go, is money well spent,” said Minister Bartlett.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Chukka Caribbean Adventures, Marc Melville, said that the company has always been guided by the old adage that “wherever there is a crisis there are always opportunities, and that was something we felt to the core while battling this pandemic”.

All set for digital currency in August

Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Governor Richard Byles says work is being finalised to begin pilot implementation of the proposed central bank digital currency (CBDC) locally, in August.

Mr. Byles indicated that technical support for its rollout, among other inputs, are being reviewed to facilitate onboarding of the first financial institution – National Commercial Bank (NCB) – to test the system.

The Governor said between September and December, the BOJ will look to onboard more banks, adding that “we will gradually expand the pilot… into a full [rollout] in 2022”.

Digital currency is a form of central bank-backed currency and is, therefore, legal tender. It can be exchanged, dollar for dollar, with actual cash and is issued to licensed deposit-taking institutions.

Individuals, households, and businesses can use it to pay for goods and services, as obtains with cash.

Registrar General’s Department strengthens system

The new Civil Registration Number (CRN) developed by the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) is expected to improve planning for social security and welfare programmes.

The CRN is a code now applied to the RGD’s Electronic Birth database as part of the process of linking vital life events – birth, marriage and death.

Chief Executive Officer at the RGD, Charlton McFarlane said that the unique CRN will identify persons through their life course.

“The benefit of this is that we will now be able to identify individuals by using the significant life events from the civil registry. This will help us to be able to tighten up our social obligations to our citizens. It will allow us greater efficiency by being able to identify persons, who would have transitioned to retirement or who would have passed on,” he said.

Mr McFarlane added, “I believe the Government will definitely benefit by the fact that they will now be able to have a better idea of the population for which they are planning… especially around the age of retirement. We spend a lot of resources through the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Accountant General on pension funds.”

july-18-2021

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Concrete Wall

News Week: JULY 18, 2021

St James gets another police station

Mount Salem in St James now has a new police station completed with funding from the European Union (EU).

The project cost $47.6 million and was undertaken by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), under its Poverty Reduction Programme, part of the build phase of the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO), now in place in the community.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that the project being completed in such a short space of time is something to celebrate, as the prompt completion of government projects is uncommon.

More water for St Catherine; Clarendon next in line

State Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Homer Davis said a plan is on the table to establish an underground water recharge system in Clarendon.

The State Minister, who toured the Rural Water Supply Limited Artificial Underground Recharge System in Innswood, St. Catherine, said the system will boost supply of the commodity in Clarendon.

“This is a very successful project, and we are looking at Clarendon to see if such a system can be replicated there,” said the former Mayor of Montego Bay, St James.

“It is a very potent project, serving a wide area, and it is part of a national policy to enhance the quality of life for people,” he added.

The St. Catherine facility is situated on 68 acres of land, and its main function is to divert approximately five million gallons of water per day from the Rio Cobre River through the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) canal during the wet season.

Cash-starved UWI explores revenue options

The University of the West Indies (UWI) is to implement a new operational plan to deal with the financial challenges facing the institution due to shortfalls in expected revenues.

Many students and governments are experiencing difficulties in meeting financial obligations to the University in respect of tuition fees and related economic costs for teaching and learning.

 

The University said it is committed to cutting expenditure and increasing revenues by 10 per cent per year in each of the coming three years, thereby significantly eliminating cash shortfalls. Each of the three UWI campuses is to implement bankable commercial projects in an effort to strengthen its entrepreneurial functions and rewards.

 

Regional governments currently fund about 50 per cent of the UWI’s total operational cost, down from near 80 per cent twenty-five years ago.

Three projects to benefit St Elizabeth communities

Community projects valued at $1.2 million under the Community Research and Development Programme for St. Elizabeth are to get going soon, according to Parish Manager for the Social Development Commission (SDC), Alric Miller.

He said that three projects will each get $400,000 and are to benefit up to seven communities across the parish. The communities of Thornton, Aberdeen, Santa Cruz and Goshen will gain from the literacy interventions, while Braes River, Leeds, Goshen, Balaclava and Aberdeen will benefit from the parenting workshop intervention.

Thornton, Braes River, Santa Cruz and Balaclava will benefit from the domestic violence intervention.

“We want to really see an improvement in literacy amongst these parents, which will ultimately lead to an improvement in education outcomes for students. They (parents) will now have the necessary skills, providing support to their children via supervision or homework,” Mr. Miller said.

Upgrade coming for Savanna-la-Mar school

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has signed the second part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Rockhouse Foundation to expand the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy in Westmoreland to a full inclusive secondary school.

Architectural planning for the expansion is now under way. It is anticipated that the Ministry and the Rockhouse Foundation will jointly fund the expansion costs.

The project is being facilitated under the first MOU signed between the Ministry and Rockhouse Foundation in 2016.

Education Minister Fayval Williams said that the establishment of the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy as a Government educational institution is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Foundation and the Ministry over several years.

New, improved measures to tackle sexual harassment in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Parliament has passed new legislation to tackle sexual harassment.


The Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Bill addresses concerns about sexual harassment that is employment-related, occurring in institutions, or arising in the landlord and tenant relationship.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange said the legislation is not partial to any gender. “Men and women have, too often, unhappily recounted experiences of sexual harassment against them. It is against this background that the Bill is gender neutral and seeks to protect and prevent sexual harassment against both men and women,” she said.

The Minister informed that the legislation incorporates all the recommendations emanating from the Joint Select Committee, appointed to consider the Bill. “This Bill is, therefore, new and improved. These improvements have birthed a more robust legislation,” she declared.

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july-25-2021
Concrete Wall

News Week: JULY 25, 2021

50,000 hotel workers back on the job!

Jamaica’s tourism industry has brought back more than 50,000 workers in the last six months, showing its capacity for resilience and its ability to bounce back from crises.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said that visitors are also returning to Jamaica. He said, “In the last seven months, we have brought in nearly 700,000 visitors (stopovers) and, by the end of August, we are projected to reach a million visitors and passengers coming into Jamaica, which will bring somewhere in the region of US$1.5 billion into the local economy. No other industry could do that in seven months; the tourism industry has.”

Discussing building capacity for local suppliers, Minister Bartlett said, “As we recover, we need to recover together and recover stronger. We need to recoup much of the losses we had before the pandemic because before the pandemic we had a leakage situation of US dollars from the industry of some 60 cents. We had reached the level of 40 cents retention.” 

The tourism minister said Jamaica must move beyond 40 cents to a 50 cents retention rate, noting that, “the pandemic has given us this opportunity because we are starting from ground zero so we can recover together.”

Green embraces insurance for farmers​

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green has welcomed the insurance product, GraceKennedy (GK) Weather Protect, which will provide coverage for farmers and fisherfolk impacted by adverse weather events.

The policy is being provided through GK Insurance and will protect the businesses of farmers and fishers against heavy rain, wind and drought.

The minister said that this new product “could not have come at a better time”, given the fact that the hurricane season has begun. He pointed out that the impact of severe weather conditions has been a major challenge for the agricultural sector, noting that between 2004 and 2017, the sector suffered $196 billion in losses from weather-related events.

Mr. Green said that in October last year there was a significant period of sustained rains that caused more than $2.5 billion in damage to crops across Jamaica, and affected 14,000 farmers.

“They (farmers) had to depend on the Government to find the resources to give them to start their agricultural enterprise again,” said the minister. “While we were able to pull together over $600 million to get our farmers up and running, one of the realities is that a lot of the farmers had to wait for significant periods to get that support from the Government… [due to several factors].”

Health facilities to spend less on energy

The Government is projected to save an estimated $54 million annually from the installation of solar energy and energy efficiency systems at six public health facilities across Jamaica.

These are National Chest Hospital, Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre and Bellevue Hospital in St. Andrew; Black River Hospital, St. Elizabeth; May Pen Hospital, Clarendon; and the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital in Westmoreland.

The installation was done under the Deployment of Renewable Energy and Improvement of Energy Efficiency in the Public Sector project, which was officially handed over to the Government of Jamaica in June. The project started in 2016 and was implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi-Country Office over five years through a US$1,254,687 grant from the Global Environment Facility.

It sought to advance a low-carbon development path and reduce Jamaica’s public-sector energy bill through the introduction of renewable energy and improvement in energy efficiency in the health sector.

30,000 elders to benefit from new pension scheme

It is estimated that more than 30,000 persons will benefit from the Government’s new Social Pension Programme, according to the Project Director for the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education.

The Social Pension Programme targets all Jamaican citizens 75 years and older who are not currently in receipt of a pension, retirement, old-age or disability benefit or income and are not living in a government institutionalised care facility and are generally described as vulnerable.

To register for this benefit, persons may visit the parish offices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security islandwide.  They will be required to complete a social pension application form, accompanied by their Tax Registration Number (TRN), proof of age in the form of a birth certificate or a valid passport.

Science will drive planning, says urban renewal minister

The Government’s capacity to make better planning and development decisions will be improved with the launch of the National Spatial Planning Information Technology platform. It will provide reliable, accurate and updated data on distribution of people and activities.

The platform, which was conceptualised and developed as part of the Government’s efforts to incorporate technology into planning and development as well as its business processes, was officially launched by Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr. earlier this month.

Minister Charles Jr. said the platform will ensure optimal use of the country’s natural land and marine resources and will help to roll out the National Spatial Plan as effectively as possible.

The spatial plan outlines the governance framework for optimal and effective use and management of Jamaica’s natural resources for sustainable development.

“We are trying to change how we operate, how we think and, therefore, our outcomes…,” said the minister. “This is the launch of a platform which is a part of the integral thrust for government to use science and technology, information and data to inform our decisions.”

Call centres inject jobs, cash

The number of jobs in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector increased by 15 per cent over the past year, with 44,000 people employed in the sector as of June 30, 2021.

This compares to the corresponding period in 2020, which saw 38,400 persons being employed. Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Aubyn Hill said this increase in jobs happened despite the economy shrinking by over 10 per cent during the same period.

“I am extremely pleased to tell Jamaicans that in the year to June 30, 2021, the BPO Services sector brought in US$780 million to the Jamaican economy. That’s no small sneeze (during) a time when our economy was shrinking,” he said.

Jamaica strengthens its traffic ticketing system

As part of efforts to bolster efficiency and effectiveness in the enforcement of the road traffic rules while restoring public order, the Government is implementing a new traffic ticket management system.

The system is a centralised web-based platform, designed to improve traffic ticket management from the point of issuance to either the payment of fines at tax offices or adjudication in court.

Through the project, smart android devices and portable printers will be used to facilitate the electronic issuance of traffic tickets.

The devices will allow for electronic recording of tickets, eliminating the need for manual data entry, and give police officers the ability to reference driver and vehicle information, including ticket history, outstanding tickets, and warrants.

All traffic tickets issued with the devices will instantly be uploaded to a centralised database, which is accessible by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the traffic courts and all other government agencies that depend on accurate, timely traffic ticket information to fulfil their mandates.

Senior Director, Major Technology Transformation Branch at the Ministry of National Security, Arvel Grant, said the pilot phase of the programme will come to an end during the summer.

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