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News Week: NOVEMBER 07, 2021

No school fee for some secondary students

Students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) are exempted from fees of the Sixth-Form Pathways Programme.

“Of course, you as a parent can give what you have, but that student or the parent should not be expected to pay a fee or contribute if he or she cannot afford to do so,” said Acting Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Dr. Kasan Troupe.

She said too that students under the compulsory secondary education programme and who are not part of the PATH Programme will receive grants beginning in September 2022.

“Our Minister [of Education] approved a significant sum to treat with the preliminary costs, and when we look at what we’ll be providing to our schools, we’re looking at a $1.5-billion initial contribution, in respect to the grants,” said Dr. Troupe.

Screws tightened on human traffickers

Jamaica’s House of Representatives has passed the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) (Amendment) Act 2021, creating tougher penalties for offenders.

The decision was made to amend the monetary penalties to remove the option of fines in lieu of custodial sentences as a penalty for some offences that are egregious in nature and increase the monetary penalties under Section 15 of the Act.

The amendment also makes a consequential amendment to Section 10 of the Child Care and Protection Act to remove the option of fine in lieu of custodial sentence.

Minister of National Security Dr. Horace Chang said that the Government is creating a legal framework that punishes human trafficking, while deterring persons from getting involved in the criminal activity.

He said that trafficking in persons is a heinous activity, which provides significant funding to the criminal underworld.

​“While it is not yet a major activity in Jamaica, we are in a position where it could become another major risk to the State, in providing the kind of funding to the criminal underworld, which we don’t wish to have,” he told Parliament.

Frontier adds more flights to Jamaica, others to come

Frontier Airlines is now flying into the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St. James, from Orlando, Florida.

Sixty-eight passengers arrived on the first trip to mark the start of three weekly non-stop flights from Florida to the island’s tourism capital by the low-fare carrier.

Manager of Airlines and Tour Operators for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) United States (US) market, Francine Carter-Henry noted that the Orlando-Montego Bay flight is among several new routes into Jamaica by Frontier.

“We had their first scheduled flight coming out of Miami earlier this year, now we are happy to launch back-to-back [routes] – Atlanta, and now Orlando to Montego Bay, and they are now done. We have [flights from] Newark, New Jersey, starting December 17,” she said.

Malvern library gets solar system from investor

A state-of-the-art solar system has been installed at the Malvern Branch Library in St. Elizabeth, which is expected to significantly reduce the library’s monthly electricity bill.

Renewable energy investor, BMR Energy, donated the system that comprises a four-kilowatt solar panel array and a compact five-kilowatt Lithium-ion battery storage facility.

The Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz said that the donation is “timely, as online classes will cause libraries to consume more electricity”.

He noted that during the pandemic “when so many students are utilising online platforms for classes, libraries are facilitating the educational advancement of our students through the provision of much-needed Internet access and computer service”.

e-Tickets for traffic offences ready late November

The Ministry of National Security will be rolling out the pilot of its electronic traffic ticketing system later this month.

The e-ticketing application is replacing the existing manual traffic ticketing system used by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Chief Technical Director with responsibility for Security Risk Reform and Transformation Policy Division in the Ministry, Delroy Simpson, said that the application will remove the element of human error that occurs with the manual system.

“Currently, when a police officer stops a motorist, he pulls out a ticket book and writes a ticket for the offence. The officer has to write the type of offence, the motor-vehicle particulars and the date of the offence,” he said. “After this process is completed then the data entry operators have to enter the ticket information into a database. In those two processes, you can have errors. For example, the officer can make an error with the name of the offender and so on.”

GraceKennedy gives strong support to fight against COVID-19

During its second vaccination blitz, hosted by the GraceKennedy (GK) Group in collaboration with the Private Sector Vaccination Initiative, over 750 persons were vaccinated again the COVID-19 virus.

The event targeted GK team members and their guests, with many of the participants in the blitz being GK’s frontline team, including factory workers, merchandisers, sales personnel, and promoters. GK contractors, members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, attached to the Kingston Central Division, and residents of the communities surrounding GraceKennedy’s offices at Harbour Street turned out for the jabs.

GK Group CEO Don Wehby was pleased that GraceKennedy could facilitate vaccination for so many members of the GK family, “I am really happy to see so many people here today. Some I haven’t seen in such a long time because of COVID-19,” he said. “We really must work together to help our country and the world get past this pandemic. I fully support taking the vaccine and urge all Jamaicans who can, to do so. It is so critical that we protect each other from COVID-19, and I have pledged to do all I can to help the GK team get vaccinated.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, GK has prioritized protecting its team against the virus and developing protocols to guide its response to the pandemic. In January 2020, the GK COVID-19 Steering Committee was established which has been spearheading many initiatives across the Group, including two recent vaccination blitzes.

GK has also made significant contributions towards Jamaica’s COVID-19 response, including multi-million-dollar donations towards the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the island’s healthcare workers and ventilators for the public health system.

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News Week: NOVEMBER 14, 2021

PACE Canada donates tablets to schools

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has received 1,000 tablet computers and supporting inputs, valued at US$100,000, for the early-childhood sector.

The devices, donated by philanthropic organisation, the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) Canada, are in support of the Ministry’s ‘One Laptop or Tablet Per Child’ initiative and will be distributed to more than 200 institutions islandwide sponsored by the entity.

PACE Board Member, Mark Fullerton, presented the tablets to portfolio Minister Fayval Williams earlier this month. PACE Canada was able to secure the tablets through generous donations from members, supporters and through stakeholder partnerships.

Minister Williams welcomed PACE Canada’s gesture, noting that the donations “have come at a very good time for our children”.

White Paper as diaspora policy inches to next stage

State Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Leslie Campbell, says that the revised draft National Diaspora Policy, is now being finalised for submission to Cabinet for approval as a White Paper.

“Given the growth in the scope and nature of the interaction with the diaspora over the years, the Ministry is now at the point when we are about to enact the National Diaspora Policy,” he said.

The policy provides the framework for pursuing strategies and initiatives that are mutually beneficial to the national development process and the well-being of the diaspora population.

Senator Campbell, who has responsibility for diaspora affairs, said that development of the policy evolved over a number of years and benefited from the collective wisdom gained through the biennial diaspora conference process, broad consultation with ministries, departments and agencies, as well as from non-governmental organisations, academia, the private sector and the diaspora.

Visitors staying longer, spending more

Jamaica is expected to welcome 1.5 million visitors by December 31 (calendar year), with estimated earnings of US$1.9 billion, according to Director of Tourism Donovan White.

“What we have seen is an uptick in the length of stay of visitors to the destination, since we reopened, from 7.1 days to eight days. We have also seen an uptick in the average visitor spend from US$169 per day per visitor to US$180,” he said. “This is what has allowed us to forecast our revenue projections to just under US$2 billion for the calendar year.”

White added, “This means that for the first time, our destination earnings are beginning to outpace arrivals, which is a good thing. This has also allowed us to reforecast where we believe the destination will return to pre-COVID levels of performance, and we see that happening round about third quarter of 2023.”

Millions on table to buy equipment for hospitals

Dr. Christopher Tufton, the Minister of Health and Wellness, says that the Government has invested $700 million to purchase diagnostic and other medical equipment for three hospitals.

These are Spanish Town in St. Catherine; St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann; and the May Pen Hospital in Clarendon.

To be facilitated under the Health Services Support Project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), this investment will see the purchase of three CT scan machines, three X-ray machines, dental equipment, and machinery for operating theatres at the facilities.

Minister Tufton said that the acquisition of the diagnostic equipment will speed up the process for assessment and treatment of patients at hospital, thereby reducing extended stay and overcrowding.

He noted that one of the main issues that affect service delivery at public health facilities is the lack of appropriate infrastructure to enable clinicians to access information in a timely manner, so that they can assess and diagnose illnesses and devise the appropriate treatment.

Said Tufton, “This delay impacts several aspects of the healthcare delivery, specifically bed-stay-time in hospital. This then, of course, has a ripple effect and impacts the turnover rate of beds and ultimately contributes to overcrowding.”

Jamaica eyes technology to improve service delivery

The productivity and efficiency of more than 260 government entities are expected to improve greatly with the use of newly acquired geographic information System (GIS) technology.

This follows a new enterprise licence agreement Jamaica has entered into with American technology firm, Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) – a global market leader in GIS technology that the Government of Jamaica has been utilising in its operations for almost 30 years.

The agreement will see Esri providing GIS resources for 265 Government and quasi-government institutions, including 179 educational entities.

Through utilisation of the products and services of Esri’s mapping and location analytics platform, ArcGIS, the Government will seek to apply geospatial information tools and technologies in resolving several issues – crime, health services provision and for the greater economic growth and advancement of the country.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles, said that GIS and other geospatial technologies are critical to the day-to-day deliverables of a wide cross section of ministries, departments and agencies of government.

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News Week: NOVEMBER 21, 2021

Health sector going high tech at $1.3 billion

Jamaica is to spend an estimated $1.3 billion on the digital transformation of the health sector. This work is to be under the Health Systems Strengthening Programme of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and a contract was signed recently with Cable and Wireless Jamaica Ltd.

Portfolio Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton told Parliament about the initiative: “The investment affords us a network of more than 2,000 computers and 400-plus medical-grade tablets that provide universal access to medical records and with high-speed connectivity between the data centre and our 105 health facilities, which would include hospitals and health centres islandwide.

“The system also gives us cost savings of more than US$1.5 million on equipment and network connectivity over a three-year period. This development is as timely as it is important, as we look to reduce the transaction costs associated with delivering healthcare in Jamaica and in the shadow of a pandemic that has reinforced the need for a robust and agile health system that is responsive to the changing needs of the population.”

600 unattached youngsters get IT training

More than 600 young persons have successfully completed training under the Government’s Technology Advancement Programme (TAP) for the 2019/2020 period.

They are the second cohort to be trained under the initiative, which is aimed at equipping unattached youth across the island with skills in information and communications technology (IT) to improve their job prospects. The programme started in 2017.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams congratulated the group for completing the year-long training programme. She encouraged them to “see the training… as but one small step in your journey of continuing education”.

More help coming for small businesses

The Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) now has an agreement with five business service intermediaries (BSIs) to build the capacity of twenty micro and small businesses (MSEs) over the next 12 months.

The intermediaries are the Caribbean Innovation Climate Centre (CCIC), Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Sisters’ Ink Jamaica, and Technology Innovation Centre at UTECH.

Milverton Reynolds, the managing director of the IDB, noted that the special programme started in 2015 to undertake capacity development initiatives targeted at micro and small businesses.

“Under the initiative,” he said, “the bank has supported Jamaican entrepreneurs with innovation business ideas to access grant funds to develop prototype or facilitate commercialization. To date 50 MSEs have benefited under the programme.”

Mr. Reynolds stated that this is the third cohort and “we are delighted at the partnership we have forged with these amazing BSIs, and we want to urge all MSEs to align themselves with one of these companies that will assist them in growing their businesses.”

USAID support for 1,000 poor residents

Over 1,000 residents of vulnerable communities have benefited from the United States Government’s provision of US$12 million towards Jamaica’s national coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

Acting United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Country Representative in Jamaica, Alex Gainer, said that allocations were earmarked for non-health COVID-19 assistance to the residents. He said these include vouchers to acquire basic items such as food and personal-care products.

“We have also provided vulnerable youth from these communities with about 2,000 tablets and laptops so that they could continue [their education digitally in the absence of face-to-face [learning],” said Mr. Gainer.

Mr. Gainer said the funds, which are in addition to vaccines being provided, have also been channelled to other key areas. These include assisting with establishment and equipping of the COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre; providing protective equipment for approximately 1,000 healthcare workers; and delivering critical supplies, including 25 intensive care unit beds, among other provisions.

Come, do business with us, says Prime Minister

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that amendment of legislation for casino gaming will provide new opportunities for investors in the tourism sector as part of the Government’s strategic economic recovery agenda from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We put in new legislation to provide for gaming and casinos, and that has created a whole new opportunity for existing investors in our tourism sector,” said the prime minister. He argued that this will result in the introduction of gaming and casinos, and large-scale resort developments will become part of the tourism product; “and a great opportunity for existing investors and, indeed, new investors who want to come.”

Mr. Holness said efforts to put the necessary structures in place to support investors and create a more enabling environment have been yielding positive results. He added, “We have taken on the effectiveness of our public administration [by engaging in] deep institutional reforms and those have also been paying dividends, particularly as they relate to the ease of government-to-business transactions, and with reforming our business processes and ensuring that our approvals and permitting processes are easier to navigate.  So, we have been making progress on the ease of doing business indices.”

Praise for work to restart operation at Jamalco

Work to implement the first phase of the project to restart Jamalco’s operation is moving steadily and Jamalco’s partners, Clarendon Alumina Production (CAP) and Noble Group, are pleased with the progress.

Chairman of CAP Norman Reid said tremendous strides have been made and he credits the fast pace at which the work is progressing to the knowledge and diligence of the employees.

“I was delighted with the work done when I did the last walk through. We are also encouraged by the support that Jamalco is receiving from its business partners including Jamaica Fire Brigade, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the communities,” he pointed out.

Mr. Reid added that it is evident that all stakeholders are anxious to see the plant restart as quickly as possible.

The CAP Chairman noted that he is optimistic that the refurbished plant will reflect the sweat and tears of everyone involved in the restorative process. “I think we are going to be more efficient, and our Directors will certainly have a much better understanding of the business.”

Concrete Wall

News Week: NOVEMBER 28, 2021

Entities get millions for projects in five parishes

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Positive Pathways Initiative has awarded 14 grants, valued at a total of J$21 million combined, to community organisations that will support more than 500 parents, caregivers, and youth.

The organisations will be responsible for implementing programmes that will assist in the prevention of youth crime and violence. They are located across the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine, Clarendon, and St. James.

Seven of them received the Community Peacebuilding Grant, which focussing on developing activities for improved pathways to achieve peace for youth, using their caregivers and parents.

They are the Violence Prevention Alliance in collaboration with the Jones Town Primary School, Kingston; Forward Step Foundation, St. Catherine; Peace and Love in Society, Clarendon; Family and Parenting Centre, St. James; Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Kingston; Sandals Foundation, St. James; and Salt Spring Community Development Committee Benevolent Society in St. James.

The Institute of Law and Economics, St. Catherine, in collaboration with USAID Governance for Local Development (Project GOLD), the Peace and Love Society branches in Kingston and Clarendon and the Jones Town/Craig Town Benevolent Society in Kingston, all received the Social and Behavioural Science grants.

Laptop vouchers coming for 5,000 educators

About 5,000 public school educators will get electronic vouchers (e-vouchers) to purchase laptop computers in December, under the ‘Laptop for Teachers’ programme, being developed by e-Learning Jamaica Limited (e-Ljam).

Project Manager for the ‘Own Your Own Device’ initiative at e-Ljam, Seymour Rhoden, said that the e-vouchers will enable teachers to visit an approved vendor location to purchase a laptop that meets the entity’s minimum specifications.

He said that teachers will receive the e-voucher via email or SMS text messages.

Mr. Rhoden informed that the list of teachers slated to benefit under the initiative is to be provided by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information.

“Once that is done… the data will be uploaded into the ‘Own Your Own Device’ system and vouchers issued to the intended teachers,” he explained.

‘Xplore Jamaica’ is ready for download… get it!

Locals and visitors to the island now have access to a mobile application (app) that provides information on various licensed and coronavirus (COVID-19)-compliant tourist entities within the six resort areas.

The app, called ‘Xplore Jamaica’, includes features such as a travel guide with cost estimator and a complete travel blog to capture user reactions and comments. It also has the ability to view restaurants and shops near the visitor’s place of stay, and the availability of the information in nine languages.

The app is available for download free from the Google Play Store.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett noted that with the pandemic, access to information has become even more important.

“I applaud TPDCo for its efforts to tap into this technological era and revolution, where Gen-Z, in particular, is keen on working smart and not hard, and expect to find all they need at the click of a button,” said the minister.

Pilot a success, now it’s time for the real deal

Prime Minister Andrew Holness officially launched the National Coding in Schools Programme, which will benefit 400,000 students from grades one to 13, and 15,000 teachers in public schools across Jamaica.

This follows the successful pilot programme through partnership with software firm, Amber Innovations Group Limited. The pilot was conducted virtually in 20 schools and involved the engagement of about 2,000 students in grades four and nine.

For this full roll out, telecommunications company, Digicel, has partnered with the Amber Group to co-sponsor the programme.

“Through the Coding in Schools Programme, (students) will acquire basic numeracy, language, and problem-solving skills, which are the prerequisites for coding,” said the prime minister. He noted that “too many of our students are leaving school without these basic functional skills.”

Prime Minister Holness noted that as Jamaica seeks to become a digital society, the need for coders is becoming increasingly evident, as the country had to quickly adapt to using technology to bring services to the population through virtual platforms.

Farmers to grow castor oil plants for State

The Ministry of Transport and Mining, through the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI), is partnering with small farmers to boost cultivation of the castor oil plant to produce biodiesel for the Jamaica Urban Transit Company Limited (JUTC).

Portfolio Minister Robert Montague said that the Ministry will be moving to secure 5,000 acres of “unclaimed lands” to begin growing the castor plant.

Minister Montague said that Jamaica has the capacity to manufacture and distribute castor oil on a large scale. “We are moving with the JBI to institute a castor oil project. We have just signed off on a big deal with a company to supply the JUTC with biodiesel,” he said, adding: [We subsequently] discovered that the mineral oil they use, the element they use is [actually] castor oil…that they actually import from India… and we can grow castor oil right here in Jamaica.

“So, what we are moving to do is to plant up a lot of these reclaimed lands with castor oil, [process it] and sell it to this company… and the JBI will be leading that process to plant some 5,000 acres of castor oil.”

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