WANTED: FULL DISCLOSURE IN RITZ CARLTON AFFAIR

ed bartlett1

Opposition Spokesman on Tourism & Travel Services Development, Mr. Edmund Bartlett, is today raising fresh concerns regarding the impending closure and sale the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay.

Argued Bartlett: “It is disturbing that since the announcement virtually a week ago, neither the current owners nor the purchasers have issued statements in relation to the proposed takeover.  And as a result, the public, which has a vested interest in the matter based on the government’s 15% stake in the entity, has had no clarification or official position from the players involved as to what exactly is happening.

“In the absence of any definitive word, the country is no closer to an understanding of:

a)  the nature of the arrangement between Rose Hall Resorts Ltd. and Playa;
b). the terms of the sales agreement;
c). the project’s prospects and future.”

Mr. Bartlett outlined that given heightened speculation as to whether the Ritz’s replacement will adopt the all-inclusive model or incorporate the European Plan (EP), managed by either a Playa affiliate or Hyatt, it is extremely important that full disclosure and clarity regarding this imminent development be forthcoming at this time.

“The all-inclusive model as per Playa and the European Plan as per Hyatt are two divergent operational approaches.  Those who are quick to welcome the proposed takeover would be cautioned to have a level of certainty in their own mind as to what exactly they are welcoming.”

The opposition spokesman went on to posit that the impending takeover goes to the heart of stability in the tourism sector, and argued that the current hush of silence will do nothing to temper widespread anxiety, allay workers’ concerns, or send appropriate signals to the investor community and the travel market as a whole.

“The tax-paying public must be able to discern what the Hotel’s future will be, glean meaningful information as to how the government’s 15% stake is to be disposed of, and must be made aware of. how the over 400 men and women currently in the Hotel’s employ will fare in all of this”, he opined.

Mr. Bartlett, who serves as Member of Parliament for the area where the Ritz Carlton Hotel is situated, indicates that in light of his obligations and vested interest as MP, he is not just compelled but duty-bound to have the issues raised, properly ventilated and adequately addressed.  He stated in closing, that the interests of the workers, many of whom reside in his East Central St. James constituency, as well as the implications of the Ritz’s closure/takeover for Montego Bay’s Elegant Corridor, must be upper-most in the minds of well-thinking Jamaicans at this time.

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JAMAICA – THE ANIMAL FARM – Gleaner Letter

animal-farm1“the brother of the honourable prime minister (PM) was robbed and assaulted at his business place in downtown Kingston. Immediately, over 60 men were rounded up from various communities across Kingston.”

THE NOVEL Animal Farm addresses not only the corruption of the revolution by its leaders, but also the ways self-serving, wickedness, indifference, ignorance, greed, and myopia corrupt the revolution. In the novel, one of the original commandments was: All animals are created equal. But, upon gaining leadership, the leaders eventually replaced these with the maxim, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

On or about March 31, 2013, Minister of National Security Peter Bunting and his companions were robbed of very valuable items. Within three days, the robber was found, items recovered, and accused burglar brought before the courts.

On Thursday, May 2, the brother of the honourable prime minister (PM) was robbed and assaulted at his business place in downtown Kingston. Immediately, over 60 men were rounded up from various communities across Kingston. And, on Monday, May 6, it was reported that a suspect was in custody and will be charged for the assault of the PM’s brother.

My sister was brutally murdered on February 17, 2012. The police, with all their efforts and resources, are yet to get a single breakthrough in this killing. But why am I complaining when there are countless family members who are yet to get closure for their loved ones. It’s not yet three years.

This island of 2.7 million people has recorded in excess of 1,000 murders annually over the last decade, yet, the prime minister’s brother’s attacker was found within three days. Bunting’s robber found and charged within three days. The killers of my sister and countless others are still not known years after, but I continue to pay my taxes. I am left with the belief that Jamaica is the modern-day Animal Farm!

I am truly sorry I am not a member of parliament, as my sister’s killer would’ve been found within three days and brought to justice.

C.E. SENIOR

frenne17@hotmail.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130509/letters/letters1.html

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RITZ CARLTON RUNS FROM JAMAICA, TOURISM IN DECLINE

ed bartlett1Opposition Spokesman on Tourism & Travel Services Development, Mr. Edmund Bartlett, is today expressing regret at news of the imminent closure and loss of over 400 jobs at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay.

Mr. Bartlett described the impending closure as a body blow to Jamaica’s tourism sector, as the Ritz Carlton remained the only internationally acclaimed high-end brand on the island. The implications for our appeal as a destination to the high-yielding demographics in the marketplace is of tremendous concern, as we are yet to determine whether the entity that will replace the Ritz will fit the profile and be of equal stature.

Mr. Bartlett, who is Member of Parliament for East Central St. James, where the property is situated, went on to question the fate of the over 400 workers employed to the Hotel. The Opposition Spokesman is calling on the Government, who are part owners in the entity, to clarify the situation and indicate what protection is being given to the workers, many of whom have spent all their adult life in the employ of the Ritz.

The departure of the Ritz Carlton, Mr. Bartlett lamented, coupled with the failure of the Palmyra development is a double whammy for the prospects of the Elegant Corridor fulfilling its promise of being the high-end destination of Jamaica.

“It is imperative that the Minister of tourism moves quickly to dispel the pale of doubt hovering over destination Jamaica at this time, following a disturbing 5% decline in both earnings and arrivals in the just concluded winter-tourist season, the withdrawal of one of the pioneers of the all-inclusive model and a highly respected hotelier in the global marketplace, as well as Jamaica’s apparent inability to attract investments at the higher-end of the market”, Mr. Bartlett outlined. Nothing short of a clear and convincing strategy to reposition the industry and restore full confidence across the sector and throughout the marketplace is required at this time, he added.

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SCANDALS IN JAMDOWN

20130417bIt came as no surprise at how fast the PNP circled the wagons and moved decisively at defending Government Minister and MP Richard Azan through stall tactics and the vocal rebuke and curtailing of movements at Parliament for a few Journalists chomping at the bits for more information on the Spalding Market scandal engulfing him. Lest we forget we are dealing with a Party that is washed in corruption and a strong track record of not doing much to restrict it.

For this government, the Party comes first not the people. In the eighteen and half year reign by the PNP from 1989 to 2007, corruption scandals were so much the norm that many of us are struggling to differentiate right from wrong. It is not uncommon to see people of whatever political persuasion openly defending the most flagrant acts of corruption by political leaders, as far as they are concerned, “the boss a look out fi we”. Like I said before Jamaicans are not too unsettled by bad governance as long as they see some benefit from it no matter how terribly short-sighted and pitiful it is.

Despite its long-running record of scandals the PNP won general elections back to back from 1989 to 2002 until only being marginally defeated in 2007. The scandals of that time are many and include the Rollins land deal, 1989; the Zinc scandal, 1990; the furniture scandal, 1991; the Shell Waiver scandal, 1991; the motor vehicle importation scandal, 1992; the foreign-exchange scandal, 1993; the land distribution scandal at Holland, 1994; the sand mining scandal, 1994; the Water Commission scandal, 1994-1995; Operation Pride, 1995-1997; the Montego Bay street people scandal, 1999; the Fat Cats Salary scandal, 1999; the Net-Serv Jamaica scandal, 2001; the NSWMA scandal, 2004; the Sandals Whitehouse scandal, 2005; the Trafigura scandal, 2006 and the Cuban Light Bulb scandal, 2007 and the multi-year running FINSAC debacle. In total the Jamaican people have not only lost billions upon billions of dollars as a result of these and many other corruption scandals but it has also been robbed of its great potential for significant growth and development. How many of our leaders were held accountable despite the plethora of scandals? Hardly any.

The result now is that many of our people are stunted and condemned to a life of poverty and despair.

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WE NEED A LEADER LIKE THATCHER

thatcher1If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing. – Margaret Thatcher

One government not so long ago was marked by endless apologies, mea culpas, unending national broadcasts, non-stop media interviews, press conferences and press releases with an overarching level of Western style political correctness that judging from the turnout at the last general election, Jamaicans by and large simply have zero appreciation for. Since the voter determined termination of that administration’s reign the people have absorbed a leadership that does as it pleases with such an incredible display of ill-governance that people have all but decided to mind their own business and carry on with their own lives.

THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING

The recent passing of Margaret Thatcher who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1979 and 1990 and held the record as the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century, has again brought to the fore the want by many for bold, strong, decisive and clear-minded leadership. Mrs. Thatcher nicknamed the “the Iron Lady” rescued Britain from accelerated decline and if the words of noted British Economist Roger Bootle writing in the Telegraph is to be believed, Thatcherism brought about a people, “more strongly motivated, competitive… and harder working. Companies were more efficient…, and the country was more open and self confident about its place in it.” Beyond that, Britain moved from having the highest unemployment rates in the developed world to one of the lowest, underwent transformation of its tax system with London becoming one of the world’s premier financial and global centers and Britain on a whole, enjoyed healthy growth. But probably more significantly is the Thatcher ideological footprint that has only illustrated to us what transformational leadership is really about and how it can change an entire society for the better. Mrs. Thatcher believed in something and set about to implement it even when pressured to change gear as her unpopularity went to record highs in British politics. As she has been quoted in response to criticisms of her tough and sometimes painful economic policies, “There is no alternative” and while speaking at her Conservative Party Conference in 1980, she said,  “To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only this to say, ‘You turn if you want; the lady’s not for turning.”

While she worked to maintain a healthy level of political pragmatism it did not get to the point where the interests of the betterment of Britain were compromised. Meanwhile, in Jamaica our political pragmatism set off a vicious cycle of economic stagnation, crime and debauchery in return for comfortable victories at the polls time and time again. Whether we like it or not Jamaicans are not too unsettled by bad governance as long as they see some benefit from it no matter how terribly short-sighted and pitiful it is.

LEADERSHIP

Leadership in short is the process of social influence whereby an individual can bring about the support of other individuals to achieve tasks or objectives. Here in Jamaica what is required is transformational leadership, one where typically a charismatic individual is able to inspire others to perform beyond their usual selves. A quick glance at academic literature on the subject points to a range of traits and skills embodied by successful leaders worldwide.

These include being adaptable to situations, alert to one’s social environment, ambitious and achievement oriented, assertive, cooperative, decisive, dependable, dominant (influence others), energetic, persistent, self-confident, tolerant of stress and willing to assume responsibility. Margaret Thatcher easily fulfils most of these traits.

On the side of skill sets, this includes being clever (intelligent), conceptually skilled, creative, diplomatic, fluent in speech, persuasive, socially-skilled, knowledgeable about group task and well organized. Again, Thatcher easily fulfils most of these qualities.

Importantly for me, a clear vision must form the foundation of transformational leadership; people must know where you are heading. Thatcher and thereby Thatcherism wins on this score. The same can be said for Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew who set out on an incredible journey to turn his then small, uncivil, futureless, fractious, communist ridden and problem plagued Multi-ethnic Island state into a now beaming, prosperous and awe-inspiring metropolis. He had a vision, assembled a competent team and set about to deliver on it.

CONSENSUS POLITICS

One area in which Margaret Thatcher deserves cautious commendation is her stance on consensus. In her book “The Downing Street Years 1979-1990” she boldly stated,

“Consensus: The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

For some, that’s a controversial statement that must be taken into context. Nonetheless, after experiencing the failure of consensus politics whilst he served as Prime Minister, Bruce Golding appears to have come around to the Thatcher approach. Speaking last month at a Jamaica Chamber of Commerce Dinner at the Jamaica Pegasus, he said,

“Too often the demand for consultations leads to the insistence on consensus; consensus invariably requires compromise, that often so disembowels the original policy proposal that the objective is lost. Many of the issues that must be dealt with are so contentious that consensus is just not possible given the competing and indeed conflicting interests of the various groups in the society. After the consultations have been held the government must be bold enough to take the tough decisions that it considers necessary and it must get on with it, and claim the credit for their success or be prepared to accept the blame for their failure.”

It was the drive for consensus that derailed the previous International Monetary Fund agreement. Public Sector wage demands were simply uneconomical and did not serve the broad interests of Jamaican society. Many times too our Politicians strive for consensus as a means of wanting people and varying interest groups, including the schizophrenic and exceedingly hypocritical media and civil society, to like them, much to disadvantage of the nation’s best interests. This want for people to like them is exactly the reason why Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller occupies that high office today. Her leadership is based on populism and in Jamaica’s case that means the undying love of the poor, who make up the majority.

In the end our representatives have become welfare leaders easily handing out the nation’s borrowed money and scarce revenues through all sorts of innovative and not so innovative schemes to impoverished and not so impoverished constituents who have suffered decades of economic stagnation and a psychological reprogramming to adore freeness and handouts.

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SHAW ON STATE OF THE NATION

Audley-Shaw

Section of Mr. Shaw Budget Presentation.

 

Mr. Speaker, what is the background of this Budget Debate?

 

The PNP Government inherited a stable economy in January 2012, in which for the first time in a long time, all the major macroeconomic indices were simultaneously pointed in a positive direction.

 

– The Net International Reserves stood at US$2.0 billion with gross foreign exchange reserves at US$2.8 billion.

 

– The exchange rate was stable for over 2 years, at J$86:US$1.00

 

– Inflation was in the 6 percent range

 

– Interest rates – a key driver of new investments large and small – had reached single digit, with mortgage companies competing in single digit rates

 

– Confidence had returned among key stakeholders

 

– We left in place a blueprint for real reforms to taxation, pension and the public sector with the tabling and commencement of parliamentary review of Green Papers and a report of the Public Sector Transformation Unit (PSTU).

 

– Not surprisingly the economy, after the ravages of the global financial meltdown grew by 1.5 percent in 2011.

 

– Jobs were being created again from the expansion of the economy.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is what was left in place.

And let me state without any fear of contradiction that this stability was in place, despite the global recession, the massive increase in oil prices never seen since the 1970’s; the massive decrease in our bauxite revenue – only comparable to the 1980’s; and, despite the lack of IMF reviews under the previous Standby Agreement for several quarters.

 

And let me repeat, this lack of review was not due to any fundamental disagreement with the IMF – except on the issue of the pace of adjustment of major structural reforms as well as our decision to honour a contractual commitment to pay arrears to public sector workers – a decision we do not regret.

 

Indeed, the sister multilateral institutions, as late as November 2011 were sufficiently satisfied with the progress of the JLP government and signed off on US$318.0 million in development policy and project loans (water, energy and tax administration) from the World Bank and the IDB, respectively.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is the background that was left. It is the indisputable, irrefutable and incontrovertible truth.

 

Let me make it clear that the Opposition rejects without hesitation or equivocation, the politically charged assertion of the Minister, that when he took over “Jamaica was drifting on a sea of hopelessness and despair”.

 

Mr. Speaker, nobody either inside or outside of this House, believes such ridiculous statement.

But where are we today? Here is where the Minister’s words really fit. Sixteen (16) months after this government took over the reins of leadership with promises of a rapid IMF Agreement, abandonment of chicken back and steak and oxtail in abundance.

– The Net International Reserves has declined to less than the benchmark 12 weeks of imports, standing at US$884.0 million the lowest level in over 11 years.

 

– The exchange rate has slipped precipitously close to J$100.00 to US$1.00 with the re-emergence of a virulent Black Market for foreign exchange which is trading informally at between $105 and $110, and pricing now being done at higher levels. Some companies are quietly cutting staff as they are unable to get foreign exchange to purchase raw materials.

 

– In consequence, prices have moved to new and unprecedented atmospheric heights, with the price of basic foods increasing at an alarming rate, much higher than the officially stated average inflation rate. Basic foods prices have increased by a range of 20-60 percent over the past 16 months. Chicken back flew from $40 to $80 per pound, and a 2-pound loaf of bread has increased by $85 from $180 to $265. A whole chicken costing $700 is now a luxury for many.

– Mr. Speaker, people are suffering in Jamaica today. Fathers and mothers are struggling to keep food on the table and send their children to school. Farmers are trying their best with high prices for inputs, unpredictable weather and low prices for their produce and the Taxi man can’t make ends meet. His expenses are:

Earns /day $6,000

Gas $3,500

Owner’s fee $2,000

Take home $500

 

– The value of grants to PATH beneficiaries is shrinking with devaluation. People are hurting and reeling from punishing price increases from downtown to uptown. These punishing price increases across all sectors is marginalising the middle and working class and making the poorest of the poor more poor.

– Interest rates are beginning to point in the wrong direction again, threatening the stability of the real estate market and the opportunities from small business expansion. This is after we brought interest rates to the lowest period it has been for over 20 years.

 

– The unemployment rate is rising again. The unemployment rate was 13.7 percent at the end of October 2012 versus 13 percent when the Jamaica Labour Party left office. This is moving in the wrong direction despite this government’s promise of JEEP. The unemployment rate among young people was 35.3 percent in October 2012, 4.2 percentage points higher than the 31.1 percent reported for October 2011.

 

– And for the 5 consecutive quarters that this Government has been in charge, the economy has declined in every quarter.

 

– Not surprisingly, business confidence fell in the December quarter last year to its lowest in four years.

 

– The Jamaica Conference Board said that in the December quarter “Consumer confidence remained flat when compared with the previous quarter, but was less buoyant than before, having discarded the optimism they expressed at the top of the year following a change of government.”

 

Some say that the IMF might be too little, too late.

– Too little as there could be a negative outflow of funds to the IMF in the near term, and too late because the other multilateral flows may not be at a sufficiently rapid pace to adequately augment the decline in the NIR. This is so as the IDB and the World Bank will require unique performance measures of their own to trigger loan disbursements.

– In the meantime, ill-conceived taxation has been imposed without an informed framework, sharply increasing import fees, placing a burdensome 167 percent increase in property taxes on those who are tax compliant (which is likely to increase the delinquency rate), while re-imposing higher stamp duties and transfer taxes, corporate taxes, dividend taxes and assets taxes on businesses that would otherwise use these funds for expansion and job creation.

 

– In consequence, consumer and business confidence is down, purchasing power of consumers is down, and the economy continues to decline. Last year, we were told “it tun up till it bun up” now “it a dry up”.

 

– And while we boast that cutting the size of the Cabinet represents mere symbolism or “optics”, we can’t find money to send a little water to drought-stricken sections of the island while crops wither on the vine and rural folk are losing their livelihood. That’s not “optics” that’s real people suffering! The savings from the “optics” of a smaller Cabinet could truck water to suffering people.

 

– There is no doubt that poverty has increased over the past 15 months. The government must hasten the publication of the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, for which there has been no report since 2010

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Audley Shaw on Bang Belly Economics

Audley-ShawPart of Mr. Shaw Budget Presentation today…

In this Expenditure and Revenue Programme, the Government has targeted a Primary Balance of 7.5 percent and virtually a Balanced Budget. There are only two ways to achieve this:

(1) Create the environment for large-scale investment that generates growth and revenue, or

(2) Severely contract expenditure and impose high taxation which combined creates compression in the economy.

The Government has chosen this latter route, with the addition of the raid on public sector entities as an added feature.

They are counting on this raiding of the surpluses in public sector bodies to achieve this.

In this fiscal year the Government is planning to take approximately $32 billion (gross transfers) from the public bodies in comparison with $26 billion in 2012/2013. This is coming from $20 billion when we left Government in 2011.

The expenditure side of the public bodies are expected to decrease from approximately $300 billion in 2012/2013 to $280 billion in this fiscal year. This will be the first time in over a decade that expenditure in Public Bodies will be reduced.

This is a ‘bang belly’ theory of economics, where you don’t use economic policy to drive economic growth by building muscle that in turn generates incremental returns from a well oiled economic engine, you instead rely on this raid and on ill-conceived revenue windows that themselves are hostile to investment and growth. So you end up with a 21

‘bang belly’ hope of a balanced Budget without building sustainability and long term competitiveness.

In consequence, in the short term you might, with the best luck in the world, end up balancing the books but without growth, expansion and job creating wealth creation, you are not balancing peoples’ lives (stated objective of the Prime Minister). There is no nutrition in a bang belly economy to make a better life for the people. So we deprive people of housing benefits and claim that we balance the books from a no growth bang belly economy. We have no coherent incentive-driven tax policy that can drive growth, but we want to suck out revenue without a corresponding mechanism to encourage investment and earnings to create new revenue streams. That’s a bang belly economy that may achieve short term gains but will guarantee long-term pain because we will not balance peoples’ lives that are ravaged by joblessness, substandard housing solutions, high cost of living and marginal incomes. The surest sign of a ‘bang belly’ economy is one in which there is no growth yet we declare high primary surpluses and low deficits. How is that typically achieved? Not by runaway growth from new investment and expansion but by relentless compression in the economy and raiding the public sector entities, robbing them of their ability to adequately perform the role for which they were created. The last time we had a balanced budget was under the JLP Government in the 1980s when the economy achieved annual average 6 percent growth between 1986 and 1990 after a period of structural adjustment after the debacle of the mismanagement of the 1970s under the PNP. 22

For the remainder of this presentation I will chart a course for moving from a bang belly, no growth economy that is sucking out the lifeblood of what remains and instead show the way back to 6-10 percent growth rates.

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