Opportunities for Jamaica’s next phase of development

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Opportunities for Jamaica’s next phase of development Jamaican workers fixing a road

On my visit to Jamaica earlier this month, I had the opportunity to see the downtown Kingston art district. Mural after mural, the stories that they told confirmed what I had anticipated – creativity is in Jamaica’s DNA, a country renowned for its cultural icons.

These murals were more than beautiful works of art. They were part of an effort to use culture to achieve social and economic transformation, create jobs and revitalise urban areas as an asset for sustainable development.

It’s just one example of the potential that Jamaica has; the country can make culture ‘work’ for its people. A vibrant creative economy is sure to be a plus for tourism – but it can bring broader benefits as well.  Enhancing appreciation of the value of intellectual property, or investing in talent development, showcasing opportunities for collaboration and co-creating, may help creative communities grow adding greater economic value.

I bring this up as an opportunity because I heard during my visit that Jamaica’s economy is at an inflection point.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit hard, but the Government responded to urgent needs with social protection programmes, and corridors of safe travel led to the gradual recovery of tourism that helped to power economic growth  of 4.6%  in 2021. Increasing vaccination from the current rate of 25 % targeting essential workers and at-risk populations will be critical to sustain the recovery.

Need for diversification

The pandemic also exposed structural weaknesses, including overreliance on a few sectors, emphasising the need for diversification. The war in Ukraine presents several challenges to the Jamaican economy through inflationary pressures, global economic slowdown and, potentially, an adverse impact on financial flows.

As we navigate a world of multiple crises, it is a good time to explore what more can be done as the country moves into its next phase of development, building on its successes in sound economic management.

At the World Bank Group, we are working to help countries recover, as well as to achieve green, resilient and inclusive development in the long run. We appreciate the strong partnership with Jamaica spanning almost 60 years. In Kingston, I was inspired by my discussions on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and key members of the Cabinet, as well as development partners, private sector, women leaders, youth and civil society advocates.

Among the opportunities that stood out, in addition to fostering a creative economy and urban renewal, are investing in education and building human capital, especially addressing at-risk youth, digitalisation, modernising agriculture, and ramping up private sector engagement.

To encourage and enable more private sector investment and participation, we launched the Country Private Sector Diagnostic Report jointly with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service this month , which assesses critical constraints and suggests policy and regulatory reforms to unleash private investments for development impact. Two priority sectors – agriculture and outsourcing services – have been identified as areas with strong potential for upgrading.

Of course, challenges remain. To improve the business climate, it will be important for Jamaica to strengthen competition and business regulation and streamline trade processes, which we are working with the Government to advance. In today’s volatile environment, looking towards regional solutions for trade, including in services, may be an avenue for creating more opportunities and improving resilience. Lack of access to credit, corruption and crime present barriers as well.

Jamaica also needs to address infrastructure constraints, and we are working with the Government to improve road connectivity. Reducing energy costs - among the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean region - is also crucial. High oil and gas prices and the country’s dependence on imports underscore the urgent need for reforms to stimulate investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. This can reduce production costs and accelerate decarbonisation, supporting the transition towards a green economy. Investors will increasingly look for locations that support sustainable supply chains.

This is not an easy time for any country, but, with the creativity, agility and vitality of Jamaica’s people, a more green, resilient and inclusive future is within their grasp.  During my visit, I thought of the Jamaican music legends Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. “You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try,” with “one love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right”.

It is a good reminder of the commitment and the spirit that we need in our work. We look forward to further our partnership as we travel together on Jamaica’s journey to help its people thrive.


This blog was first published on The Gleaner


Mari Elka Pangestu

Former World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships

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