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Private-Sector Leaders Give Views On High Levels Of Business And Consumer Confidence

Private-Sector Leaders Give Views On High Levels Of Business And Consumer Confidence
Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, emphasises a point during a discussion with Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association President, Metry Seaga.
(Media Credit: Melroy Sterling)

KINGSTON (JIS) -- Private-sector leaders have attributed the unprecedented high levels of business and consumer confidence in the economy to several key factors. Notable among these, according to Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) Immediate Past President, Warren McDonald, is successive Administrations’ commitment, particularly within recent years, to continue policies and programmes initiated by their predecessors that are deemed feasible. Mr. McDonald says persons have welcomed continued implementation of the fiscal responsibility policy, which he notes was commenced by the previous Administration, “and which the current Government acknowledged as necessary, and has continued”. He tells JIS News that this is very encouraging, as Jamaica “cannot afford to have programmes abandoned just because they were initiated by another Administration”. “I think this has led to growing confidence in the whole economic path (which is indicating that) all of the fundamentals are positive. If you examine them, the debt is declining, inflation is at all-time lows, interest rates are declining… all of the indicators are on the right path. It (also) indicates that we should see improved growth,” he points out.

Mr. McDonald says other strategies, including hotel room expansion and focus on boosting the hospitality sector’s outputs through linkages forged between tourism and other portfolio areas, such as agriculture and pending housing developments, are fuelling the burgeoning wave of confidence.

“I think there is general optimism that things are improving… that we are showing maturity in our whole governance (framework) and that things should further improve,” he adds.

Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) President, David Wan, also concurred.

He also believes that the Administration of Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, has acquitted itself fairly well during its first year in office by announcing polices and targets deemed business-friendly.

Notable among these, Mr. Wan says, is their undertaking to reduce bureaucracy, and the impending public-sector transformation “which will make the Government more efficient”.

Consequent on the latter, the JEF President anticipates that fewer resources will be required to drive State entities’ operations.

Additionally, he believes the Government will further reduce borrowing from the local market, which will “make it (even) easier and cheaper for the private sector to access capital from the banks, or wherever they access money from”.

Mr. Wan also identifies the projected construction boom, particularly for housing, as another factor heightening confidence levels.

“I think that the Administration’s stated intention to build more houses, especially though joint ventures involving the National Housing Trust (NHT), is going to encourage… greater investments in real estate, because a number of these ventures are expected to be public-private partnerships,” he says.

Mr Wan also highlights the Government’s focus on inner-city renewal, which should encourage private stakeholder investments in communities being redeveloped.

Additionally, he cites the increased personal income tax threshold for Pay As You Earn (PAYE) workers to $1.5 million and the Government’s negotiation of the successor Precautionary Stand-By Agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as additional factors.

Small Businesses Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) President, Hugh Johnson, also hails the Administration’s commitment to continuing programmes that are deemed effective.

He cites Prime Minister Holness’ “deliberate” undertaking to this end in his 2017/18 Budget Debate presentation in the House.

Mr. Johnson also highlights the Administration’s “genuine effort” to further improve the ease of doing business by reducing the bureaucratic red tape.

He mentions the opening of a bank account as one example of the challenges associated with registering a business, where “tremendous progress” has been made, particularly by the Companies Office of Jamaica, to rectify that.

While noting that the association is “uncomfortable” with elements of bureaucracy that still remain, Mr. Johnson maintains that the business environment “has been significantly improved and (we are) hoping for it to improve even further”.

For his part, Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) President, Metry Seaga, attributes the high levels of business and consumer confidence to “a lot of the economic indicators pointing in the right direction”.

“The previous Administration started the ball rolling, and this Government has continued it, where we have been fiscally responsible; and that is yielding dividends where our dollar has been stable, interest rates are coming down and investments are up. We feel that those are the things that have (significantly boosted confidence levels),” Mr. Seaga says.