When Jamaica’s centre-right Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) scored a narrow electoral victor over the left-wing People’s National Party (PNP) in February 2015, it inherited a heavily-indebted country with youth unemployment currently measured at 38% and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mandated loan package that has seen bruising austerity measures implanted across the country.
Jamaica’s new prime minister, 43-year-old Andrew Holness, whose party was founded by Jamaica’s first prime minister, Alexander Bustamante, and dominated for decades (1974 to 2005) by Edward Seaga, came to power promising to turn Jamaica into “the Silicon Valley of the Caribbean”.
With a debt-to-GDP ratio of about 125%, it is unclear how Mr Holness can make good on his promise to trim taxes and attract investment while at the same time maintaining an inflation rate that, under the government of his predecessor the PNP’s Portia Simpson-Miller, fell to a 50-year low. Among the key deputies tasked with helping Mr Holness achieve this goal is minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Daryl Vaz.
The prospect of investing in Jamaica has improved in recent years, with the country ranked 58 out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business index. Although Jamaica still struggles with poor electricity in certain areas and a byzantine tax code, the country’s strong banking system has high standards in provision of credit for those looking to invest. Jamaica continues to enjoy trade benefits in term of access to the US market from the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a policy launched by the US in 1983, and 2000’s US-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. The US remains exponentially Jamaica’s largest trading partner.
In recent years, a number of large-scale hotel projects were carried out on the country’s west coast near the resort town of Ocho Rios and, along with bauxite (Jamaica continues to be a major producer of bauxite, the ore that serves as the world's main source of aluminum), tourism, construction and telecommunications remain an important and growing sectors in Jamaica.
The previous labour government, that of Bruce Golding, which ruled from 2007 to 2011, came to an end amid revelations of the government’s links with Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, a gang leader and drug lord from Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens neighborhood, an echo of the links both parties have long maintained with political-criminal groups that they have never entirely abandoned. Whether both the JLP and PNP can move definitely on past such practicers is one of the more open-ended questions for Jamaica today.