News Round-Up for weekending, Saturday December 19, 2015

Caribzone_JamaicaThe National Housing Trust (NHT) experienced a decline of 9.7 per cent or roughly 253 homes in the number of housing solutions completed during its financial year 2014/2015 compared to the previous year.
But despite the slippage, former chairman of the Trust Easton Douglas noted in the government-owned entity’s annual report tabled in Parliament last week, that targets set for the area of housing completions were actually exceeded by 10 per cent.
It indicates that the NHT had a target of completing about 2107 housing solutions for the year.
“The NHT completed a total of 2,342 solutions during the review period; a reduction of 9.7 per cent compared to last year,” the report stated in a review of its operations.
“Build-on-own land, construction loan and home improvement loan accounted for 52 per cent (1,222) of this total, with interim finance projects contributing 28 per cent of the total. NHT projects under which scheme solutions were completed accounted for 15 per cent while the First Step Housing program accounted for the remainder of overall completions,” it continued.
Over the years, the Trust has been partnering with real estate developers in an attempt to increase the number of housing solution available to contributors. Other initiatives include the increase of loan ceiling for first-time borrowers by $1 million to $5.5 million. The interest rate has also been lowered by one per cent.
In its outlook for the 2016/17 financial year, NHT stated that it will commence work on schemes at Eltham Farm, Industry Cove, Sevens, Vineyard Town, Wickie Wackie, Granville, Longville Park, Marysfield and Hellshire in an attempt to complete another 2,000 solutions. At the same time, it hopes to fund 9,000 housing solutions over the next two years.
“The NHT is aware of the challenges that its contributors face during this period of national adjustment and commits itself to improving access to housing,” the annual report stated. “The Trust will partner with other agencies of the Government of Jamaica shortly to deliver more low income units nationally. The Trust is also reviewing various policies which will improve access to housing, as well as those which will increase our contribution to the country’s growth agenda.”

imagesDr Janet Dyer, director principal of the HEART College of Hospitality Services, said recent announcements on the expansion in the hotel industry have led the school to taking on “stretch targets” and “partnering with other entities to ensure that the required cadre of trained individuals is ready for employment”.
The demand for hospitality workers is rising, what with the reopening of several properties for the winter season which starts December 15, and the planned addition of thousands of rooms over the next four years.
Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill said this week that over 2,500 rooms are currently under construction or are now at advanced planning stages; adding that another 7,000 rooms will come on stream within the next four to 10 years.
These include 4,000 rooms to be added by the Karisma Group, 2,500 which will be added by China Harbour, and 800 rooms which will be added by Ocean by H10.

Dyer says that she has seen no marked surge in demand currently, but noted that there are some emerging jobs in the industry for which the HEART Trust/NTA is actively responding.
These include language translation, event management, animation, food styling, culinary artistry, and hotel and restaurant management, among others.
But hoteliers, for whom finding staff was urgent business this year, included the 232-room Melia Braco in Trelawny, where some 440 workers were targeted. Braco will open on December 19.
Several other properties have also reopened after upgrading exercises, including the 700-suite Moon Palace Resort in Ocho Rios and the 308-room Sunscape Splash in Montego Bay.
While several hoteliers were canvassed on the availability of workers, only Melia Braco responded, with the observation that many applicants were untrained, while others were happy to find a workplace with improved benefits.
Melia has indicated plans to expand in the island. It currently operates Braco Village on behalf of owner the National Insurance Fund.

jamvzcubaENTREPRENEURS are being advised that the ongoing economic embargo against Cuba creates room for Caribbean and Latin American firms to create and strengthen trade links with the Caribbean island before the blockade, which restricts trade by US firms, is lifted.
At the same time, they are being warned that trade with the US itself might be affected, so firms with an interest in investing in Cuba should seek legal advice on how to avoid punitive action.
In December 2014, after over 50 years of a blockade, US President Barack Obama began a series of changes in the USA’s economic and diplomatic policy toward the island. Changes have worked to provide opportunities for increased trade and investment. However, under existing legislation, US firms remain restricted in the gamut of commercial activity which can be pursued.
Diane Edwards, president of the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), speaking at a Cuba Demystified CEO Forum sponsored by Price water house Coopers Jamaica, JAMPRO and NCB Capital Markets on December 4, said, based on Jamaica’s “proximity and open, liberal economy, Jamaica has the potential to position itself as a gateway to Cuba specifically in the area of logistics.

“We encourage Jamaican companies to partner with international firms to take advantage of the simpler operating environment in Jamaica and the modern, efficient, port of Kingston, as the warehouse and entrepot port for goods entering the Cuban market from international suppliers, particularly to supply the Cuban hotel sector. Jamaican logistics companies are uniquely placed to leverage our location and trading relationships,” she stated.
She also said local firms could export “sophisticated management services to the Cuban market, from tourism management to market research to telecommunications”.
Other speakers noted that, aside from the laws enforcing the US trade embargo, the Cuban Government itself had its own set of rules that investors should seek advice on.
Cuban law still restricts local entrepreneurs from contracting directly with foreign suppliers or wholesalers; instead, they must contract from State agencies. There is room for trade arrangements; however, so long as they can be shown “to support the Cuban people”.
It was also pointed out that a two-tiered currency system and complex labor laws present a challenge. Companies in the resort and other sectors pay wages to government agencies which in turn pay workers.
Edwards noted there was the possibility of an agreement between Special Economic Zones in the two countries (at both the authority and enterprise level); and cooperation on logistics with special reference to transportation linkages and trade in services.
Other initiatives between Cuba and Jamaica include public-private partnerships to establish trade representation in Havana and the establishment of a Joint Jamaica-Cuba Business Council.
“There has been so much speculation, scaremongering and half-truths about the opening up of Cuba…[however] opening up of the Cuban economy to international business will have a seismic impact on the entire Caribbean which we must understand, benefit from, and adapt to. The Caribbean is becoming one market, breaking down the barriers of language, transport and international law,” Edwards said.
She cited one company, Agri Chemicals, which has established a strong trading relationship with Cuba, adding: “In the past year, we have taken 15 companies on a trade mission to Cuba to meet their counterparts at the Cuban Chamber of Commerce and interact with key Cuban importers.”
Steven Gooden, CEO of NCB Capital Markets, said at the forum that, while some fear the development of a Cuban market, many more are showing strong interest in entering the country and exploring business opportunities.
Despite its modest size, the Cuban economy remains a considerable untapped market for certain businesses,” he said, citing agribusiness and telecommunications.

manCricket legend Michael Holding has blasted the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) as “dysfunctional” and “untrustworthy” and cautioned that the game is in danger of further deterioration if changes are not made.
Holding’s public rebuke of the Dave Cameron led WICB comes amid reports of defiance at the board’s quarterly meeting in St Lucia on Saturday.
The WICB says it has retained the services of Dominican lawyer Anthony Astaphan to provide advice on the recommendations of the Caricom report calling for the dissolution of the board.
A WICB release quotes Astaphan as saying that the way forward is for the board and Caricom to work together to improve the game in the region.
“As for the state of West Indies cricket, that will only get worse as long as this current crop of board members remain there and the structure and culture remains the same,” Holding told Fairfax Media.
“You cannot have a healthy productive employee workforce while the employer is dysfunctional, untrustworthy and not liked by the employees.”
West Indies cricket has been marred by a turbulent relationship between the board and the players and last year the team abandoned a tour of India leading to a US$42 million lawsuit from the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
The latest humiliation for the former world beaters came on the weekend when they crashed to an embarrassing innings and 212-run loss to Australia inside three day in the opening Test.

Caribzone_BarbadosThe Barbados Government has introduced legislation amending the Value Added Tax (VAT) to allow for a 22 per cent tax on voice and other transmissions from cellphones.
Finance Minister Chris Sinckler told legislators on Tuesday night that the tax, which goes into effect from January 1, next year, will raise BDS$14 million (One Barbados dollar =US$0.50 cents) annually that would go towards funding university scholarships.
Sinckler said the proposed changes are meant to “increase the efficiency of tax administration, provide for the imposition of Value Added Tax on certain mobile services and enhance the enforcement provisions in the Act and for related matters”.
He said contrary to popular belief, the imposition would not only affect cellphone calls, but all mobile transmitting services and that following his initial announcement in June of his intentions to introduce a tax on cell phone services, “there was some discourse . . . largely driven by the media in Barbados, that we were just only applying the tax when people make calls in the use of their cellular phones”.

But Sinckler told legislators that “that is one form of mobile airtime.
“In the definitions that were provided, mobile airtime was taken to mean all services conducted across the bandwidth on the usage of a cellular phone,” the finance minister said, noting that “an expanse of capabilities that go beyond calling and sending the average text messages to somebody”.
He said the range of services to be covered by the new levy included use of the Internet and other transmissions that facilitate email, Whatsapp, Skype, and much more.
Sinckler said that the resulting revenue raised would go towards a soon-to-be announced university scholarship fund, replacing the bursary awards introduced last year as a measure to support students facing challenges to enter university owing to government’s withdrawal of fee support two years ago.
“We always knew that the bursary system was a temporary one at best and that we would have to find a permanent replacement for that by identifying . . . resources to assist in those circumstances.”
Sinckler explained that despite the recognized need to fund education, Government was cautious in approaching taxation on mobile services.
“We did it from the perspective not that we want to find additional taxes . . . but we examined the objectives. What is it that you would want to do this for? Can this area of business sustain that imposition, and what would be the outcomes of such an initiative?”
He noted the versatility of the smartphone that enables business and encourages continued capital investment that is good for Barbados.
“Government has to be very mindful of not acting in a manner as to put a brake on the productive advance of cellphone and mobile technology in our economy, because it is such an important part of doing business, making business more efficient and accessible.
“All of these things were in the back of the minds of the administrators and policymakers, certainly in my mind, when we were thinking about the imposition of this particular tax,” Sinckler told legislators.


Caribzone_TrinidadnTobagoGovernment contributions for the International Soca Monarch and the Chutney Soca Monarch have been drastically cut.
Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie said the allocation for the International Soca Monarch has been reduced from $8.09 milli¬on (2015) to $3.5 million for Carnival 2016.
He said the allocation for the Chutney Soca Monarch was reduced to $2.9 million from $4.8 million.
“Those reductions are in keeping with the state of the economy, the fact that we were eliminating waste, corruption, mismanagement anywhere we can find it; it’s really in keeping with what we can afford although recognize the importance of those competitions to the festival,” said Cuffie.
He was speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference yesterday, at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair.
Noting the competitions for these two major Carnival events were hosted by private entities, Cuffie said he was sure both organizations were quite “adept at finding the necessary funds to run the competitions”.
Cuffie said these cuts were necessary, given the financial situation of the country and based on what the Government can afford at this time.
He noted Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly had announced the budgetary allocation for Carnival 2016 would be cut by some $44 million, from $314 million in 2015 to $270 million for 2016.
Cuffie said all State enterprises and ministries are now operating under a different “economic paradigm” and are responding to the economic realities that exist.

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