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News Round UP: Week Ending 6/25/16

International

The leader of the Organization of American States urged member countries Thursday to support efforts in Venezuela to hold a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from office.

At a special meeting of its Permanent Council on the political and economic crisis in oil-rich but beleaguered Venezuela, OAS secretary general Luis Almagro said the country is in the midst of a “grave disruption of constitutional order.”

But the four-hour meeting ended with no decision on measures against Venezuela.

Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy, saddled with the world’s highest inflation rate, is in a dramatic free fall because of the drop in crude prices, and Maduro’s government has jailed opposition leaders.

The opposition has collected signatures to try to force a referendum on removing Maduro from power.

“The Permanent Council should stay on the right side of history and defend a people who need a voice,” Almagro told the assembly.

He said the council should express support for political prisoners in Venezuela and “support the will of the Venezuelan people in their call for a recall referendum” against Maduro — the former bus driver who was the handpicked successor to the late charismatic populist leader Hugo Chavez.

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Jamaica

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is to undertake a number of infrastructural development projects during the 2016/2017 academic year.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Ruel Reid, said a total of 24 early-childhood and primary institutions will benefit from infrastructure upgrade valued at $38.6 million.

Additionally, under the early-childhood revitalisation programme, which is part of the Ministry’s rationalisation strategy, infant departments will be added to 13 primary schools at a cost of $16.8 million.

The minister also informed that two state-of-the art early-childhood institutions are to be constructed during the new school year at Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in St. James, through Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE Canada); and at the Sir Clifford Campbell Primary School in Westmoreland, by the Rockhouse Foundation at a cost of $50 million.
“Our vision is to have one of these institutions in every parish,” the minister noted.

Sixteen secondary schools will be upgraded at a cost of $218.4 million, and $113.5 million will be spent to complete works started on 12 schools.

Senator Reid pointed out that under the Ministry’s Sanitation Project, the remaining 27 primary and one infant schools with pit latrines will get flush toilets.

This project will cost $20 million.

In addition, 27 primary schools that have only one classroom will benefit from the installation of partition walls, at a cost of $20 million

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Regional

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) says after several decades of low growth and rising public debt, Jamaica has made significant progress in restoring economic stability due mainly to strong policies and programme ownership.

The Washington-based financial institution said the Government’s reform programme, supported by a four-year IMF loan approved in 2013, has been a turning point for the Jamaican economy and a case study in ownership and collaboration.

It said the Government took on the programme to break the cycle of high debt and low growth that has afflicted Jamaica for decades.

“Although the economic recovery continues, growth remains weak,” the IMF said in a report on a survey conducted on the Caribbean island.

It said as a result, the latest assessment of the Jamaican economy, is projecting economic growth at 1.7 per cent this fiscal year and that the Government will therefore need to implement bold structural reforms to unleash the island’s potential.

However, the IMF noted that the obstacles to Jamaica’s growth and job creation are numerous and severe.

It said key among them are: crime, the cost and availability of credit, tax compliance costs, unreliable and expensive electricity, and a large informal economy. The large size of the public sector has also stifled private sector dynamism and places too much emphasis on Government as the engine of growth and employment.

The IMF said the Andrew Holness Government is now working closely with it and other international partners to tackle key roadblocks to development and help expand the private sector.

It said five key reform areas top the list including increasing access to finance by increasing banking sector competition and reforming financial sector taxation; downsizing the public sector through improving efficiency and reallocating public functions back to the private sector and cutting red tape and unnecessary “gatekeeping” at all levels of Government to aid the business climate and strengthen productivity and competitiveness.

It is also noted the need to implement labour market reforms that strengthen the link between pay and performance and increase labour market dynamism and reducing crime and tackling both its economic and broader social ramifications.

“These measures will take time to bear fruit. But they can only take place in an environment of fiscal discipline and economic stability. Despite the difficult road ahead, Jamaica can rise to the challenge and seize the moment,” the IMF said.

The international financial institution said that years of high fiscal deficits, public enterprise borrowing, and financial sector bailouts led to rapid debt accumulation, crowded out private credit, and stifled growth. Low growth, in turn, further weakened the fiscal situation and raised social pressures as standards of living stagnated.

“Jamaica’s historical vulnerability to natural disasters reared its head when, in October 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought the economy to a screeching halt. The current account deficit soared, reserves plummeted, and public debt reached 147 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), one of the highest levels in the world.

But it said that the Government’s economic reform programme, bolstered by the IMF programme in May 2013, focused on boosting growth and employment, improving external competitiveness, achieving fiscal and debt sustainability, strengthening the financial system, and protecting the poor by requiring a minimum level of spending on social programmes.

The IMF said that sceptics had regarded its programme’s challenging targets, including a primary balance of 7.5 per cent of GDP at the time, and relaxed in December 2015 to seven per cent of GDP for fiscal year 2016/17, as unattainable.

“Jamaica’s patchy track record of reform did not help. But implementation has been extraordinary, over 95 per cent of programme conditions were met. The creation of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), a civil society group made up of representatives from the private sector, public sector, and civil society and a first in an IMF programme, has ensured strong programme ownership.”

The IMF said that the goal was to build recognition of the challenges, keep an open channel of communication with both the IMF and the Government, and hold all sides accountable for achieving the programme’s commitments.

“Three years into the programme, the macroeconomic landscape has improved dramatically. Inflation is at a historical low and business confidence is at an all-time high. The current account has drastically improved and Jamaica has regained access to both domestic and international financial markets. Public debt dropped by over 18 percentage points of GDP, helped by strong fiscal consolidation and the PetroCaribe debt buyback.

“Furthermore, Jamaica’s credit ratings have moved up while its bond spreads have fallen and are now aligned with the emerging market average,” the IMF added.

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Regional

The latest updated travel notices from the Canadian government warns nationals to “exercise a high degree of caution” when traveling to the Caribbean nations of the Dominican Republic (DR) and Jamaica.

The cautionary advice was updated on both nations on June 17, based on high crime levels in both nations, according to the Canadian government, which last week issued similar updated warnings for The Bahamas, Guyana and Suriname.

In the DR, the Canadian statement warns travelers of violent crimes (including assault) against foreigners, which it said, occasionally occurs.

Unaccompanied female Canadian travelers are also being urged to “exercise caution in dealing with strangers or recent acquaintances, especially regarding the acceptance of rides or other invitations (since) incidents of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreigners have been reported, including at beach resorts.”

The Canada government statement also warns about petty crime (including pick-pocketing), which it said is common in urban areas.

“Thefts have been reported in resorts, including in hotel rooms and hotel room safes,” the statement said. “Exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings, especially after dark. Avoid showing signs of affluence and do not leave your personal belongings unattended on the beach. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Limit the valuable items you bring into the country.”

The Canadian government also alerted its travelers to be cautious since “theft of items from checked baggage at airports has been reported.”

“These thefts have taken place most frequently when travelers are departing,” added the statement. “Money and personal items have also been stolen from carry-on luggage while travelers are going through security checks. Do not pack valuables in your checked luggage. Items most likely to disappear include electronics (especially digital cameras), jewellery and perfume.”

For Jamaica, the Canada government statement warns travelers that violent crime, including armed robbery and murder, is a problem in large cities on the island, particularly in Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay.

It said the availability of firearms is widespread, and most violent crimes, especially murder, involve firearms.

“Despite the presence of police in major urban areas, drug- and gang-related violence, including shootings, continues to be a significant problem,” said the statement, which noted that there is a risk of becoming the victim of crossfire in these areas.

Still the Canadian government admitted that reports of violence perpetrated against tourists are actually very low but urged its nationals to “maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media” especially since “some inner-city and disadvantaged neighborhoods of Kingston have a significant gang population and high incidences of violent crime.”

These include, according to the Canadian government, Tivoli Gardens, Whitfield Town, Payne Land, West Kingston, Grant’s Pen, August Town, Denham Town, Hannah Town, Arnett Gardens, Olympic Gardens, Harbour View, Central Village, Spanish Town, Mountain View, Trench Town, Cassava Piece, Canterbury, Norwood and Rose Heights.

Canadian travelers are also being warned to avoid some parts of Montego Bay, namely St. Clavers Avenue and Hart Street, Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights and Mount Salem.

“Do not walk alone while visiting the island, even during the day. Go out in groups with people that you know. Exercise extreme caution in all regions of the country after dark and avoid visiting beaches and isolated areas at night. Do not use buses at night,” cautioned the statement, which also warns Canadians to “be wary of “friendly” strangers since there have been reports of “alleged sexual assaults at tourist resorts carried out by resort staff and, in some cases, by other tourists.”

“Women traveling alone are often harassed,” the government statement added, while urging them to refrain from excessive drinking, especially at all-inclusive resorts and to always ensure that their hotel room doors and windows are secure.

The Canadian government also said crimes of opportunity, including petty theft, pick-pocketing and bag -snatching are common in major tourist areas.

“Ensure that your personal belongings and travel documents are secure at all times. Do not carry large amounts of cash or show signs of affluence. Protect your cell phone, a popular item for theft,” the statement added. “Be aware of your surroundings when withdrawing money from automated banking machines (ABMs). Remain vigilant at supermarkets and retail outlets, as credit card and ABM fraud is a risk in Jamaica.”

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