Monday, February 24, 2014

The Barbados value-added tax (VAT) experience debated in The Bahamas

Govt urged to learn from Barbados on VAT


By TANEKA THOMPSON
Guardian Senior Reporter
taneka@nasguard.com
Nassau, The Bahamas


Days after Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr. Delisle Worrell said value-added tax (VAT) has hurt that island’s tourism industry, Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Darron Cash said the criticism should give The Bahamas government another reason to delay VAT’s introduction.

Last week, Worrell told The Nassau Guardian that he has seen “declining enthusiasm” for VAT in Barbados, adding that the tax is “anti-tourism”.

Worrell also said Barbados’ VAT system is a “mess”.

“The recent comments from the governor of the Central Bank of Barbados provide a great example of good advice from a credible source,” Cash said.

“Dr. Delisle Worrell’s statements that in his country VAT has emerged as the anti-tourism tax should give the Christie government reason to stop, review and cancel their July 1 VAT implementation date.

“If the prime minister and his dutiful junior minister (Michael Halkitis) were listening they would have already come to the conclusion that there is an overwhelming strong public view that this administration has not thought [out] its proposed VAT program sufficiently.”

When asked for his take on Worrell’s criticism, Halkitis said several Barbadian government officials see the tax as beneficial.

“For example, I had the opportunity to speak with the Minister of Finance of Barbados Christopher Sinckler at a meeting in Trinidad last week,” Halkitis said.

“He is of the opinion that it is a suitable tax, but that we should be extra vigilant in collections and not allow arrears to build up from businesses that do not pay. Otherwise, he felt that the tax has served them well.

“Former Prime Minister of Barbados and Minister of Finance Owen Arthur is also a supporter of VAT as a tax.”

Halkitis stressed that the government has reviewed a number of studies that estimate VAT’s impact on economic growth.

He said these studies forecast greater productivity and growth if the government moves away from a system of high customs duties and toward a broad-based consumption tax such as VAT.

“Another warning we have received is to avoid a system that has too many different rates and exemptions,” Halkitis said.

“This leads to greater administration costs and could possibly lead to the mess Dr. Worrell is referring to,” he said.

Halkitis said The Bahamas can “avoid the mistakes made by earlier adopters” of VAT.

He said the government’s main concern is that delayed action in getting its fiscal house in order would have a negative impact on the economy.

During an interview with The Nassau Guardian, Worrell said his views on the tax are “very radical”.

“I think VAT is an inappropriate tax for a tourism-based economy,” he said.

“The rationale for VAT is that it is an export promoting tax, because if you are exporting physical goods (VAT is not charged on) those goods, but the producers are able to claim refunds/rebates on their inputs.

“ . . .So there’s a bias in the VAT in favor of export industries; that is if you are exporting physical things that are consumed outside, but not if you are exporting tourism, because the tourists come to you to consume.

“So VAT is an anti-tourism tax if you are a tourism producer because it makes your tourism more expensive than the people who don’t charge VAT, and that’s why all tourism countries who apply VAT have to apply it at a lower rate. A simple sales tax would be much better.”

February 24, 2014

thenassauguardian

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cuba — A growing threat to the Caribbean?

By Anton E Edmunds:



Outputs from the recent Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Cuba included calls for equality, the creation of a zone of peace, and for the US embargo on Cuba to be lifted. This call by one Caribbean leader after another masks a serious issue for a Caribbean too often focused on statements of regional solidarity versus implementing policy that would exemplify such statements -- Cuba is a growing threat to the region.

To be clear, Cuba is no longer the cold war proxy, challenging socio-political stability, but rather the country has emerged as a growing threat as a location for foreign direct investment and development inputs from the outside world. The unveiling of a mega-port in Mariel -- that famous hub for the export of Cubans to the United States -- should serve notice to Jamaica, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic that in their midst is a trans-shipment hub that may one day soon directly compete with them for one of the few industries in which they have an advantage, which is the movement of goods to and from the US.

For Jamaica, Cuba's Mariel may make it that much more difficult to find the financing and shipping partners necessary for that country to position itself as a major hub, though Panama Canal delays may be helpful in buying time to address environmental issues and funding needs for the locations currently under consideration.

More critically, however, is the interest by entities such as the European Union (EU) and others in determining ways to work with Cuba. The fact that the EU now seeks to deepen relations with Cuba on trade and investment should be worrying to Caribbean governments and organisations. This, especially considering the increasingly fractious relationship that exists between many countries and the EU.

A relationship that brings new capital and technical assistance to Cuba should not be ignored, as Cuba's efforts at free market reform offer the EU and others an opportunity to position their companies for future market openings while the wider Caribbean region continues to stagnate and lose ground as a place to do business. As it relates to the improving of EU relations with Cuba, the lifting of sanctions in 2008, visits by various EU government officials, and a push to recalibrate the relationship with the country all highlight an EU interest in expanding its role as Cuba's biggest foreign investor. A large market in need of infrastructure and private sector investment, Cuba remains largely untapped and it is opportunities for investment rather than trade that drives the EU agenda. Much like with the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba exports little to the EU.

For the Caribbean, there is the perception that the region is weak in executing initiatives and, further, that it is a space seen as increasingly leaning towards mendicancy. Efforts by some countries to sue for reparations do little to position the region as friendly to an EU which, in its own evolution, now includes countries with no shared history with the region, and who are increasingly likely to view the Caribbean as hostile. Sadly, all of the above can only serve to allow EU policymakers to see Cuba as an easier partner to deal with -- even with its human rights issues -- than, in particular, the English-speaking Caribbean countries that make up Caricom.

A lack of responsiveness to outreach by the United States Government on issues like trade and energy, a weakness in security vis-à-vis the supply chain, and dalliances with economic structures proposed by Venezuela can further position the region as a difficult neighbour and friend. Turning a blind eye to the jailing of dissidents in Cuba and the weakening of institutions that may allow the development of de facto leaders for life in the wider Latin America region are also challenges that Caribbean countries have to face -- all while they claim to be a bastion of political fairness. The inability of Caricom countries to negotiate with Canada, a trade agreement that largely mirrors what was negotiated with the EU, is also not positive.

The harsh reality for the wider Caribbean is that any improved relationship between Cuba and the US would mean an increased focus by US agencies and the Congress to direct funding towards that country's development. Fundamentally, this means the appropriation of resources to support infrastructure and agriculture development, capacity building and energy, all areas where Caribbean countries need support to meet their own stated regional goals.

From a private sector standpoint, a Caribbean region still fragmented despite its best efforts at integration will see investment flow to a market that is new and larger, and one that would operate under one framework, however underdeveloped. While a private sector rush to Cuba may not be immediate, the reality is that foreign direct investment in the Caribbean has slowed, and in some instances the region has lost ground as a place where it is easy to do business. Any shift of interest to Cuba would hurt.

With the EU poised to seek out ways to partner with Cuba, and with Canada, Brazil, and China already geared up to move in, there should be an awareness by Caribbean leaders that there is probably a back room plan being developed in the US to do the same. The writing on the wall is clear: Cuba is a threat for development support as well as investment from many who were once bullish on the Caribbean's development and integration agenda.

The times for speeches on solidarity need to be replaced with actionable items and tangible efforts that the external community can commit to supporting before it is too late.

Anton Edmunds is the head of The Edmunds Group, a business and government advisory service firm that focuses on emerging markets. Anton is also a senior associate at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). Comments: www.cisis.org; ww.onthecaribbean.com; @theedmundsgroup; anton@theedmundsgroup.com.

February 17, 2014

Jamaica Observer

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jamaica: 100 years of black consciousness advocacy

By Louis MOYSTON
Louis Moyston








JAMAICA has had a rich history of creative resistance during slavery. Similarly, during the post-slavery era, many Jamaicans have played pioneering roles in the development and the advancement of the black consciousness idea and movement. This article seizes the opportunity of black history celebration to open a window into stories of some Jamaicans who have made their mark on the idea and movement. The article focuses on those to whom very little attention has been paid, such as John Brown Russwurm, Dr T E S Scholes and Una Marson. It is important to pay special attention to the quality of their contribution in order to ask, how well have we built on what they started? It is important for us to explore how some of these ideas may awaken the "years of lethargy" among black people in Jamaica.

Before and after 1776, Jamaica had an active trade relationship with North America. Port Antonio was one of those active trading ports; it was the setting in which John Brown Russwurm's father, a white American businessman, lived. Winston James (2010) in The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm, 1799 to 1851, writes about his birth to a black woman and his journey to the USA, with his father, where he attended school. The writer notes that, at the time of his graduation from Bowdoin College, he may have been the earliest or one of the earliest blacks to graduate from a tertiary institution in America. James notes that it was during his years in college that he began writing on black struggles. Inspired by the Haitian Revolution and the black Republic, he made it his duty to defend the young black regime against propaganda depicting the Haitian people as savages. He moved to New York after graduation. There he developed and published his ideas instilling greatness in racial pride and the back-to-Africa message. He emerged during the earlier period before another early pan-Africanist and back-to-Africa advocate Edward Wilmot Blyden (1823-1912).

Russwurm met Samuel Cornish, a fellow African-American, in New York during the 1820s. They established Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper to be owned and operated by Africans in the USA. According to James, the editors announced in their opening statement if the Journal that "we wish to plead our own cause, for too long have others spoken for us". Russwurm saw the paper as an "organising force" among unorganised blacks in America, aiming to "awaken African-Americans from the lethargy years". His writings advocated the role of family and the cultivation and growth of industry among blacks by way of education and training. He saw education as that driving force towards higher achievements in science. He guided black people in America along the path of race consciousness through which they could become useful and responsible citizens. He became disillusioned with America and went to live in Liberia, where he was established as a governor of that new Republic. A few years after his death, in 1851, and in one of the neighbouring parishes to Portland, the Paul Bogle movement advanced the black consciousness struggles in another context at Morant Bay, St Thomas.

During the 1850s the systematic programme of land deprivation among the black masses continued; the setting in St Thomas and Jamaica was characterised by high taxation, high unemployment, high prices for basic food stuff, and severe and oppressive injustice. Thee clarion call for "skin for skin", black unity was condensed into an assault against the agents of the planter/colonial power relations in that parish. This violent insurgency of 1865 may have inspired a new thrust of black consciousness among a few emerging black intellectuals: Dr Robert Love (a Bahamian who resided in Jamaica) and Dr T E S Scholes. Both thinkers noted the role of the colonial/planter society and its systematic deprivation of the black masses' access to land. They saw this as a deliberate strategy to keep blacks and the country underdeveloped. Gordon K Lewis (1968) in The Growth of the Modern West Indies, describes Dr Love as the publisher of the old Jamaican Advocate newspaper calling for black representation in the Legislative Council, as well as, his advocacy of black consciousness. According to the writer, he lived in Haiti, where he encountered 'negritude' and black political representation. In the book, The Jamaican People 1880-1902 Race, Class and Social Control, Patrick Bryan (2000) describes Dr Love, an Anglican pastor, as a secular-pragmatist; and Dr Scholes, a Baptist, as another secular intellectual, and that they expressed their concerns about the land for the ex-slaves of Jamaica. Bryan writes that Scholes placed the question of land tenure in the broader context of the imperial system of the appropriation of "native resources", and that it was a conspiracy by the British Empire to systematically deprive the black masses access to land in Jamaica. Noting the endless sources of labourers among the black masses, Bryan writes that Scholes spoke about the high rate of taxation, land hunger, and the ignorance of scientific agriculture as hindrances to the development of the black masses and the country. Scholes was a significant Jamaican scholar; his major works are: Sugar in the West Indies and The British Empire and Alliances. This tradition, especially the role of spirituality and religion in politics, continued at the level of the role of revivalist preacher, such as Alexander Bedward, his native Baptist tradition rooted in the race thinking of Paul Bogle.

Marcus Garvey, the most popular pan-Africanist, whose movement excelled in the USA, inherited the rich legacy from Bogle to Love and Scholes, among others. After Garvey was Leonard P Howell, who showed the black masses that there was no hope in the colonial/planter Jamaican society, called for a rejection of the dominant European values and the wrong doctrine advanced by the Church. He inspired a new awareness among that black lower class that in part ushered a new era of black unity, setting the foundation for the emergence of the powerful trade union movement. Una Marson emerged during the rise of this movement. She was an early pan-Africanist and one of the earliest black feminists of international proportion during the 1930s. She lived in England where she worked with the likes of other pan-Africanist such as George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, and C L R James among others. She was also secretary to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, whom she accompanied to the League of Nations conference where the Emperor submitted his case on the Italian aggression and occupation of Ethiopia.

These persons have set the standard. It is important that we take note of their worth and refine and expand on their works. They are important sites for historical excavation by young scholars.

Louis E A Moyston
thearchives01@yahoo.com

February 12, 2014

Jamaica Observer

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) recommends that the Bahamian Government not implement Value Added Tax (VAT) on July 1, 2014 ....explore other forms of taxation instead

Teachers Join Vat Opposition



By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net
Nassau, The Bahamas

 

The BAHAMAS Union of Teachers’ (BUT) president said yesterday that its 4,000 members were adding their voices in opposition to the “regressive” Value-Added Tax (VAT), as there was still a “great deal of uncertainty” as to how the profession would be impacted.

In a notice to the BUT’s membership highlighting their opposition to VAT, Belinda Wilson said that while teachers were on the list of professionals set to be impacted, it was still unclear how.

“There is a listing of 86 professions in the VAT documents which says these are the professions which will be affected by VAT, and at number 80 it has teachers, but no one is able to say to us what that means,” Mrs Wilson said.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty. I believe that if you want VAT to be successfully implemented then we need to be sure that at the ground level every aspect of it is clear to the wider public.”

The BUT also contends that the revenue component of the taxation is unclear; that the Government has not given a detailed explanation with facts as to show how the fiscal deficit has occurred; and has not outlined measures to ensure that the problem will not be repeated.

The BUT added that VAT implementation has failed in other Caribbean countries such as Barbados, and the Government’s proposed 15 per cent rate is too high, with consumers left to bear the burden.

“The cost of living has increased, and even when you look at other workers, especially those at the minimum wage level, how do you on a minimum wage sustain yourself and family while taking on a regressive tax that they know from the onset will increase your expenditure at least 5 per cent?” Mrs Wilson queried.

She added “Teachers are citizens and consumers, so the teachers have light bills, water bills and they have to go into the grocery stores.

“Teachers are a part of the whole scheme of things. If VAT is going to be implemented in July, there should have been some discussions with teachers and the educational sector as to what changes may need to be made to the schemes of work.”

The BUT is recommending that the Government not implement VAT on July 1, and instead explore other forms of taxation.

The union is also calling on the Government to give a detailed plan on spending cuts for 2014 and beyond. It says that the Government should “not create a Central Revenue Agency but use the system that exists now, and improve monitoring and collection of outstanding taxes”.

Mrs Wilson has urged BUT members to sign the petitions against the implementation of VAT and make their views known to their respective MPs.

February 11, 2014

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cuba and the democratic dilemma

By
BNamericas:



The irony of communist-run Cuba holding the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (Celac), and staging the second annual summit of the group in Havana, was not lost on many. One of the aims of Celac is to promote democracy in the region, and in the final communiqué member nations pledged to "strengthen our democracies and human rights for all."

Celac was set up at the behest of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez as a means of countering the influence of the United States in Latin America. It is therefore perhaps surprising, to some at least, that so many of the countries that have not been traditional allies of Chávez-Maduro's Venezuela have been so keen to get involved. On the other hand, that may reflect the new reality of Latin America, that across the political spectrum the region looks increasingly less to Washington. Whatever the case, Celac has emerged as yet another attempt at regional integration.

Cuba, meanwhile, has also changed in the seven years since Raúl Castro took over from his brother Fidel. Small businesses have sprung up across the island, travel restrictions have been partly lifted (it's high time the US did the same for its citizens wanting to visit Cuba), and Cubans can buy mobile phones and even imported cars, albeit at exorbitant prices, to name a few of the reforms implemented. Even the country's baseball players are now allowed to ply their trade abroad without the need to defect. While major political changes have yet to be seen, and probably won't be for as long as the octogenarian Castro brothers are around, the modest opening up of the economy is welcome news,

From Havana's point of view, of course, there's nothing ironic about Cuba promoting democracy. The official line is that Cuba is a bastion of democracy, just not of the western liberal-bourgeois variety, which it doesn't regard as true democracy at all. But while democracy does indeed come in all shapes and sizes, by any reasonable yardstick Cuba cannot be considered democratic. It has indirect elections to the legislature, but the candidates are vetted and there's only one political party allowed. There's no free press, no independent judiciary and political arrests are commonplace.

There are, nevertheless, plenty of examples of dictatorships far worse than Cuba's. North Korea, which also regards itself as a democratic country, is one case that springs to mind. And as Havana has clearly set out on the road to reform, the process of bringing Cuba back into the international community, even through talking shops like Celac, is to be encouraged. Economic and other reforms offer the hope that the country may undergo a smooth transition when the time eventually comes, rather than descend into chaos. One of the most effective ways to give momentum to this process would be to end the five-decades old US embargo on the island, which apart from benefiting both countries' economies, would take away the regime's favorite excuse for whatever goes wrong. Perhaps the Burma/Myanmar model of opening up and reforming, or even what's currently happening in Iran, could offer some valuable lessons for Cuba and the outside world.

February 06, 2014

BN americas

Thursday, February 6, 2014

UNESCO recognizes Cuba’s educational accomplishments

• The country’s population has the highest educational level in Latin America


By LINET PERERA NEGRÍN



Herman van Hooff, director of UNESCO’s regional cultural office, reported February 5 that Cuba’s accomplishments in implementing the United Nations ‘Education for All’ (EFA) objectives are recognized worldwide.

The six objectives include expansion of early childhood care and education; provision of universal free and compulsory primary education; opportunities for young people and adults to learn life skills; the development of adult literacy, gender parity and quality education.
 
The ‘Education for All’ effort guided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is directed toward meeting universal educational needs. Progress toward meeting the objectives was described in UNESCO’s 11th report on teaching and learning 2013-2014, recently shared in Havana.

Van Hooff assured Granma that he is pleased with Cuba’s accomplishments and mentioned several of the country’s outstanding achievements such as the early childhood education program Educa a tu hijo, quality primary education and Cuba’s renowned adult literacy campaign.

He emphasized that Cuba has the highest EFA Development index (EDI) in Latin America and the Caribbean. The rating is a composite figure based on progress on four of the six EFA goals. These are the objectives focused on universal primary education, adult literacy, quality of education and gender equity, selected given the availability of data in these areas.
The report also highlighted the fact that, among all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba dedicates the highest percentage of its Gross Domestic Product to education, 13%.

Despite progress made in several countries, the report concludes that the basic EFA goals will not be achieved and that the issue of education must be a central priority on the UN’s post-2015 development agenda.

February 06, 2014

Granma.cu

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Colonialism and neocolonialism in Jamaica

By Maurice HAUGHTON:



It is now 51 years since Jamaica had to its Independence, however, it is like a baby whose umbilical cord was never severed at birth. The baby grows up, underdeveloped with limited mobility, still attached to its mother by an extended umbilical cord. This attachment restricts the baby's movement while giving an uncaring mother a great degree of control; she can impose her will, put unfair demands on the child, withhold food, and take from the child if the child does not conform to her wishes .This metaphor is a depiction of neocolonial control over Jamaica.

For many years colonialism milked Jamaica and other Caribbean countries by imposing a false identity on our people, diminishing resources that affected growth and development. In spite of the richness of these countries, they are still referred to as Third World and underdeveloped. All the post-colonial unrest and instability in the Caribbean has the footprints of traditional colonial entities. They usually come into the country, attach themselves to some factions, mostly opposition parties, then supply guns and ammunition, dangle the carrots, and influence elections. Their main objective is to prevent governments that would encourage self-reliance, equality and justice for the people. They rather keep the masses poor and needy so they can pass their breadbasket and their offering plate in which they drop a penny and take a pound .They come under false presence as human rights advocates, freedom fighters and stability agents, while instigating and spreading propaganda to create unrest among the people. They create artificial shortage of basic foods like bread, milk and flour so the poor cannot eat, all to undermine the Government. Given the circumstance, any baby would buckle under such pressure, while the mother undoubtedly grins as she gets her way, just like the old days of gestation when the baby must shuts its mouth and take whatever comes its way.

During colonialism, Jamaica had to blindly ingest the unsavory meals served up by colonial powers. They took our harvest and gave us slaves to create more harvest. It is true, "I and I build a cabin, I and I plant the corn. Now you look me with a scorn then you eat up all my corn".

Marcus Garvey spoke out against it and Michael Manley tried stopping it, but overpowering forces fought back, using everything from the IMF to big businesses and capitalist tactics. Neocolonial influence is all over the Jamaica today. After 300 years of Emancipation, and 51 years of "Independence", people are still talking about 'God Save The Queen'. When did the Queen ever say 'God Save Michael Manley, Portia Simpson' or any of those stuff shirts who claim to represent her. In 2009, England suspended part of the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands over allegations of corruption. Like a scolding mother, she usurped the democratically elected government and replaced elected officials with her own appointees. For those who wish Jamaica was still under British rule, is that what you want? Why not ask your fairy godmothers for a couple of slave masters and some backra massas too.

All elected officials in Jamaica must take the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty: "I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her heirs and successors, according to law. I remember as a young man in Jamaica watching a parliamentary debate when Michael Manley stated that he could not mean it in his heart but he was obliged to so swear. He said, while he respects the Monarch, he did not think the people of Jamaica should have to take such an oath. I remember the opposition pushing back on the idea. Manley wanted true independence on all fronts and was not willing to be anybody's puppet. He was not afraid to associate himself with those the world hated; he had a mind of his own. Michael Manley put up a good fight against neo-colonial forces.

It's time to chase those self-serving bald heads out a town. It's time to stand up to neocolonial forces, throw away the wigs and gowns and pay allegiance to the people of Jamaica. Stop licking the back of Mrs Elizabeth's head on those stamps, how many Jamaicans are on British stamps? "Jamaica, Land We Love" what about Jamaica's people we love. Stop allowing the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, stop the slave wages when people are paying an arm and leg for food. Trinidad recently gave a 12-14 per cent wage increase across the country, it's Jamaica's time.

God bless Jamaica, but it's time the parties come together and make it about the people and not politics.

Maurice Haughton is a freelance journalist living in Philadelphia, USA. Send comments to: haughton727@ymail.com

February 03, 2014

Jamaica Observer

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jamaica... Get going with ganja!

Get going with ganja

 
Delano Seiveright, Guest Columnist:



I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Jamaica Stock Exchange's 2014 Capital Markets Conference in Kingston on investment opportunities from legalising ganja.

The last several days and weeks have seen a literal cascade of positive developments on the issue, so much so that even United States President Barack Obama stated publicly that ganja is no more dangerous than alcohol, pointed to the unfair state of affairs at the criminal-justice level, and noted that the legalisation in Colorado and Washington was "important" because it represented the decriminalisation of a commonly used substance.

Following Mr Obama's comments, we have seen former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; former president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos; and Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry at one of the world's most prestigious annual gatherings of leaders, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, speak strongly about the need for marijuana law reform.

Closer to home, we have seen where yet another national poll in the United States, in the NBC/Wall Street Journal, finding that a majority of Americans support legalising ganja. Meanwhile, in Florida, medical ganja will be on the November ballot; US Attorney General Eric Holder has said that federal government will allow banks to accept deposits from state-legalised businesses; and the US's richest man, Microsoft's Bill Gates, stated that he voted to legalise ganja in Washington state and thinks implementation is going well so far.

Why the wait?

So what exactly are we waiting on? I believe that the conversation of ganja-law reform is nearing maturity in Jamaica.

A poll last year showed near 60 per cent support for relaxing the laws concerning ganja use, and if the Jamaica Stock Exchange is willing to go as far as to facilitate a session on the subject, we can all agree that a whole lot of progress has been made. Jamaica is very easily a brand name for ganja and we have a huge opportunity to let it work for us.

The investment opportunities from legalising ganja are huge, even outside of the stereotypical smoking of it.

Everyone by now should be aware of the development of Medicanja, Jamaica's first medical ganja company established by Jamaican scientist and entrepreneur, Dr Henry Lowe. Here, Dr Lowe, like several others, sees the incredible opportunities for research and product development using the medicinal compounds called the cannabinoids, the non-psychoactive compounds.

First developer of Canasol

We should never lose sight of the fact that Jamaica was one of the first countries in the world to develop a commercial product from ganja, Canasol, used to treat glaucoma. It would be a crying shame if we sat and allowed ourselves to lose out to an emerging multibillion-dollar industry in Europe and North America.

Incidentally, in 2001, the government-sanctioned, Barry Chevannes-led National Com-mission on Ganja had as one of its recommendations, "that, in order that Jamaica be not left behind, a Cannabis Research Agency be set up, in collaboration with other countries, to coordinate research into all aspects of cannabis, including its epidemiological and psychological effects, and, importantly, as well its pharmacological and economic potential, such as is being done by many other countries, not least including some of the most vigorous in its suppression." That's 13 years ago, and the report is probably gathering dust somewhere in the government bureaucracy.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance by the US federal government, meaning according to the government, it has no medical value. This makes it quite difficult for scientists to study any potential medical uses, since human medical trials require permission from federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and, when it comes to illegal substances, the Drug Enforcement Adminis-tration.

As soon as it's a 'go'

Given these challenges in the US and throughout the globe, Jamaica, once our government says "go", can quickly position itself as a world leader in this multibillion-dollar growth industry, given our perfect geographical location just over an hour by plane from Miami, language advantage, and the many Jamaican scientists coming out of universities here and overseas.

Time is not on our side, given developments in the United States. We cannot afford to delay any longer.

Today, Israel, about an 11- hour non-stop flight from New York's JFK International, is the medical ganja research capital of the world.

There is a lot to go around and Jamaica just needs a little of the action to make a big impact here. We are talking mega bucks for a dynamic, high-skilled, high-paid health and research tourism industry with great multiplier effects.

Already, several major international companies are looking seriously at establishing laboratories in Uruguay, after that country legalised it just several weeks ago. Uruguay is about nine hours non-stop from Miami. It is really time for us to get cracking. This is a slam dunk.

In the very least, however, we must congratulate Science Minister Phillip Paulwell for his decisiveness so far in moving the science component forward quickly. He gets it and is coordinating with his own Scientific Research Council and major stakeholders in driving the process forward rapidly.

It is important to note that recent moves in the United States and elsewhere have created an industry where many players have never even touched the plant. In Colorado alone, the industry incorporates lawyers, architects, laboratory technicians, real estate developers, academia, accountants, doctors, nurses, tour operators, agronomists, security, clerical personnel and an amazing range of spin-offs. To put it into context, Colorado has more ganja dispensaries than Starbucks.

The overall ganja market in the United States, according to some authoritative sources, is estimated to value over US$100 billion, just several billion dollars short of the alcohol industry. We are unsure of our nation's market, but the impact of legalisation on the agriculture, tourism and financial sectors would be immense. Many farmers, potential farmers, hoteliers and a litany of other businesses stand to benefit from what would undoubtedly be an increase in the number of tourists visiting the island and feeling at ease in acquiring our Brand name product.

One company in Colorado is already booked 100 per cent for ganja tours right into the summer throughout the state. Here being the home of reggae, Bob Marley and high grade, there is doubt in our minds that quality ganja tours here will be so much of a hit that operators will struggle to keep up with the numbers. The opportunities are great.

Let's get going!

Delano Seiveright is a director of the Ganja Law Reform Coalition. Email feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com and delanoseiveright@yahoo.com, or tweet him @delanoseiv.

February 02, 2014

Jamaica Gleaner