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JAMAICA A BRIEF OVERVIEW
 

Location and Geography

Jamaica, part of the Greater Antilles, is located in the Caribbean Sea at a latitude of 18 degrees north and a longitude of 78 degrees west (of the capital, Kingston). It is about 1127 km (700 miles) south of Miami, Florida, USA, and 145 km (90 miles) south of Cuba, its nearest neighbour. The island has an area of 11453 sq km (4411 sq miles). It is 235 km (146 miles) long from east to west, and 82 km (51 miles) across at its broadest point, from St Ann’s Bay in the north to Portland Point in the south.

Jamaica has a warm, tropical maritime climate. The average temperature on the coastal lowlands is 26.7· Celsius (80·F). There is a difference of about 5·C (34·F) in the average temperature between January-February and July-August (respectively the coldest and warmest periods of the year). There is an estimated fall in temperature of 16·C (4· F) per 1000 foot increase in altitude; the average temperature at Blue Mountain Peak, the island’s highest point, is 13·C (56·F).

Average annual rainfall for the whole island is 195.8cm (77.1 inches). Rainfall peaks in May and October, and is at its lowest levels in March and June. The Blue Mountain range and the northeast coast receive the highest annual rainfall, the average being about 330 cm (130 inches). Jamaica lies in a hurricane zone; the hurricane season lasts from June to November.

Jamaica is extremely mountainous, with a central chain of mountains running east to west, forming a backbone through the middle of the island. Nearly half of the island’s area is over 300 m (1000 feet) above sea level. The highest point is Blue Mountain Peak, on the border between Portland and St. Thomas, at 2256 m (7402 feet).

Most of Jamaica’s rivers flow to the north or to the south, from the mountainous interior toward the coast. The largest river is Black River, located in the parish of St. Elizabeth, which is 71 km (44 miles) long. Several rivers go underground, the island being mostly covered with limestone. Sinkholes and underground streams are especially to be found in the karst-like topography of the Cockpit Country in the west of the island.

Jamaica is divided into three counties – Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey – and further divided into 14 parishes. Kingston, the capital and commercial centre of Jamaica, is situated on the southeast coast of the island. Montego Bay, located on the north-west coast, is the island’s second city. It was granted city status on May 1, 1980.

History and Government

Jamaica’s name is derived from the Arawak word Xaymaca which roughly translates as “Land of Wood and Water”. In May 1494, Christopher Columbus landed on the island during his second voyage to the “New World”, and claimed it for Spain. The English captured the island from the Spanish in 1655, and Jamaica went on to become an important sugar colony. Slavery was abolished in 1834, giving way to the apprenticeship system, with full Emancipation coming in 1838.

The Jamaican economy suffered a decline in the post-Emancipation period, leading to severe hardships for the former slaves. The Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 was a response to suffering and to the indifference of the colonial government. The Rebellion resulted in the abolition of the Assembly and the establishment of Crown Colony government.

Labour unrest in the 1930s fostered increasing political consciousness and the birth of trade unionism in Jamaica. Universal adult suffrage was achieved in 1944, and full Independence in 1962.

The island is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, with the British Sovereign as its titular head, her representative being the Governor-General. Jamaica is also a founding member of CARICOM, the Caribbean Common Market, which seeks to promote common economic goals and unity within the region.

Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy, with a House of Representatives consisting of 60 members, elected every five years, and headed by a prime minister who is assisted by a cabinet of ministers. There is also a Senate of 21 members appointed by the Governor-General from nominations by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. There are two major political parties, the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The last general elections were held in February 1993; the PNP, which won 57 per cent of the votes cast, currently forms the government. The rule of law is administered by an independent judiciary.

Population and Language

At the end of 1994, the estimated population of Jamaica was 2,509,800, showing an increase of 26,900 over the 1993 figure of 2,482,900. The estimated growth rate, 1.1 per cent was slightly higher than in 1993 when it was 0.9 per cent. Contributory factors to this higher growth rate of the population could include the fact that decrements due to net external movements and deaths were lower than the previous year with the former falling by 11.7 per cent. At the same time the absolute number of registered births increased. The Crude birth and Death Rates per 1000 population were 23.7 and 5.4 respectively and were not significantly different from the previous year.

The majority of the population being of African and mixed African origin; other major ethnic groups represented in the island are East Indians, Chinese, and Europeans. There is much intermingling of races and nationalities in the society.

English remains the official language in the island, although an English-based Jamaican Creole is also spoken by most of the inhabitants.

Gross Domestic Product

During 1994, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measured in 1986 prices, increased by 0.8 per cent moving from 17,990.5 million in 1993 to $18,128.0 million. This compared with growth of 1.3 per cent in 1993 representing continuation of the low growth trend evident since 1991. Measured in current dollars, GDP increased by 33.4 per cent to $129,986.0 million, indicating a relatively large movement in the implicit GDP deflator which is one measure of inflation. This lower than expected growth out turn reflected the impact of stringent stabilization measures.

Balance Of Payments

Net International Reserves improved by US$337.5 million during 1994, bringing the stock of reserves in the economy to US398.6 million, the second year of a positive reserve balance since 1976.

Supporting the overall positive out-turn on the Balance of Payments were: improvement in the merchandise trade balance, increased inflows of private transfer, and to a lesser extent, larger private capital flows. These changes were influenced by both domestic and international factors. The relatively high interest rates which prevailed in the domestic economy during 1994, would have influenced both capital flows and transfer payments. Expansion of the remittance service sector as well as an increase in the number of returning residents to the island may have also influenced the changes in transfer payments.

Despite a lowering of interest rates in the latter part of 1994, and the possible negative impact on transfers and capital flow, changes in the Balance of Payments for 1995 are expected to be positive.

External Trade

In 1994 merchandise exports totalled US$1,219.5 million while merchandise imports totalled US$2,177.2 million, the net result being a merchandise trade deficit of US$957.7 million. This was an improved out-turn relative to 1993 when the deficit was US$1,113.8 million.

After poor performance in the preceding three years merchandise exports increased by 13.4 per cent consequent on more favourable world market conditions as well as the depreciation in the exchange rate in 1993. Export commodities that did particularly well in 1994 were alumina, apparel and bananas which had increases in export earnings of 22.2 per cent, 24.3 per cent and 29.5 per cent, respectively.

Merchandise imports declined by 0.6 per cent following a 23.3 per cent increase in 1993. A decline in the value of motor vehicle /transport equipment imports contributed significantly to the decline. A decline in the value of foods imports in the consumer goods category was also notable.

Money And Banking

The primary objective of monetary policy in 1994 was the reduction of inflation to 1.0 per cent per month. To advance this objective, the chief monetary policy tools utilized were the maintenance of liquidity reserve requirement of commercial banks at 50 per cent and the intensification of open market operations. As a result, liquidity tightened during 1994, pushing interest rates to unprecedented levels. The high interest

rates while contracting the growth in domestic credit, contributed somewhat to an expansion in the net foreign assets of the banking system. This provided the basis for a 35.2 per cent increase in money supply (M3) which surpassed the targeted level of 33.2 per cent.

The private sector continued to be the main beneficiary of domestic credit during 1994. Credit to the goods-producing sectors absorbed the major part of the increase. Slower growth in credit to the services sector as well as for consumption purposes, however, led to an overall slower growth investment credit.

Agriculture

In 1994, the agricultural sector continued to record positive growth. Once again this growth was generated principally by the domestic food crop sub-sector, which grew by 9.9 per cent in area reaped. At the same time, export crop production declined by 2.9 per cent, due to a decline in the production of sugar cane and coffee. Consistent with the decline in export crop production was an 11.3 per cent decline to US$144.6 million in the value of selected traditional exports. Non-traditional export earnings on the other hand increased by 18.2 per cent to US$22.6 million.

The favourable performance of the sector was achieved against the background of a number of macroeconomic constraints, including high interest rates and high inflation for most of the year. With the gradual curtailment of inflation since late 1994, the stable exchange rate and the falling of interest rates, it is expected that in 1995 the growth of the sector will be sustained.

Mining and Quarrying

As the international market for primary aluminum improved in response to overall economic growth worldwide, the local bauxite/alumna industry recorded mixed performance. Crude bauxite production and exports continued to be affected, given the cancellation of contracts with countries of the Commonwealth of independent States, as well as the United States current policy to gradually reduce strategic stockpiles of crude bauxite. However, the production and export of alumina registered significant increases in keeping with changed international market conditions and the implied operational shifts in the main markets of the local industry. The decline in crude bauxite activity was, therefore, outweighed by the performance of alumina, the outcome being an overall increase of 17.7 per cent in foreign earnings from the industry.

The industrial minerals sub-sector also performed favourably with only one product recording a decline in output, while with significant success, the relevant agencies continued their thrust to further diversify the mining and quarrying sector. The prospects in this regard for foreign earnings and employment remain encouraging.

Manufacturing and Processing

Preliminary data on the total value of manufactured exports revealed an increase of 20.8 per cent to US$474.9 million, relative to 1993. Non-traditional manufactured exports, amounted to US$376.7 million, of this US$323.5 million represented exports to Third Countries (outside of CARICOM). The total value of apparel exports (Freezone and customs territory) increased by 6.3 per cent to US$481.8 m.

However, domestic production was affected by the adverse effects of labour disputes, a shortage of some raw materials, power outages and malfunctioning plant machinery; as well as continued competition from imports. Consistent with the decline in domestic production, the manufacturing labour force contracted by approximately 2.8 per cent during 1994, relative to 1993.

Small Business Sector

During 1994, small and micro enterprises received approximately $115.6 million in loans from retail lending agencies operating within the sector. This represented a 31.7 per cent decline relative to that of 1993, and was partly the result of delays in the start of several bilateral lending programmes, and measures instituted by some retail lending agencies, to reduce their loan default rate.

Thoughout the year activities with the sector were centred around continued efforts by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) and respective financial and training agencies to address several constraints to the development of small and micro enterprises. There was increased training from the Entrepreneurial Centres at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), JAMPRO.

Construction

The construction sector experienced a weak performance during 1994, due largely to factors which included high interest rates, high and rising building material prices. Negative changes included a 61.3 per cent decline in housing starts and a 1.3 per cent decline in the production of cement. Additionally, the US$ value of imported construction materials declined by 6.0 per cent over the previous period.

While overall demand for real estate was low during 1994, recent positive changes in key macro-economic indicators suggest that the performance of the sector could improve in 1995. These changes include continued stability in the exchange rate, continued decline in interest rates, the slowing of the inflation rate in the latter part of 1994, and the influx of returning residents primarily investing in real estate.

Public Utilities, Communications And Transport

The Public Utilities, Communications and Transportation impact significantly on the productive sectors for which the Government of Jamaica is formulating the national development policy. This policy which was further advanced during 1994, seeks to address the major constraints facing the productive sector. The policy measures in particular, aim to encourage investment to effect a more efficient water supply and sewerage system, transportation and telecommunications network. In addition, the Office of Utility Regulation which is being established will enhance the efficiency of these infrastructures as its functions include the maintenance of standards and the determination of rates.

Environment And Sustainable Development

Major achievements were made in the area of environmental policy development during 1994. Chief among them was the completion of the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP), which identifies the main environmental problems facing the country and outlines requirements for addressing and mitigating these problems. Other important policy-related developments included the completion of the interim standards for ambient air quality, the establishment of a technical committee on waste management and the drafting of a forest and land policies.

There was an overall increase in expenditure for environmental management and sustainable development during 1994. A total of J$52 million was approved for expenditure on environmental protection and conservation by the Government during the fiscal year 1994/95; reflecting a 52.6 per cent increased over the 1993/94 fiscal year. Increased financing to NGOs came by way of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and the Canada Green Fund.

Tourism

The tourism sector reported declines in visitor arrivals, room occupancy rates, and gross earnings, the major economic performance indicators. Inspite of that performance, however, there was improvement in product development, which included: greater levels of investment in physical facilities; the addition of 798 resort rooms; and personnel training.

During 1994, investment in the tourism industry continued to increase as evidenced by the following indicators. Total number of rooms increased to 19,733 (up 4.2 per cent); loans and advances from the Commercial and Development Banks to the sector, reflected an upward movement. Additionally, the quality of the tourism product, through the work of the Tourism Action Plan was improved.

However, there was a slowing down in the performance of the industry consequent on declines in stop-over visitor arrivals (down 0.2 per cent), hotel room occupancy (down 3.0 percentage points) which resulted in the gross estimated foreign exchange earnings of US$915 million (down 2.9 per cent). The declines in these indicators were attributed to severe factors including adverse overseas media coverage during the year.

Science and Technology

Efforts to promote the use of Science and Technology to accelerate the development process were intensified by the Government during 1994. A number of policies were implemented to strengthen the institutional framework for the development of Science and Technology as well as to provide incentives to the private sector to increase the use of Science and Technology as well as to provide incentives to the private sector to increase the use of Science and Technology in the production process.

The major focus of Research and Development activities in the economy was in the agro-industrial sector. There were also significant developments in the areas of information technology and biotechnology.

Labour Force and Employment

During 1994, overall employment rose to 924,200 through the creation of approximately 16,800 new jobs. Both the male and female employed labour force expanded, the former by 2.1 per cent to 519,900 and the latter by 1.5 per cent to 403,200.

The number of unemployed persons fell from 173,300 in October 1993 to 167,100 in October 1994. This translated into a fall in the unemployment rate from 16 per cent to 15.3 per cent. The number of unemployed males and females declined, the former by 11.6 per cent to 54,900 and the latter by 1.8 per cent to 112,500.

Industrial Relations

During 1994, there was a relatively high degree of industrial unrest as evidenced by the number of work stoppages reported which was at the highest in 12 years. Industrial unrest was most evident in The Services and Manufacturing sectors as approximately 75 per cent of all industrial disputes and work stoppages occurred within these sectors. Of the essential services sectors, the Petroleum Trade and Health sectors experienced a disproportionately higher number of work disruptions, accounting for 15 per cent of all reported work stoppages. The predominant causes of industrial disputes and work stoppages continued to involve issues related to wages and conditions of employment.

The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and National Workers Union dominated as workers’ representatives in industrial disputes. The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions was launched to deal with macro issues relating to social and economic affairs, industrial relations, environmental and international affairs, and issues related to women and youth.

Health

Due to the critical state of health financing, the Ministry of Health (MOH) focused on health management reform and continued to examine creative mechanisms for financing the sector. Rationalization of the health service continued as the MOH tried to realize an appropriate public/private sector and manpower mix. During 1994, legislation, regulations and documentation, for example, Food and Drug Amendment, The Quarantine Act, The Health Act were amended and Budget Manuals were instituted with a view to improving the delivery of quality health care.

Primary Health Care (PHC) continued to provide cost effective programmes and despite manpower and equipment shortage, vital statistics have remained stable. Surveillance and monitoring of communicable diseases continued during 1994 and no major epidemics occurred during the year. Attrition among major medical support groups persisted despite the efforts made to retain them.

Although the case rate for AIDS remains relatively low, the growing rates for other adult STDs and congenital syphilis and ophthalmia neonatorum are causes for concern. Along with the identification of new approaches to stem the growth of STDs, behaviour change is considered the most important aspects of any intervention programme.

Religion

Complete religious freedom exists in Jamaica. The majority of the population is Christian, yet full recognition is accorded to non-Christian faiths, which include Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Bahai. The older Christian denominations in the island are Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Moravian, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In addition, there are numerous Evangelical and Pentecostal groups, as well as adherents of the Rastafarian faith.

Despite the diversity of religious beliefs, there is considerable co-operation and goodwill among the adherents of the different denominations. The leaders, many of whom are members of the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC), frequently agree on national issues and act together on moral grounds. Ecumenical services and conventions are held from time to time.

Some of the institutions at which ministers are trained are the St. Michael’s Seminary (for Roman Catholics), West Indies College (Seventh Day Adventists), the Jamaica Theological Seminary and the United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI). The latter serves the Anglican, Baptist, Moravian, Methodist, United Church and the Disciples of Christ churches. St. Michael’s Seminary and the UTCWI operate in close association with each other and the UWI.

Education and Culture

During the academic year 1993/94, the Ministry of Education and Culture implemented a range of programmes to accelerate reforms in primary and secondary education, to formalize cost-sharing at the secondary level, restructure and decentralize its administrative structure and increase awareness of and respect for the national culture and heritage. The nation recognized the 500th Anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in Jamaica and paid homage to our Arawak heritage.

During the review period, the education system catered to approximately 731,000 students in the three to twenty-four years age group and employed some 20,630 full-time teachers system wide. An additional 4,500 teachers and para-professionals were employed in the community-run basic schools. Assessment of educational coverage showed continued universal enrollment among students of primary school age (6-11 years) and enrollment rates of 76 per cent among those of secondary school age (12-17 years) and 9.2 per cent among the tertiary age group (20-24 years). Average daily attendance rates among primary level students at 69.8 per cent fell well below the National Five Year Plan target of 85 per cent.

Among initiatives undertaken in the sector, was the introduction of a number of new courses and programmes at the tertiary level and the reclassification and restructuring of some tertiary institutions. There was also a widening of the outreach of tertiary education with the establishment of outreach centres in three parishes and the expansion of pre-university programmes in the multi-disciplinary institutions. Other developments included the undertaking of a National Literacy Survey and Jamaica’s participation in the establishment of a regional cultural information system.

The main institutions for providing an education for the population included: pre-primary schools, primary and all age schools, secondary schools, teacher training colleges community colleges, West Indies College, the College of Agriculture; the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sports; the Cultural Training Centre (comprising the Schools of Music, Dance, Drama and the Edna Manley School of Visual Arts); the College of Arts, Science and Technology; the Dental Auxiliary Training School; the Kingston School of Nursing; the School of Physical Therapy, the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute and Tool Makers Institute.

The Ministry of Education administers several vocational training schools. In addition, the Human Employment and Resource Training Trust, H.E.A.R.T., was established in 1982 to provide vocational training in several areas, tailored to satisfy the occupational requirements of the labour market.

Several institutions exist which provide training in managerial and professional skills. The major ones are the Finance and Accounts College of Training (FACT), a government-sponsored body falling under the Ministry of the Public Service, the Institute of Management and Production and the Jamaican Institute of Management, which are privately funded.

The largest campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) – a regional body with three compuses – is located at Mona, St. Andrew. UWI offers degrees, certificates and diplomas in Humanities, General Sciences, Medicine, and Business Study. The UWI was established in 1949.

Jamaica has long been noted for the richness and diversity of its culture and the quality of its artists. In the area of theatre, the island has produced such notable actors as Madge Sinclair, Charles Hyatt, Oliver Samuels, Leonie Forbes, Ranny Williams and the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley. There are four major dance companies; oldest among these is the internationally acclaimed National Dance Theatre Company, founded in 1963, which grew out of the quest for an indigenous dance form.

Jamaica is world-renowned for reggae, the unique Jamaican popular music which was made famous by the late, legendary Bob Marley. Other prominent reggae artistes include Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff and the late Peter Tosh. Several Jamaicans have gained international recognition also in the fields of classical music and jazz; Curtis Watson, Ernie Ranglin and Monty Alexander are noticable examples.

Jamaican culture is enriched by outstanding talents in literature and the fine arts. As a poet, Lousie Bennett was a pioneer in gaining acceptance for the use of Jamaican Creole in literature. Dennis Scott, Mervyn Morris, Lorna Goodison, Olive Senior, Erna Brodber, Velma Pollard and the late John Hearne are only a few of the country’s literary lights. The fine arts are well represented by artists such as the late Edna Manley and Mallica Reynolds (“Kapo”), David Boxer, Christopher Gonzalez, Barrington Watson and Osmond Watson.

The annual festival celebrations, which climax in August on the anniversary of Independence, serve as a national showcase for cultural activities. Administered by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, Festival provides an avenue of expression for Jamaicans at every level of the society.

Sports

The island has a rich history in the field of sports, and has distinguished itself especially in the areas of athletics and cricket. Such internationally known sprinters as Donald Quarrie, the Olympic gold mediallist; and Olympic silver mediallists Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson, Juliet Cuthbert and Winthrop Graham have followed the tradition set by world record holders and Olympic gold mediallists such as Arthur Wint, George Rhoden and Herb Mckenley in the 1950s.

Jamaica is part of the world-class West Indies cricket team, contributing such players in the past and present as George Headley, “Collie” Smith, Allan Rae, Michael Holding, Jeffery Dujon, Courtney Walsh and Jimmy Adams. In boxing, Jamaica’s world champions include Michael McCallum (former WBA junior middleweight title holder and holder of the WBA middleweight title), Trevor Berbick (former WBC heavy weight title holder), Jamaican-born British-based Lloyd Honeygan (former welterweight holder of the WBC and IBF titles) and Simon Brown (former IBF welterweight title holder).

Other popular sports include football, horse-racing, cycling, dominoes, lawn and table tennis, squash, badminton and golf. Jamaican women have traditionally done well in netball and field hockey, particularly at regional competitions.

Since 1988 Jamaica has been participating in the Bobsled Winter Olympics (1988, 1992 and 1994). The teams have consistently performed creditably.

In the Winter Olympics in 1994 held in Lillehammer, Norway, the 4-man team placed 14th out of the 35 participating teams and in the process beat the team representing the U.S.A.

The focal point of national sporting events is the National Stadium complex, which was opened in 1962. It houses facilities for cycling, track & field, football, swimming and netball, among other sports Jamaica hosted the Commonwealth Games here in 1966.

The Media

Jamaica is served by both print and electronic media. There are four daily national newspapers – the Daily Gleaner, which has been in publication since 1834, its associated afternoon tabloid the Star, the Jamaica Herald, established in 1992, and the Jamaica Observer in 1994. There are several regional and community newspapers, including the Twin City Sun, The News and the Western Mirror. The Jamaica Journal, The Jamaican, Lifestyle and Money Index are some of the more notable periodicals published in the island.

The year 1995 marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of radio broadcasting in Jamaica. The two oldest radio stations are Radio Jamaica (RJR) – which celebrates its fifty-fifth anniversary in 1995 – and the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC). In recent years, new radio stations have emerged to break the former RJR/JBC monopoly; these are Radio Waves, operating from Montego Bay, KLAS FM, based in Mandeville, IRIE FM, the island’s first all-reggae station, operating out of Ocho Rios, most recently, POWER 106.FM, and LOVE 101 FM (the first all-religious station), both based in Kingston.

JBC-TV, which is wholly state-owned, and CVM, which started in 1991, are the only television stations on the island.

The Press Association of Jamaica, established in 1943, acts as the guardian of press freedom while also setting guidelines for the standards and efficiency of journalism in Jamaica.

("The Economic and Social Survey 1994", prepared by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, provided valuable information for this "Brief Overview".)

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