By Alexander Britell
Julian Jay Robinson is the People’s National Party candidate for South East St Andrew in the upcoming Jamaican election. Robinson, currently the deputy general secretary of the PNP, studied management and economics at the University of the West Indies, and also earned a Master’s in Business from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Robinson previously worked in the United Kingdom for IBM UK, and in Jamaica at JAMPRO, where he developed strategies to promote ICT investment in the country. On Dec. 29, he will be facing off against Jamaica Labour Party candidate and National Security Minister Sen. Dwight Nelson and two other candidates. As part of a series of conversations with candidates, CJ Politics talked to Robinson about the major issues in the election, the importance of ICT and how to capitalize on Jamaica’s competitive advantages.
How has your campaign been going so far?
It’s going pretty well. It’s obviously a very hectic period; we’re down to really the last couple of days in the campaign. Although the election is Dec. 29, you have Christmas, which is this weekend, and the type of face-to-face, door-to-door campaigning is in a sense closed off at the end of this week. So there’s a lot to do. I’m happy with the way the campaign is proceeding, so we’re trying to tie up loose ends and ensure that our election-day organization is tight.
What is the biggest issue facing Jamaica in this economy?
I think the biggest issue is the economy – obviously, corresponding with that, is the lack of jobs. Everywhere I’ve been on the campaign trail, the complaint is that people need jobs, that people need work. I think that’s the number one issue facing the campaign right now, just ensuring that we have jobs for people. So I think a lot has turned on the management of the economy and how things are done to provide jobs.
What are some of the ways to improve the economy?
Well, I do think, as our party has proposed, there has to be some government intervention in the short term to deal with what I would consider a crisis, because the level of unemployment is now at a crisis level. On a long-term basis, we have to look at the industries where we have a competitive advantage, and continue to promote them and ensure that we have an economy which is based on production and exports, and shift some of the focus away from what we do with imports and trading. We have to address the cost of electricity, which is a huge burden, and which is an inhibitor to having a cost-effective production base. But there’s not any easy short-term answer to tackling the structural deficiencies which currently exist in the economy.
On a long-term basis, we have to look at the industries where we have a competitive advantage, and continue to promote them and ensure that we have an economy which is based on production and exports.”
What can be done to improve energy costs?
I think that we are coming to have competition in the energy sector. We were committed from our term to alternative forms of energy, including looking at LNG, but that project has been delayed significantly because of how badly it was managed by the outgoing administration. One thing is to introduce efforts to diversify away from oil, and the second is to introduce competition. We need more entrants coming into the market and offering proposals. I think those two are things that will bring energy costs down.
The tourism sector seems to be a vital part of the economy – what do you think can be done to improve it?
A lot has been done over the number of years – we have added a lot of rooms, particularly from the Spanish hotel chain. There’s been considerable effort in terms of expanding our offerings by having more attractions. I think there has to be some incorporation of communities within the tourism product, so that those who live around the tourist areas benefit more from the industry itself. I think a lot has been done, and we just need to continue to promote it and to continue to ensure that we have safety, which is of paramount importance. I think there’s some room for improvement, for more investment in attractions and rooms in different types of offerings – we see the South coast offering different kinds of things from the North coast. Good efforts have been made [in tourism], both from our time [in the previous PNP administration] and continued under this administration.
What are some of the areas in which Jamaica has a competitive advantage?
Certainly tourism. We’re principally a services-based economy. Certainly we have an advantage in information and communication technology. I think there’s also more we can do in terms of outsourcing area in Jamaica – we’re a near-shore location for companies who want to establish a location here. I would say that is the quickest way for us to establish jobs in the short term. So I think there’s a lot more potential there. The manufacturing industry is another – particularly where some of the products are indigenous to Jamaica – so I think there’s a huge untapped market, and we can do a lot more in that regard. There are sectors like ICT and tourism. For bauxite and alumina, once we can bring down the cost of energy we can be competitive in that sector. So there are some critical sectors that we have to focus on and I think those provide the basis.
Prime Minister Holness announced an intention to dismantle the garrisons in Jamaica. What do you think should be done in that regard?
It has been a part of Jamaican politics for a long time. I think strides have been made in the improvement in the electoral process to reduce the impact garrison politics has on the overall election. I think more needs to be done in terms of having programmes geared toward the inner city, in terms of education, of giving people an opportunity to lift themselves out of situations of poverty. Because a garrison is not just a physical construct, it’s also a mental one, and I think the most effective way to solve that is through social programmes, education, and skills training which give people options. To the extent that they have options, they’re less inclined to simply follow one party or another or just vote heavily focused on following one party or another. There need to be targeted programmes for the inner city to provide upliftment and employment.
A garrison is not just a physical construct, it’s also a mental one, and I think the most effective way to solve that is through social programmes, education, and skills training which give people options.”
How can the crime situation improve?
On the crime problem, we have made some strides. I think when the security forces went into Tivoli Gardens [in May 2010] looking for Christopher Coke, they dismantled the criminal network. I think the security forces have continued doing that. As a country, and from the PNP administration, we did a lot of work in terms of working with our partners in the US and the UK, in spearheading operations to stop the drug traffickers. Because crime has to be financed by some sort, and if you are able to cut that off, it reduces the capacity of those criminal networks to function. I think more work has to be done in this area but we have made some strides.
We’ve been speaking to candidates about the progress of Caribbean integration. What is your view on the progress that has been made?
We’ve given a lot of lip service to the integration movement, but in concrete terms not enough has really been done. There is a tremendous amount of scope – the geographic distance provides a challenge. But I think there has to be a will found, and a determination to move the integration agenda forward. It has been dogged by bureaucratic delays, and, I would say, a lack of will to really implement what is necessary to have true integration. We have been at this for 40 to 50 years, and we really haven’t had the meaningful integration that I think we need. And I think it’s something that would be beneficial to the region, but I don’t think there has been the will on the part of the key leadership in the countries to move it forward.