By David Rowe
WITH THE RIGHT economic environment Jamaica should benefit enormously from technological investment. So why hasn’t the government of Jamaica been able to attract more technology-related investment?
Almost every Jamaican commentator records the passion of Jamaicans for technology. So why haven’t Microsoft, Dell, Samsung and others made the shift to Jamaican sunshine? And how can Jamaica get them to do so?
A case in point is why Jamaica has not been able attract Google to establish an office in Jamaica, the largest English-speaking country in the Caribbean. The technology giant has offices throughout the developing world, particularly in Latin America and in Africa. Why has it not made the logical approach to Jamaica?
The answer seems to be the overall position of Jamaica regarding technology and a number of serious impediments — from complex, almost choking bureaucracy to crime. Can Jamaica change its environment to attract the technology giants?
Jamaica has a Central Information Technology Office. The purpose of this office is to define the technical direction and framework for the government’s technology based development. The Government has given the CITO the mandate of developing an integrated public and private ICT environment.
The CITO is publicly owned and is relied upon by the Government to establish a national strategic plan through partnership between the public and private sector.
The establishment and maintenance of the CITO reflects the seriousness of the government when it comes to the maintenance of Information Technology in Jamaica. (Recently, the government announced it planned to establish a standalone ICT regulator that would merge the CITO with Office of Utilities Regulation.
Of course, this is not to say technology firms have avoided Jamaica. Indeed, Jamaica’s telecommunications sector seems to be thriving — with major players like Digicel, which just opened its new regional headquarters in Kingston, and LIME, among others.
But the big technological giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft and (the newly-renamed) BlackBerry have not come made the jump.
And that’s not just because of government red tape — crime is, naturally, a serious impediment.
And while Jamaica has been working to crack down on crime, it is likely that the country’s crime lords are too powerful and well-entrenched to be pushed out without a radical change in Jamaica’s political culture.
It is a pity because Jamaica’s crime profile can deter major blue-chip tech companies.
Corruption associated with government officials and law enforcement is also a major disincentive for American and global companies to do business in the Caribbean. Corruption is unfortunately a routine way of business in much of the West Indies, despite the efforts of Transparency International and other anti-corruption organizations corruption NGOs.
Taxation is an additional issue. Jamaica must work to reform its tax code to make it competitive for technology investment — and must consider a series of incentives to offer these kinds of firms to draw them to make the leap and invest in Jamaica.
Jamaica could even offer the tax incentives in return for a condition that any such company agree to train a certain number of young Jamaicans in the tech sector each year.
Jamaica needs to look seriously at attracting high-tech investment — one day, Jamaica could become the Silicon Valley of CARICOM and begin to reshape its economy.
Creating a “Silicon Beach” in Jamaica does have a certain appeal. Now, Jamaica’s government needs to work to make that happen.
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.