A detailed overveiw of Jamaica.
Info & Resources

JAMAICA:A BRIEF OVERVIEW

Location and Geography

Jamaica, part of the Greater Antilles, is located in the Caribbean Sea at alatitude 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 145km (90 miles) south of Cuba, its nearest neighbour. The island has an area of11453 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 thenorth to Portland Point in the south.

Jamaica has a warm, tropical maritime climate. The average temperature onthe coastal lowlands is 26.7· Celsius (80·F). There is a differenceof about 5·C (34·F) in the average temperature betweenJanuary-February and July-August (respectively the coldest and warmest periodsof 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 MountainPeak, 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 andJune. The Blue Mountain range and the northeast coast receive the highest annualrainfall, the average being about 330 cm (130 inches). Jamaica lies in ahurricane zone; the hurricane season lasts from June to November.

Jamaica is extremely mountainous, with a central chain of mountains runningeast to west, forming a backbone through the middle of the island. Nearly halfof the island’s area is over 300 m (1000 feet) above sea level. The highestpoint is Blue Mountain Peak, on the border between Portland and St. Thomas, at2256 m (7402 feet).

Most of Jamaica’s rivers flow to the north or to the south, from themountainous interior toward the coast. The largest river is Black River, locatedin the parish of St. Elizabeth, which is 71 km (44 miles) long. Several riversgo underground, the island being mostly covered with limestone. Sinkholes andunderground streams are especially to be found in the karst-like topography ofthe 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 andcommercial 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 roughlytranslates as “Land of Wood and Water”. In May 1494, ChristopherColumbus 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 in1655, and Jamaica went on to become an important sugar colony. Slavery wasabolished in 1834, giving way to the apprenticeship system, with fullEmancipation 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 of1865 was a response to suffering and to the indifference of the colonialgovernment. The Rebellion resulted in the abolition of the Assembly and theestablishment of Crown Colony government.

Labour unrest in the 1930s fostered increasing political consciousness andthe birth of trade unionism in Jamaica. Universal adult suffrage was achieved in1944, and full Independence in 1962.

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

Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy, with a House of Representativesconsisting of 60 members, elected every five years, and headed by a primeminister who is assisted by a cabinet of ministers. There is also a Senate of 21members appointed by the Governor-General from nominations by the PrimeMinister and the Leader of the Opposition. There are two major politicalparties, the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party(JLP). The last general elections were held in February 1993; the PNP, which won57 per cent of the votes cast, currently forms the government. The rule of lawis 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 estimatedgrowth rate, 1.1 per cent was slightly higher than in 1993 when it was 0.9 percent. Contributory factors to this higher growth rate of the population couldinclude the fact that decrements due to net external movements and deaths werelower than the previous year with the former falling by 11.7 per cent. At thesame time the absolute number of registered births increased. The Crude birthand Death Rates per 1000 population were 23.7 and 5.4 respectively and were notsignificantly 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 thesociety.

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

Gross Domestic Product

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

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 secondyear 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 privatetransfer, and to a lesser extent, larger private capital flows. These changeswere influenced by both domestic and international factors. The relatively highinterest rates which prevailed in the domestic economy during 1994, would haveinfluenced both capital flows and transfer payments. Expansion of the remittanceservice sector as well as an increase in the number of returning residents tothe island may have also influenced the changes in transfer payments.

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

External Trade

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

After poor performance in the preceding three years merchandise exportsincreased by 13.4 per cent consequent on more favourable world market conditionsas well as the depreciation in the exchange rate in 1993. Export commoditiesthat did particularly well in 1994 were alumina, apparel and bananas which hadincreases 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 centincrease in 1993. A decline in the value of motor vehicle /transport equipmentimports contributed significantly to the decline. A decline in the value offoods imports in the consumer goods category was also notable.

Money And Banking

The primary objective of monetary policy in 1994 was the reduction ofinflation to 1.0 per cent per month. To advance this objective, the chiefmonetary policy tools utilized were the maintenance of liquidity reserverequirement of commercial banks at 50 per cent and the intensification of openmarket operations. As a result, liquidity tightened during 1994, pushinginterest rates to unprecedented levels. The high interest

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

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

Agriculture

In 1994, the agricultural sector continued to record positive growth. Onceagain this growth was generated principally by the domestic food cropsub-sector, which grew by 9.9 per cent in area reaped. At the same time, exportcrop production declined by 2.9 per cent, due to a decline in the production ofsugar cane and coffee. Consistent with the decline in export crop production wasan 11.3 per cent decline to US$144.6 million in the value of selectedtraditional exports. Non-traditional export earnings on the other handincreased by 18.2 per cent to US$22.6 million.

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

Mining and Quarrying

As the international market for primary aluminum improved in response tooverall economic growth worldwide, the local bauxite/alumna industry recordedmixed performance. Crude bauxite production and exports continued to beaffected, given the cancellation of contracts with countries of the Commonwealthof independent States, as well as the United States current policy to graduallyreduce strategic stockpiles of crude bauxite. However, the production and exportof alumina registered significant increases in keeping with changedinternational market conditions and the implied operational shifts in the mainmarkets of the local industry. The decline in crude bauxite activity was,therefore, outweighed by the performance of alumina, the outcome being anoverall increase of 17.7 per cent in foreign earnings from the industry.

The industrial minerals sub-sector also performed favourably with only oneproduct recording a decline in output, while with significant success, therelevant agencies continued their thrust to further diversify the mining andquarrying sector. The prospects in this regard for foreign earnings andemployment remain encouraging.

Manufacturing and Processing

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

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

Small Business Sector

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

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

Construction

The construction sector experienced a weak performance during 1994, duelargely to factors which included high interest rates, high and rising buildingmaterial prices. Negative changes included a 61.3 per cent decline in housingstarts and a 1.3 per cent decline in the production of cement. Additionally, theUS$ value of imported construction materials declined by 6.0 per cent over theprevious period.

While overall demand for real estate was low during 1994, recent positivechanges in key macro-economic indicators suggest that the performance of thesector could improve in 1995. These changes include continued stability in theexchange rate, continued decline in interest rates, the slowing of the inflationrate in the latter part of 1994, and the influx of returning residents primarilyinvesting in real estate.

Public Utilities, Communications And Transport

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

Environment And Sustainable Development

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

There was an overall increase in expenditure for environmental managementand sustainable development during 1994. A total of J$52 million was approvedfor expenditure on environmental protection and conservation by the Governmentduring the fiscal year 1994/95; reflecting a 52.6 per cent increased over the1993/94 fiscal year. Increased financing to NGOs came by way of theEnvironmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and the Canada Green Fund.

Tourism

The tourism sector reported declines in visitor arrivals, room occupancyrates, and gross earnings, the major economic performance indicators. Inspite ofthat performance, however, there was improvement in product development, whichincluded: greater levels of investment in physical facilities; the addition of798 resort rooms; and personnel training.

During 1994, investment in the tourism industry continued to increase asevidenced 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 Banksto the sector, reflected an upward movement. Additionally, the quality of thetourism product, through the work of the Tourism Action Plan was improved.

However, there was a slowing down in the performance of the industryconsequent on declines in stop-over visitor arrivals (down 0.2 per cent), hotelroom occupancy (down 3.0 percentage points) which resulted in the grossestimated foreign exchange earnings of US$915 million (down 2.9 per cent). Thedeclines in these indicators were attributed to severe factors including adverseoverseas media coverage during the year.

Science and Technology

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

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

Labour Force and Employment

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

The number of unemployed persons fell from 173,300 in October 1993 to167,100 in October 1994. This translated into a fall in the unemployment ratefrom 16 per cent to 15.3 per cent. The number of unemployed males and femalesdeclined, the former by 11.6 per cent to 54,900 and the latter by 1.8 per centto 112,500.

Industrial Relations

During 1994, there was a relatively high degree of industrial unrest asevidenced by the number of work stoppages reported which was at the highest in12 years. Industrial unrest was most evident in The Services and Manufacturingsectors as approximately 75 per cent of all industrial disputes and workstoppages occurred within these sectors. Of the essential services sectors, thePetroleum Trade and Health sectors experienced a disproportionately highernumber of work disruptions, accounting for 15 per cent of all reported workstoppages. The predominant causes of industrial disputes and work stoppagescontinued to involve issues related to wages and conditions of employment.

The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and National Workers Union dominatedas workers’ representatives in industrial disputes. The JamaicaConfederation of Trade Unions was launched to deal with macro issues relating tosocial and economic affairs, industrial relations, environmental andinternational 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 mechanismsfor financing the sector. Rationalization of the health service continued as theMOH tried to realize an appropriate public/private sector and manpower mix. During 1994, legislation, regulations and documentation, for example, Food andDrug Amendment, The Quarantine Act, The Health Act were amended and BudgetManuals were instituted with a view to improving the delivery of quality healthcare.

Primary Health Care (PHC) continued to provide cost effective programmes anddespite manpower and equipment shortage, vital statistics have remained stable.Surveillance and monitoring of communicable diseases continued during 1994 andno major epidemics occurred during the year. Attrition among major medicalsupport groups persisted despite the efforts made to retain them.

Although the case rate for AIDS remains relatively low, the growing ratesfor other adult STDs and congenital syphilis and ophthalmia neonatorum arecauses for concern. Along with the identification of new approaches to stem thegrowth of STDs, behaviour change is considered the most important aspects of anyintervention programme.

Religion

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

Despite the diversity of religious beliefs, there is considerableco-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’sSeminary (for Roman Catholics), West Indies College (Seventh Day Adventists),the Jamaica Theological Seminary and the United Theological College of the WestIndies (UTCWI). The latter serves the Anglican, Baptist, Moravian, Methodist,United Church and the Disciples of Christ churches. St. Michael’s Seminaryand 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 Cultureimplemented a range of programmes to accelerate reforms in primary and secondaryeducation, to formalize cost-sharing at the secondary level, restructure anddecentralize its administrative structure and increase awareness of and respectfor the national culture and heritage. The nation recognized the 500thAnniversary of Columbus’ arrival in Jamaica and paid homage to our Arawakheritage.

During the review period, the education system catered to approximately731,000 students in the three to twenty-four years age group and employed some20,630 full-time teachers system wide. An additional 4,500 teachers andpara-professionals were employed in the community-run basic schools. Assessmentof educational coverage showed continued universal enrollment among students ofprimary school age (6-11 years) and enrollment rates of 76 per cent among thoseof secondary school age (12-17 years) and 9.2 per cent among the tertiary agegroup (20-24 years). Average daily attendance rates among primary levelstudents at 69.8 per cent fell well below the National Five Year Plan target of85 per cent.

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

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

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

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

The largest campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) – aregional body with three compuses – is located at Mona, St. Andrew. UWIoffers 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 cultureand the quality of its artists. In the area of theatre, the island has producedsuch notable actors as Madge Sinclair, Charles Hyatt, Oliver Samuels, LeonieForbes, Ranny Williams and the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley. There are fourmajor dance companies; oldest among these is the internationally acclaimedNational Dance Theatre Company, founded in 1963, which grew out of the quest foran indigenous dance form.

Jamaica is world-renowned for reggae, the unique Jamaican popular musicwhich was made famous by the late, legendary Bob Marley. Other prominent reggaeartistes include Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff and the late Peter Tosh. SeveralJamaicans have gained international recognition also in the fields of classicalmusic and jazz; Curtis Watson, Ernie Ranglin and Monty Alexander are noticableexamples.

Jamaican culture is enriched by outstanding talents in literature and thefine arts. As a poet, Lousie Bennett was a pioneer in gaining acceptance for theuse of Jamaican Creole in literature. Dennis Scott, Mervyn Morris, LornaGoodison, Olive Senior, Erna Brodber, Velma Pollard and the late John Hearne areonly a few of the country’s literary lights. The fine arts are wellrepresented 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 anniversaryof Independence, serve as a national showcase for cultural activities.Administered by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, Festival providesan 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 distinguisheditself especially in the areas of athletics and cricket. Such internationallyknown sprinters as Donald Quarrie, the Olympic gold mediallist; and Olympicsilver mediallists Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson, Juliet Cuthbert and WinthropGraham have followed the tradition set by world record holders and Olympic goldmediallists such as Arthur Wint, George Rhoden and Herb Mckenley in the 1950s.

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

Other popular sports include football, horse-racing, cycling, dominoes, lawnand table tennis, squash, badminton and golf. Jamaican women have traditionallydone 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 teamplaced 14th out of the 35 participating teams and in the process beat the teamrepresenting 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 theCommonwealth Games here in 1966.

The Media

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

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

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

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

(“The Economic and Social Survey 1994”, prepared by the PlanningInstitute of Jamaica, provided valuable information for this “BriefOverview”.)

About the author

Staff Writer