Quick Reflections- Seminar Beijing, China (May-July, 2017)

Below is an excerpt of my reflections on a training seminar in Beijing, China.

Represented sector- Land Development; Urban Planning and Research &Development (Informal Settlements and Indigenous knowledge)
QUESTIONS*
1. Overview, general comment and impression of this SEMINAR
The above named seminar was structured to fulfil the main purpose of assisting Jamaica in developing a sector around bamboo. The weekly schedules all consecutively flowed into each building a knowledge base and enhancing the capacity of the country representatives. All culminating into the practical application and demonstration afforded us by the three (3) well thought out weeks in YongAn, Fujian Province.
2. Professional knowledge you have learnt from this SEMINAR, including lectures and field trips. You can talk about this combined with your working experiences.
Having spent almost twenty (20) years in various capacities spanning Central and Local Government as well as in academia, I have learnt that LEARNING DOES NOT STOP. As a professionally trained Urban Development and Environmental Planning practitioner currently involved in projects and programme implementation, I understand the challenges involved in transferring knowledge into tangible actions that directly help the poor and vulnerable in the Jamaican society. Bamboo (and specifically the specie indigenous to Jamaica) can be used as a medium to alleviate some critical issues in Jamaica among which- reducing youth unemployment; providing low cost housing for the 30+% of the population who live in sub-standard housing and fuel the entrepreneurial efforts taking shape in the private domain.
3. What suggestions and comments for this SEMINAR? Are you satisfied with this SEMINAR?
Professionally, I satisfied with the organization of the lectures, cultural experiences and the opportunity to live in Fujian Province- one of the bamboo ‘capitals’ of China. My expectations for a seminar, as named above, were mostly met and many were EXCEEDINGLY met. I would suggest the following:
(a) Condensing of the first four weeks to three and perhaps a lengthening TO four (4) weeks in Fujian and,
(b) Reducing the final two weeks to one- this is all that is needed to wrap up the seminar.
With these two suggestions the duration would be two full months representing one week of savings.
4. Difference and shared things on Forestry and Bamboo in academics and industry. Specific examples are welcomed.
As a graduate of a College of Environmental Science and Forestry in the US, I have always noted the deliberate efforts to have comprehensive Forestry Management Plans (FMPs) in the US and paucity in Jamaica. Observing a similar approach in China especially as it pertains to bamboo plantations has made this deficiency very clear. Further the fact that project driven activities drive afforestation efforts in Jamaica is also a concern. Working on some – namely the CIDA- Ridge to Reef and the USAID- PARC projects highlights the vulnerability and unsustainability of the Jamaican forestry sector. Bamboo itself had been viewed as an invasive species so, much work is needed to remove this stigma and to begin to coalesce all the ground work thus far into a formal, national industry. Much work to be done.
5. Overall impression of Beijing and China
Personally, I know I have not begun to see even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ into the full essence of China-the country. However, what I have been able to see surpassed my dreams and ‘bucket listing’ of this country. Despite some inter-group issues- there was nothing that was allowed to diminish the beauty and appreciation of the experience. Being a city dweller and a professional Urban Planner I recognised the common issues of large urban areas and have even documented some of them. Overall, the best part of this first visit to China was the three weeks spent in YongAn, Fujian Province. The encapsulation of the rural-urban juxtaposition and the precision of the organization of the tours to offer demonstration and application of bamboo uses were absolutely impressive.
6. Possible cooperation idea between China and Jamaica in Forestry and other disciplines.
Many opportunities exist, a multi-sectoral, inter-agency approach is needed (LOCALLY) along with a multi-national partnership(INTERNATIONALLY) at certain stages of concrete milestones along the development cycle. Notwithstanding, Jamaica would need to either produce the resource in large volumes or directly manufacture value-added bamboo products (under viable financial conditions). Jamaica has a high national debt including huge import bills and the latter options would have to be done with several subsidies. Subjected to a tight fiscal space such subsidies may be hard fought. For the opportunities to be realized many activities have to occur concurrently and /or simultaneously. For example, a fast tracking of a policy (Central Government) inclusive of the full range of applicable standards (BSJ’s role).
*Questions provided by Facilitators – July 13, 2017

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AIR SUPPLY (and I do not mean the musical duo… even though they are cool).

Since the start of February 2017 I have been sick…my chest is congested and I have serious allergies and an infected sinus. My child is also afflicted in some of these ways. The problem is especially acute in the nights, impacting our rest and slumber. I saw a news item involving residents bemoaning the quality of the air in the Mandela Highway- Washington Blvd areas including also the community (or is it city?) of Portmore. As I listened I realized that my family and I do have a tendency to get this type of sickness at intervals throughout any given calendar year. Sometimes I can trace and pinpoint the exact issue (a landfill fire- see a previous post) whether deliberate or accidental in nature or a result of sugar cane reaping season. However lately the last few attacks have been a little insidious in nature. As a Researcher and also an Environmentalist/Urban Planner I am somewhat good at identifying patterns and noting change. I am therefore by a process of elimination concluding that chemical interactions are abound at the landfill emitting noxious  and unseen fumes into our air. The integrity of our air quality is compromised and its safe to say that without a sanitary landfill -major incidents or no, we are in perpetual danger.

As it is a topical and current issue an article was published  in a major daily newspaper today linked HERE I read with interest and  I was not encouraged as there was no immediate solution or rescue in sight. Though bummed I am trying to remain an empathetic human being and a realist. I want to be a part of the change I seek so, after pondering over the article, I had some thoughts.

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Image source is from the hardcopy printed article with bar graphs highlighting some air quality results of affected areas close to the major landfill over the last five (5) years – data availability allowing.

This article highlighted a myriad of issues. There were inter-connected institutional, operational and policy elements. I also drew on comments rendered during the @liveat7  episode I watched last Friday (10/02/2017) as they rounded out the week of major headlines. A part of the recap included attempts by the panel members to gauge the sentiments, on the ground, as it pertained to the preliminary tabling of the national budget. A part of the discussion was the whole matter of the amalgamation of Ministries and portfolios. It was reiterated against the background that one of the only required Ministry was that of Finance, as promulgated by the Constitution.There was even a suggestion that perhaps there could be a ‘doing away’ with some of the Ministries and portfolios as they existed, one example was the Ministry of Culture, Sports, etc.The rationale being that sometimes the thought behind awarding these portfolios included as political rewards to party die-hards. But this is not what this post is about. I want to posit that we start to look more at Oversight Committees (OC) for matters impacting the ‘commons.’ This OC approach  is already implemented with the Economic Growth Council (EGC) which is aimed at among other things streamlining efforts to achieve the GOJ’s growth and prosperity agenda. Subsequently, an OC for the environment could then incorporate any matter or issue related to the management of our natural environment/ resources. With such an arrangement there could be a more efficient channeling of resources. An immediate gain would be the utilization of specialized groups to address arising (and persistent problems). It may mean a retention of the NEPA albeit at lower capacity and most importantly solely in a regulatory and enforcement function. Afterall such agencies, as they exist, require year round funding for staff and salaries, etc. Therefore some cost savings there as well. It would allow for  NEPA to focus on its core functions – regulate AS WELL AS enforce (bearing in mind that the two activities are not mutually exclusive). The obvious value added to this suggestion is that the public can hold the agency accountable for the fees collected (during regulation) against the service provided (during enforcement).  A comparative analysis could be done to determine the feasibility of operating the OCE versus the cost of the current operations of NEPA. To further illustrate how this would work, the OCE could have a standing order to meet on a quarterly basis in addition to as required for those times of national crisis and  emergencies (in which case a multi-stakeholder approach can be employed such as currently obtain in major disaster responses such as post hurricane events). The option would also be available for different modalities, such as specific to the problem arising,  in which case specialized action may be required. This again would  preclude the need for an all year round staff and agency administration in its current state.

The bottom bottomline– resultant cost savings in wage bills to be diverted to assist with optimizing service provisions such as- I don’t know maybe-  better Air Quality Monitoring capabilities, upgrading the main disposal site on the island (Riverton) to a sanitary landfill, improving municipal and industrial waste disposal, increasing enforcement and providing the JIS* with a bigger public education budget to enlargen the public awareness campaign against illicit dumping and the burning of garbage, etc.

*the suggestion here is that all major national public education campaigns should be centralized and emanate out of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).

The world is really a village

Wowwwww…so many life changing and dare I say earth shattering things are happening and have unfolded over the past two weeks or so. I want to zoom in on one significant thing and that thing I believe may have some long term implication for those who engage in business and who trade in goods and services. I have been led to reflect on this matter because over the past week I have had the privilege of attending two well thought out events that were aimed at educating businesspersons on how to operate a viable and sustaining businesses. These were namely the hosted by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce/Jamaica Coalition of Service Industries and the SEBI Summit ( A JN Foundation/USAID/ British Council et al affair).Both were extremely well planned and organized to optimize the resource persons quite effectively.

The ‘significant thing’ though was US President Donald Trump’s decision not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was a flagship trade deal with 12 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia and Oceania.The TPP was to constitute the largest free trade area in the world, as measured by its members’ combined GDP, and it differed from most previous trade agreements in that it was both plurilateral and interregional, as well as for the breadth of subjects it covers. The TPP had a strong regulatory harmonization component in such areas as e-commerce, public procurement, regulatory coherence and various labour and environmental matters. The agreement was signed in 2016 but was not ratified, thus Trump’s executive order took care of that. It is to be noted that the previous Obama led administration  had argued that the deal would have provided an effective counterweight to China in the region.

The implication for the LAC region, which includes Jamaica can be inferred from the economic outlook provided by ECLAC which had outlined that;

the region’s participation in the global economy continues to lag: its share in global exports of goods and services remains stagnant and it has lost ground in trade of high-technology goods and modern services. Although the share of Latin America and the Caribbean in global foreign direct investment flows has risen, its low-technology specialization has deepened. The region’s participation in global value chains has increased this century, but remains below the global average and consists mainly of providing raw materials for third countries’ exports. Poor digital connectivity also hampers the region’s capacity to enter new dynamic sectors. Amid still-sluggish regional and global economic growth, the Latin American and Caribbean region’s exports and imports [fell] for the fourth year running in 2016. [However it was expected that] thereafter, a modest upturn is projected in regional trade in 2017-2020.

This is especially complex as according to an investement expert in the government of Jamaica  entrepreneurship and the medium to small microenterprise sector is poised at the forefront of Jamaica’s growth agenda. This is within the context that fiscal challenges continue to be the biggest concern for the government as Jamaica seeks to control its public finances. Evidenced by the growth rates of 0.9%, 1.1% and 2.2% in the first three quarters of 2016, respectively, posted for the Jamaican economy with growth projected at 1.1% in 2016 and 1.2% in 2017. The implication is of a gradual strengthening in growth, largely owing to the negotiation of a precautionary agreement between the government and the International Monetary Fund.

We have matured enough to understand that trade with our cousins up North is still important. The challenge will therefore be navigating with other members of the global marketplace to forge new or expanded trade partnerships. Similarly countries within the LAC configuration with flagging economies perhaps have to take cautionary measures to insulate manufacturing and increase employment opportunities within borders. Buying local is also a major cornerstone for growth.It will be interesting to see how small economies maneuver the itinerant trade and foreign policy landscape. We are afterall one global village and one big marketplace.