How would you assess 2018 compared to your expectations?
In 2017, Montego Bay and St. James had serious challenges with crime, and I had to address that matter upfront. Since January 2018, the parish and city have been under a state of public emergency, and since then we have seen close to a 70% reduction in homicide, which is a positive indicator for Montego Bay and St. James. The men and women of our security forces continue to be relentless in the pursuit of having a safe city and parish. Our citizens have been cooperating with members of the security forces, and without the citizens' input we would not have reached this far. I hope the necessary measures will be maintained in the foreseeable future because our city and country cannot reach its full potential with a high crime rate hanging over our heads. The move by the government is commendable; as Mayor of this great city, the St. James Municipal Corporation will continue to give full support to the government and security forces.
What makes Montego Bay unique?
There are only two cities in Jamaica, and Montego Bay is extremely unique because of its capacity to embrace visitors and reach out to its people. Montego Bay is like an extended family, as everyone seems to know each other. People of Montego Bay are known to be focused on the hospitality, industry, and tourism sectors.
How do you work to promote the city as a strategic business destination?
Montego Bay is extremely accommodating of businesses. As a municipality, when investors come in to develop their plans, we do not hesitate to expedite them through the system so that they can start their project. Investors in Montego Bay feel more relaxed in doing business, and as a city we are taking the right steps to give our investors' confidence. For example, we are installing CCTVs across the city. We are in the process of signing an MoU with the owners of the Jamaica Public Service Company, the National Works Agency, and the Ministry of National Security for upgrading aspects of our infrastructure which will bring us closer to becoming a smart city, enabling our police to assess the movement of traffic or the buildup of pedestrian traffic and respond in a timely manner. The security of our investors is paramount, regardless of whether they are local or foreign. There are a number of plans being worked on currently, for example, Closed Harbor property, which covers 26 acres of land, will be built up into a world-class beach park with all the necessary facilities such as a jogging trail, an amphitheater, and a cycling track. In turn, it will become the heart of Montego Bay for both citizens and visitors. In four to five years' time, there will be a complete transformation of our waterfront as we now know it. There are more projects in the pipeline, including more houses and an expansion of the airport in order to accommodate larger planes. In 2017 alone, we saw over 4.5 million arrivals at the airport. Furthermore, climate change is something that we cannot ignore; all the coastal cities will require a fair amount of investments in building sea walls.
What are your targets and expectations for 2019?
Our target is to continue to grow the industry, educate our people, and make citizens aware that we need their full cooperation to truly reach the stage where we can have prosperity for all. Equally important, we need to create employment, both direct and indirect, and prepare our people for the jobs that will emerge, for example, in the BPO sector. Moreover, we have to continue focusing on preparing our human resources, as that is the only way forward. In one year's time, we hope to complete the construction of the park and the Hard Rock Hotel. As a city, we are doing extremely well under the circumstances, and I expect to continue on the same trajectory in years to come.