What are your main priorities as a minister with responsibility for land, the environment, climate change, and investment?
The intention with this super ministry was to bring all the major agencies under one scope in order to make decisions and execute projects and policies faster and with greater ease. In terms of my portfolio, I walk a fine line between climate change and the environment together with sustainable development. This is challenging because economic growth and job creation drive the economy, though we have to be mindful about the environment. For example, there was a USD6-billion investment proposed for an environmentally sensitive area for bauxite to build a coal power plant. We refused to allow that project to go ahead on that basis, and it was able to find an alternative fuel, LNG, and the project is ongoing. We are extremely serious about the environment. It is not about job creation and economic growth at all costs.
What major land projects does the government have lined up?
We currently have about 840,000 land parcels, and of those about 60% are titled while the rest are not. This is a key part of our growth agenda because unlocking those titles has major value in terms of being able to use land for collateral and development. Our target is titling 20,000 parcels of land over the coming three years, with 4,000 in 2019 and 8,000 each in 2020 and 2021. We expect this to cost JMD2.6 billion (USD20.4 million).
Can you provide more details on the government's climate change campaign?
In 2018, we launched a campaign with the slogan Smart and Steady, Climate Ready to raise greater awareness of climate change among the population and its effects, not only on the country but on the people, while also educating them about what they can do to help themselves. There are three components to the campaign: prepare for change, protect your assets, and preserve the future. In terms of climate change and the provision of water, we have been experiencing significant droughts in too many areas that we did not before. For example, Portland, the parish I represent, has the most rainfall not only in Jamaica, but also in this part of the world. We experienced droughts in 2018, which are unheard of.
Will the ban on plastic and polystyrene foam encourage new businesses in Jamaica?
Jamaica is pleased to be a leader in this area, and the initiative has substantial support, both locally and internationally. The ban starts in January 2019, and we are in the phase of public education and advertising to prepare people. This will also allow for more environmentally friendly businesses to emerge. We are creating avenues for financing and investing in more environmentally friendly businesses and products through the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and the National Export-Import Bank of Jamaica (EXIM Bank). The prime minister has also announced his intention to make provisions for 100 more garbage trucks in the coming year, which are perhaps more trucks than have ever been purchased over the last 20 years. We are also in the process of finalizing with the private sector a deposit-refund scheme for PET bottles. All the manufacturers and distributors are fully on board, and we should be able to implement the scheme in 1Q2019. Also, we are negotiating to have old tires in landfills and surrounding areas shredded.
What are the ministry's goals for 2019?
The goal is to continue with growth. Business confidence is at an all-time high; crime is a challenge, though we are finally moving in the right direction. The Prime Minister's strategy and how he has identified certain critical areas, such as infrastructure, crime reduction, and economic growth all allow for a greater ability to spend public money on delivering services and infrastructure. They also create confidence in the private sector to invest, make money, and pay taxes.