Jamaica - Domestic policy
The Jamaican economy has been in turmoil since the early 1990s as a result of decreases in manufacturing output and the closure of several financial organizations. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) has been estimated at US $3,300. The major economic concerns of the PNP have been to stabilize the Jamaican dollar and reduce inflation.
Several banks and insurance companies have had to close because of the inability of major customers to repay loans and because of the collapse of the real estate market where most of their investments were placed. The major problem that the Patterson government now faces is paying out large sums to keep financial institutions from collapsing. The controversial Financial Sector Adjustment Company (FINSAC) was established in January 1997 to rehabilitate troubled institutions and restore calm to the Jamaican financial system. To date FINSAC has taken over the management of several banks to prevent further losses to investors.
The manufacturing sector has also experienced severe difficulties. Several international as well as local companies have had to terminate operations in Jamaica because of high import duties, high interest rates, competition from cheap imports, and an erosion of the country's export competitiveness. The government hopes to encourage new investment by eliminating import duties on non-competing raw materials and capital equipment, and by providing trade financing through the Ex-Im Bank. New investment will not only help to strengthen the economy, but also provide much needed employment opportunities.
The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) was established to provide support for small farmers and to encourage improved technology in the agricultural sector. The Patterson government also seeks to improve Jamaica's international competitiveness in agriculture through more effective marketing, and by developing the research field to improve quality and productivity. Although the tourist industry grew by US $46.8 million in 1997, new schemes have been introduced to increase visitor arrivals.
Patterson has favored the expansion of domestic telecommunications and has facilitated major investments to ensure continued growth and development in information technology. His goals in the new millennium include the following: to create a national information infrastructure to optimize the potential benefits of new technologies; to ensure that all schools, libraries, museums, and voluntary organizations are positioned to utilize this new infrastructure; and to structure the regulatory framework to reflect the realities of an open and competitive economy, driven by technological advances.
Keeping crime and violence under control is a great challenge for Patterson. Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Gang violence, often motivated through political parties, flares up quite frequently. In 1980, an estimated 700 people were killed in election-related riots. In April 1999, riots broke out as Patterson announced gasoline prices would rise by 30%. In addition, politically charged fighting broke out in the Kingston area nearly a whole year before elections in 2001. Leaders from the PNP and the JLP accused each other of starting the trouble. In all of these cases, Patterson has called army troops to pacify rioters in Kingston, with soldiers setting up military outposts in the neighborhoods, and helicopter gunship patrols during the night. Dusk-to-dawn curfews are often imposed in some areas, and military patrols are allowed to conduct searches for weapons and drugs.
Patterson has been widely criticized for these and other actions of the army-police that are mostly regarded as human rights violations by other countries, including the United States.