7. State-Owned Enterprises
Jamaican SOEs are most prominent in the agriculture, mining, energy, and transport sectors of the economy. Of 149 public bodies, 54 are self-financing and are therefore considered SOEs as either limited liability entities established under the Companies Act of Jamaica or statutory bodies created by individual enabling legislation. SOEs generally do not receive preferential access to government contracts. SOEs must adhere to the provisions of the GOJ (Revised) Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures and are expected to participate in a bidding process to provide goods and services to the government. SOEs also provide services to private sector firms. SOEs must report quarterly on all contracts above a prescribed limit to the Integrity Commission. Since 2002, SOEs have been subject to the same tax requirements as private enterprises and are required to purchase government-owned land and raw material and execute these transactions on similar terms as private entities.
Jamaica’s Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act (PBMA) requires SOEs to prepare annual corporate plans and budgets, which must be debated and approved by Parliament. As part of the GOJ’s economic reform agenda, SOE performance is monitored against agreed targets and goals, with oversight provided by stakeholders including representatives of civil society. The GOJ prioritized divestment of SOEs, particularly the most inefficient, as part of its IMF reform commitments. Private firms compete with SOEs on fair terms and SOEs generally lack the same profitability motives as private enterprises, leading to the GOJ’s absorbing the debt of loss-making public sector enterprises.
Jamaica’s public bodies report to their respective Board of Directors appointed by the responsible portfolio minister and while no general rules guide the allocation of SOE board positions, some entities allocate seats to specific stakeholders. In 2012, the GOJ approved a Corporate Governance Framework (CGF) under which persons appointed to boards should possess the skills and competencies required for the effective functioning of the entity. With some board members being selected on the basis of their political affiliation, the government is in the process of developing new board policy guidelines. The Jamaican court system, while slow, is respected for being fair and balanced and in many cases has ruled against the GOJ and its agents.
As part of its economic reform program, the GOJ identified a number of public assets to be privatized from various sectors. Jamaica actively courts foreign investors as part of its divestment strategy. In certain instances, the government encourages local participation. Restrictions may be placed on certain assets due to national security considerations. Privatization can occur through sale, lease, or concession. Transactions are generally executed through public tenders, but the GOJ reserves the right to accept unsolicited proposals for projects deemed to be strategic. The Development Bank of Jamaica, which oversees the privatization program, is mandated to ensure that the process is fair and transparent. When some entities are being privatized, advertisements are placed locally and through international publications, such as the Financial Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal, to attract foreign investors. Foreign investors won most of the privatization bids in the last decade.
While the time taken to divest assets depends on state of readiness and complexity, on average transactions take between 18 and 24 months. The process involves pre-feasibility and due diligence assessments; feasibility studies; pre-qualification of bidders; and a public tender. In 2019 the GOJ divested two of its major assets through initial public offerings (IPOs): a 62-megawatt wind farm, which raised almost $40 million, and a toll highway, which raised almost $90 million. The GOJ is in planning to divest the Jamaica Mortgage Bank and its minority interest in the electricity provider, the Jamaica Public Service, through public offerings. In 2018, the GOJ signed a 25-year concession for the management and development of the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston. Other large privatizations include the 2003 privatization of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and the 2015 privatization of the Kingston Container Terminal port facility.
A list of current privatization transactions can be found at http://dbankjm.com/current-transactions/.