Janice Allen | What is happening with Falmouth’s artisan village?
Jamaica’s tourism industry is critical to the country’s economic development, and it is essential that every dollar invested in the sector is spent effectively and transparently and can be accounted for. Unfortunately, the development of particular projects announced by the minister of tourism has failed to materialise, leaving local communities and the tourism industry in a state of limbo.
The industry contributes approximately 30 per cent of GDP and employs thousands directly and indirectly. Many of the indirect employees and entrepreneurs of the industry are artisans and craft traders who depend on the success of the industry. So when the ministry promises a project that is supposed to impact small and micro-sized entrepreneurs, it must deliver!
One such project is the artisan village in Falmouth, which was announced with much fanfare in 2016, with the minister of tourism stating that the Government would spend $1 billion to develop the old Hampden Wharf in Falmouth. The artisan village was supposed to feature 300 shops where craft and indigenous products would be sold as well as an area to facilitate the production of items by local artisans. The minister has since asked us to visualise tourists disembarking the cruise ship, visiting the artisan village ordering a speciality item, leaving for an excursion and returning to collect their specially made one-of-a-kind piece. This is still the dream not yet materialised.
Interestingly, the development of a shopping complex to complement other works in the town of Falmouth was originally announced in 2014 by the then minister of tourism, Wykeham McNeill, and this was to begin after the renovation to Hampden Wharf. That complex was to commence development in 2015 at a cost of $500 million. After the current minister took office in February 2016, he immediately announced plans to increase expenditure on the project, and he doubled the project cost and expanded the scope of the works.
In November 2021, it was reported by the ministry of tourism that the first artisan village, which was being erected at a cost of $700 million (a new figure), was now scheduled to be opened in 2022. The ministry’s officials indicated that the facility would now accommodate 42 artisans (no longer 300) and was stalled as a result of the novel coronavirus.
On February 8, 2022, Minister Bartlett updated journalists and advised that the project was 95 per cent complete and set to open soon. More than a year later in March 2023 during the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament, the minister again announced that the village was near completion and to be opened soon. In a recent discussion I had with a tourism official, I was advised that the artisan village would now only house about 20 artisans (unofficial) compared to the originally announced 300 and revised 42, and so far, with no clear indication that the amount expended is less than the originally projected $1 billion or even $700 million. This ongoing delay and continuous moving of the goal post raises questions about the competence and effectiveness of the government agencies responsible for the project. Based on where we are and the unclear status of the project after nearly 10 years, the minister must advise the nation who is responsible and hold them accountable! A responsible government and minister should not simply accept the delay and constantly announce a new date.
The tourism industry in Falmouth and Jamaica at large has enormous potential, and the artisan village project was supposed to be a flagship project to support local artisans and boost tourism in the area. Unfortunately, the delay in opening the village has had a negative impact on the local community and the tourism industry. The delay has also cast doubt on the Government’s capacity to deliver on its promises and effectively develop the tourism industry.
As spokesperson on tourism, it is essential that I hold the Government accountable for its actions and provide suggestions for improving its approach to tourism development. It is not enough for the minister of tourism to simply make grand announcements and throw out big numbers about projects without any concrete plans or timelines for implementation. We need to see tangible results and evidence of progress.
Therefore, before the Government embarks on any other artisan village, it must provide a clear timeline for the completion of the artisan village project in Falmouth, along with the revised scope with the number of shops to be delivered and total expenditure to date. It must also ensure that future projects are scalable and have a broader impact on the tourism industry and local communities. It is also important to involve the local community in the development process to ensure that projects are sustainable and inclusive. I make these suggestions against the backdrop of the minister’s promise that there will be other artisan villages, as listed in the 2023-2024 estimates of expenditure, to be rolled out in other resort towns. If the first one is fraught with such massive delays and overruns, leading to a lack of confidence in the process, the current issues must first be addressed before the next one is undertaken. Answers are needed.
The delay in opening the artisan village in Falmouth is a cause for concern, and it is essential that the Government take swift action to provide answers to the stakeholders in the industry, especially the artisans and traders who have been promised a silver bullet. Tourism requires all of us to work together to develop sustainable and inclusive projects that benefit local communities and the broader economy. As politicians and policymakers, we have a responsibility to ensure that public funds are spent effectively and transparently. I, therefore, call upon Minister Edmund Bartlett to immediately provide answers to this long-overdue billion-dollar project.
Janice Allen is a senator and opposition spokesperson on tourism and linkages. Send feedback to email@example.com.