Mon | Nov 19, 2018

Lennie Little-White | Create tax haven for creative industries

Published:Sunday | September 16, 2018 | 12:44 AM
Lennie Little-White

Jamaica’s biggest cancer is the nexus between unemployment and underemployment, which is the root cause of the escalating crime rate.

If we are to break this unholy umbilical linkage, we must be bold and think outside the box to create new and exciting work opportunities that will energise the underserved workforce.

Finding new fields of endeavour with better-paying jobs must be Job One if we are to stop the brain drain of our best and brightest who are leaving Jamaica in droves. Line staff in tourism, field workers in agriculture, call-centre agents in BPO centres, and those employed in manufacturing and merchandise continue to earn very low salaries that keep them marginalised, with little hope of climbing the social and economic ladders that we all hope to ascend.

This very low-wage scale is a prime reason why scamming and petty crimes have become viable options for the lumpen. After all, there are no taxes or limits on take-home pay for their ill-gotten gains.

ECONOMIC POTENTIAL

In my last column, I suggested that the creative industries could be the catalyst that catapults Jamaica to become a vehicle for a cadre of professionals who further cement Brand Jamaica on the world stage. Minister Grange says it best in her pronouncement: “For a long time there has been debate about the economic potential of the creative industries. Now is the time for us to make bold, ambitious, beneficial, strategic and impactful actions to convert that potential into economic gain.”

Bear in mind that the creative industries is an umbrella for not just people in the visual and performing arts but includes a wide spectrum of professionals, including architects, video-game designers, animators, filmmakers and attorneys specialising in copyright, trademarks and publishing, to name just a few.

What is the catalyst that will create a mushrooming of entrepreneurs and creative forces that will make Jamaica the home of an army of persons who will choose to live and work here?

Be bold! Break all the rules and make Jamaica a tax haven for practitioners in the creative industries who repatriate their foreign-exchange earnings via our registered commercial banks under a scheme regulated by the Bank of Jamaica.

This is not a new idea. A prototype already exists in Ireland, and we do not have to reinvent the wheel to make it happen here. Naturally, a range of mandatory controls and conditions will have to be implemented to ensure that only sanitised and legitimate earnings are brought into Jamaica for their permanent residual home. 

This tax haven will also be open to persons who are not necessarily Jamaican nationals but to anyone who is prepared to acquire property in Jamaica and reside here for at least ninety accumulated days in any calendar year.

Our home-grown music stars will be the cornerstone of the holistic creative industry-cum-tax haven. More than 20 years ago, the late Neville Lee, the owner of Sonic Sounds Records, told me that he estimated that more than US$500 million derived from royalties and publishing of reggae music were parked in bank accounts from New York to London, to Bermuda, to Cayman. Will our singers and musicians repatriate their foreign-exchange earnings – if the conditions are right?

GAME-CHANGING DESIGN

Who will be the architects of this grand game-changing design? Rather than relying on the usual jacket-and-tie posse and their assorted overpriced consultants, assemble a seven-member team comprising some of our brightest minds with international success in their respective fields.

Set up a creative war room over an extended four-day weekend where we invite each of them to deliver 10-minute presentations that state what we must do to make this country an attractive tax haven for practitioners and entrepreneurs.

Cull from a group that includes world-respected architect Gordon Gill, music legend Chris Blackwell, Hollywood-based film producer Stephen Hopkins, Academy Award animator Craig Lyn, attorney/fashion guru Kingsley Cooper, music producers Gussie Clarke and Clifton ‘Specialist’ Dillon, book publisher Ian Randle, novelist Colin Channer, plus world-renowned artistes Monty Alexander, Shaggy and Sean Paul.

The prime minister should invite this august group to brainstorm at one of our exclusive villa resorts with a mandate to produce concrete recommendations to create a tax haven for persons in the creative industries. This will provide a basic framework for Cabinet and their tax experts to consider and implement.

ACTUALISATION

This actualisation will make Jamaica the crucible for the creative industries as envisaged by the late business icon Carlton Alexander of Grace lineage. Will our politicians see the long-term benefits? We now give tax incentives to hoteliers, manufacturers, BPO, bauxite companies – to name a few. The paradox is that most of the profits of these benefactors are not retained in Jamaica. 

Are our native sons and daughters who emerged from the cane field in the long shadows left by Bogle, Nanny and Marcus Garvey any less deserving of a tax haven for their intellectual property? 

It is because of tangible tax incentives why the architect of ‘5-in-4’ has registered his Caribbean corporate headquarters in Barbados and not in Jamaica. Ask yourself why even our prime minister has an offshore company in St Lucia. 

Our current minister of finance has said that by 2019, we should see the back of the IMF. This means we will be free from the Damocles Sword of this financial ogre that continues to keep us shackled by traditional monetary practices. It is time to fly the gate and free up the creative pirates.

This must not be another pipe dream like ‘5-in-4’. Two years have passed, and nothing significant has emerged from the Economic Growth Council. Let us be revolutionary and use a different approach if we are serious about launching Jamaica as the crucible for the creative industries.

Does Government have the collective will to “run with it”? 

- Lennie Little-White, CD, MA, is a Jamaican filmmaker and writer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lennielittle.white@gmail.com.