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Private sector has lost confidence in itself — Mitchell

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“The awful truth is that our established private sector has lost confidence in itself,” according to Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Howard Mitchell.

“We struggle for growth and development and encourage foreign investment that ultimately leads to profit being taken out of the country. Our profitable, large businesses are all investing abroad...while ignoring huge potential in castor oil, ginger, exotic spices and seasonings, fruit purees and drinks and, yes, cannabis!” Howard is quoted as saying at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Rotary Club of New Kingston Friday last.

“I am presenting an argument that sustainable economic development is impossible without social reform and human capital development…” he said.

“I am arguing that the new capitalism must espouse corporate social responsibility, participative democracy and leadership that believes in development that is broad-based and not 'top-down',” the PSOJ president said in his speech.

While noting that the reduction in a number of variables are “commendable” —among them, unemployment has declined to a 10-year low of 9.6 per cent, debt-to gross domestic product ration of 103%, historic inflation low, and falling interest rates — as well as an increase in housing, start-ups and improvement in Jamaica's credit ratings, Mitchell explained that these do not reflect Jamaica's true economic condition.

“I will point out that all is not roses,” he stated. “Our balance of payments deficit is increasing, rule prices are rising, inflation has not met targets, the dollar has depreciated in the last 60 days and our progress on the ease of doing busines chart has stalled.”

Added to this, he said,” Our GDP growth rate is embarrassingly slow, our per capita income remains stalled at around US$9,000 on a purchasing power parity basis [and] we remain a low-wage economy with high social and economic maginalisations.”

To remedy these deficiencies and, therefore, realise accelerated and sustained growth, Mitchell posits that there are three areas which need to be addressed: corruption, education and governance.

On the matter of governance, the PSOJ president bemoaned the fact that his organisation and Government have partnered to develop a governance framework within which both can operate. “Unfortunately, these efforts now appear to be devalued because of the falling of discipline and leadership in their implementation and monitoring by the very agents of State that were appointed to monitor the process and by the failure (deliberately or carelessly) to allocate the resources to effect that implementation and monitoring.”

He said when PSOJ and other business advocacy groups criticise Government, it should not be deemed “being partisan”, but rather the democratic process through which they provide “guidance, advice, counsel [to] and criticism [of] —as well as praise [for]” elected officials.

While advocating for more dialogue between Government and civil society to achieve the long-term goal of economic development, Mitchell said “We are not all committed to open dialogue.”

The private sector was as much to be blamed for the country's failure to achieve sustained economic growth, he said.

The PSOJ president contended that Jamaica's culture still represented an untapped revenue stream for the country from which foreigners are capitalising, and that rather than expose tourists to the island's rich culture we “hide” them in all-inclusive hotels.

Another “culture-rich and historical treasure” Mitchell identified was downtown Kingston, but he said that the state of degradation and squalor will not attract tourists until it was fixed.

“Our hope must be in a new generation of businesspeople and politicians who have the courage to cast away the shackles of the past,” he stated.

“As George Orwell wrote, 'A people who elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims...but accomplices.'”