Build NIR for rainy day — Phillips
MONTEGO BAY, St James — With the country's Net International Reserves (NIR) set to hit US$1.3 billion by month end, Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips says the time has come for Jamaica, as a sovereign nation, to ensure it can finance its own recovery from crises like natural disasters.
Speaking at the Economic Reform Programme Stakeholders Conference for the county of Cornwall held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James on Friday, Phillips said the island was blessed to have been spared during last year's very active hurricane season, but suggested that that was no reason to become complacent.
"We need to prepare our own resources, set our own house in order to manage our affairs like independent sovereign countries are supposed to manage their affairs," Phillips argued.
"We have a responsibility as a country to have the reserves to deal with any unforeseen shocks. We cannot proceed in the world on the expectation that there is someone else, some other country, some other authority that accepts the responsibility to take us out of hardships, should hardships occur," he continued.
The NIR hovered around US$790 million in March last year, the minister said.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who gave the opening address at the conference, said her administration had no option but to embark on the economic reform programme, as it is confronted with a widening budget deficit and growing national debt.
An integral plank in that programme, she said, was the development of a trans-shipment facility and an economic zone in the Goat Islands/Portland Bight area of Southern St Catherine. She scoffed at naysayers for resisting the initiative even as other countries are earnestly lining up to seize the opportunity to set up logistic hubs.
She was quick to point out, however, that: "although the Government is engaged in deep and earnest discussions with the proposed investor, the Cabinet has laid down clear steps which must be taken to ensure that all regulatory requirements are adhered to, before a final decision is taken".
"So we can stay here criticising the Government that we are doing nothing. And when we are doing something we find a way to criticise why it should not be done. We are going for growth and development in this country and we are not going to allow anything [to stop us] as long as we adhere to the rules of law and we ensure the protection of our environment," Simpson Miller said.
Dr Phillips supported her point by listing countries which have either built or expanded their port facilities to take advantage of the widening of the Panama Canal, expected to be complete next year.
"Cuba has built a port, the Dominican Republic is in the game, Bahamas is in the game, Peurto Rico is in the game, Miami is in the game, Central American countries are in the game and we know how to run races on the flat track, we intend to run the race on the economic track as well and not to lose," he remarked.