Columns

2013, here we come!

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, December 30, 2012    

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WELL, if you are reading this, then the world has not ended, and so many people are disappointed around the globe. Many religious groups, including Christians across the many fringe groups in several countries, chose to believe in the Mayan calendar and the views of Nostradamus.

It says a lot about the ability of people to adopt pagan beliefs while pounding their religious texts with the vigour born of some misguided religious conviction.

My belief is that some Mayan student got an assignment of the calculation of the calendar in his course at the Mayan college of astrology and astronomy and at some time he just got tired of the massive assignment. So he finished up to winter solstice 2012, said "to hell with this", and left for a party with some hot Mayan women to celebrate the New Year. This theory should be well understood by us in Jamaica.

Well, back in the real world those of us who failed to be deluded by the possibilities of extinction will still have bills to pay and decisions to be made regarding the securing of our own futures. Work, or the lack of work, confronts all of us who are intent on surviving in spite of the IMF or no agreement. We will have to think carefully about resolutions for the New Year with a greater seriousness than we have before.

For all categories and groupings, the foremost priority must be to live within our means, and for many that will mean a reduction of living standards, and a control of former discretionary expenditure. The concepts of efficiency and value for money need to receive foremost consideration in a year that will be quite challenging in the world generally and in Jamaica in particular.

At the large scale we need to seriously address the imbalance between imports and exports. The balance is largely negatively weighted because of our dependency on oil as our main source of energy for electricity generation.

Alternative energy sources are mainly renewable and our main thrust seems to be in solar and wind power that seem to offer a respite, but in reality only in a very small way in terms of being a significant percentage of the total demand.

The next source seems to be from the use of garbage as a source or power generation and environmental protection, but in this area we are dragging our feet, and for no good reason. The development of this problem into a solution would seem to be private sector-driven, and for that matter would be from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows. So what is wrong with that if someone other than the taxpayer is willing to undertake the risk in such a venture; why a bureaucratic delay?

Certainly the potential of modern distributed nuclear power must be the major direction in delivering the base load at under US10 cents per kilowatt/hr. This would reduce our cost by over 70 per cent and set a new paradigm for manufacturing and other industrial sectors that rely on low-cost electricity for competitiveness and would eliminate the oil and foreign exchange surcharge. This also could be achieved without the use of taxpayers' funds and represents yet another source of inflows.

On the other side we must consider the boosting of exports and the ability of other sectors to produce in order to avoid the necessity for importing certain items (import substitution).

In the first regard (export), the private sector needs to take a new look at traditional markets and their limitations such as North America and the UK, and try innovative excursions into new markets in Central and South America, Africa (selected countries), and also the Far East (including China).

Agricultural production continues to be the fastest way of increasing GDP, but there is also a need to sell surplus production on export markets and here the Caricom markets show the greatest potential. The potential consumption of our tourism trade must be expanded beyond hotels to include the very lucrative area of cruise shipping and the large-volume consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

This market segment eliminates the vagaries of transportation and spoilage associated with long voyages and puts the emphasis on consistency of supply and quality.

Construction has been named consistently as a sector that is beneficial to the economy, especially with regard to the short-term employment of largely unskilled labour. But we must deliberate on the parameters of this activity in two main areas.

Firstly, we must consider the type of construction to be undertaken and its long-term benefit to the economy. Therefore, the infrastructure projects that can be undertaken by local contracting firms seem to be housing and rural roads, as the major highway projects are technical and require very little labour.

Under this heading I would also put the maintenance of public facilities such as schools, hospitals, and government properties, in a cost-effective manner without the frequent over-budget experiences highlighted by the Office of the Contractor General.

Secondly, we must evaluate the benefits of proceeding with a plan that accommodates unskilled labour in a never-ending path of low wages, inefficiency, and lends itself to the demands of dons and political parties to further frustrate the process.

This is a self-defeating strategy and gives no credence to producing skills that are saleable in a world environment. We defeat our workers' ability to take the hundreds of thousands of jobs available in places like Canada where there is a shortage of skilled craftsmen.

The members of the public sector who may be faced with redundancy must be given priority education and guidance in how to survive and prosper through the use of initiative, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I firmly believe that there can be a great increase in individual productivity for profit, rather than the debilitating lack of motivation in the hopeless government bureaucracy.

Yes, for all the persons consumed by ideology, it is the essential difference between socialist outlooks and that of capitalism. In Jamaica it is more easily translated to individual effort in the short to medium term.

Several inefficient agencies must be divested and the present employees could be the purchasers. They will, however, have to overcome the reluctance to invest capital with others, and the consequences of running a transparent and legal business in the face of a national anathema to this course of action. But this paradigm shift may be necessary for their survival.

I will continue these and other topics into 2013, and hope to stimulate some good dialogue. Until then, like the Mayan student would say in Jamaican, "mi dun wid dis, me a go party"!

Happy New Year to all.

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