Columns

Can a bipolar nation outfox the IMF?

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, December 28, 2012    

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Jamaica is so exciting it could kill you. Sadly it breaks many hearts and does kill some. As we close 2012 we should do our balance sheet and our New Year's resolution for Jamaica. We are now negotiating the deal of a lifetime with our "last chance" bank, the IMF, who know our mettle for 40 years. We spent, used our credit, borrowed from our friends (Trinidad), cussed them and the last lot played fast-and-loose with our reputation. We are caught between agony and ecstasy, heavenly charity and brutal murder; manic depressive? We celebrate a lot. Few understand this frissom of intuitive talent and the diabolical-help the lady cross the street then pick her purse -good or evil? We keep the world guessing about us.

In August we were in heaven; took time out from the IMF to have a 50th Jubilee blast and celebrated Olympic gold. We partied like there was no tomorrow. By September we were in the rough; our oxygen was to be cut off; the IMF had our guts for garters; the flags were still up but their signal was grief and pain. We are an amazing people. As I end my first year back home a few things intrigue me.

FIRST, I use buses and public hospitals so I am shocked that so many leaders incurred near $2tn in debt yet none of our services work well. After 50 years of independence, 60 plus of self-government, almost 200 of freedom and 500 years of fame, nothing works. Jamaica has been a brand since Columbus took us to the Royal court of Spain and Portugal and tantalised the English. We made global news for centuries and as Port Royal attests, wickedness was never far off. Usain Bolt and Dudus are part of a Jamaican tradition of excellence in good and evil. So why do none of our systems work? We struggle to get food production off the ground for the "umpteenth" time; health care is shaky, light and power is vilified; housing is saved by its vice-ministry "Food for the Poor"; pick any service and as for education let the record show it has underperformed for decades and many kept silent; and facts as unearthed now match the sub-standard reality we have-someone blundered. A great injustice was done to poor people - the educated are not blameless. Transportation is feral and our poor are disrespected as leaders kowtow to powerful "eat a food" robots and minibuses. We demand no account, ignore betrayal and often "shoot the messenger" and do not heed the message. Which service can you tick off as "Job well done?" We do have a veneer of modernity and civility - little substance. The poor can take no more!

SECOND where we are going? We negotiate an IMF loan but even Greece and Zimbabwe move ahead of us. So it will stabilise us; what's next? Where is the growth? Whatever happens with the IMF we are royally screwed. You praised Mr Shaw last year for his loans and he took the accolades -half a trillion more debt - suck it up! We now fight to borrow more! What is Cabinet's game plan? Whither Jamaica?

THIRD what do leaders want us to do? Are we to gear-up? Will we continue "bobbin' and weavin'?" ODPEM prepares us for natural disasters, which agency preps us for man-made disasters? Why not mobilise the nation for survival, self-reliance and growth? A guy told me "Kick Stone, Walk Street and Company" is taking on people; this is not a good sign. Peter, what can we do to help? Say it loud!

FOURTH, what about energy? We rail against America and British Imperialism but our future rests on one man -Hugo Chavez. Petrocaribe (Venezuela) follows the San Jose Pact (Mexico and Venezuela); Manley's Socialism was in sync with Chavez's "the friend of my friend (Fidel) is my friend!" and it works. Before the 1973 Israeli war, oil was US$2.90 a barrel then rose to $12. By 1980 the Shah of Iran was ousted by the Ayatollah, we had the Iraq/Iran war and oil reached $35 plus. Mexico balked. Chavez did not and PJ Patterson brought the Petrocaribe deal to book. We do not have to know the real price of oil thanks to comrade Chavez who decided to "annul American hegemony" using democracy and his oil. The JLP bitched to the USA about Chavez's motives and pushed fire saying he gave the PNP millions but Golding came to office in 2007 and uttered not a word. He enjoyed the fruits of the Bolivarian Socialist fraternal.

Since Independence no other deal is as seminal to our survival and stability. Petrocaribe keeps us alive. The IMF is zilch compared to the "attaclaps" if Chavez dies. His opposition is not keen on it and his next in line is no fan either. Prayers ascend and "nuff candle a bun" for Hugo; "yuh tink seh tings hard? Hugo Chavez holds our future in his beneficient cancerous body! With shame I say, pray hard for Hugo!

We spent our "shirt" at the Olympics. Not one penny had to do with our athletes' success. We bitch but spend like crazy. Some want to change cars "before things get worse" What a contradiction? They "lash-out" for Christmas because it may be some time before they eat turkey and ham. Bipolar rot? The good news is we are no longer at the bottom in CARICOM. The bad news is we did not rise, others fell. Some members can't meet payroll, their NIR is gone and their creditors have them on a cash basis. One nation raided NIS funds to cover civil service salaries. We have never known life without the IMF. Even when it was not here we shadowed its targets. The road less travelled may be hard, lonely but better for us. The IMF is our bank and lifeline not a bogey man. We have work to do. Get this deal closed pronto!

The IMF is crucial but it's not all of our future. A loan will support our currency and the world lends us so we can pay them back. Our hope is self-reliance. As in Greece or Ireland they are not moved by our pain as we elected men who borrowed $1.7tn and we did not hold them to account. Time is not our friend. The longer the negotiations take the more our reserves, credit and options fade. In the words of Chicken Little "The sky is falling!" The next years will be worse than the last 40 because our friends are now in trouble. We were always in trouble - not new. It's time to look to our people and take charge of our lives.

What delays the IMF loan? We need the loan and need surplus to repay it; how do we do this? grow income and or cut costs! This is tricky. Why should the IMF believe us? We have always known what to do but never did it: will we do it now? We are not credible! They want to see us take action.

So when will the prosperity team get going? Vision 2030 is crucial but it is a plan like all the past glossy ones with pretty pictures and maps (the picture of the foreign suspension bridge in vision is risible but so us to use image for deed); Michael had one, Eddie too, they all failed. We need a PPP -a public, private oversight team, to cherry pick priority ministries for 2015, 2017 and 2020. More anon! My brain says "what man has done he may do; what man has never done he is unlikely to do ... ever!"

It is a principle in negotiation that parties lose flexibility over time. The longer this impasse the less likely we are to get our wishes. The IMF "Men in Black" have a track record to uphold and were stung once so they will not be made fools of again. They have mortgages, kids in posh schools in Washington and Boston. You don't keep this job by being outfoxed by smarmy, third world politicians. Stay conscious my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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