Expect worse before the economy gets better

Wignall's World

Mark Wignall

Sunday, January 20, 2013

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My friend Lloyd D'Aguilar has put forward the idea that the most logical way for Jamaica to proceed is to default on its debt obligations and kiss the IMF goodbye.

In his type of slash-and-burn approach to economics he has conveniently omitted to say what he believes would be the likely implications for a struggling economy like ours in the international arena should we adopt such a route.

In other words, just do it and let the devil take the hindmost. That is not a responsible solution, even though technically, it is an option. First, we have taken the sweat and blood of the citizens of developed nations, and with our politicians as our leaders we have frittered away significant percentages of it.

Now that we find ourselves in a jam, we are set to do what we do best — prepare for another round of borrowing. We have forgotten that our bellies were once filled, our policemen, public school teachers, nurses, soldiers, firemen, sanitation workers and thousands of other civil servants and elected representatives were all paid, so Lloyd now wants us to say to those whose money saved us, go to hell.

Something would not be right with that potential picture.

The prime minister has told us that an IMF agreement alone cannot solve the country's problems. Well, we know that, and to the man and woman at street level, IMF or no IMF, life is still an uphill task for them.

With the IMF dictating preconditions for the new agreement, it seems reasonable to expect that such preconditions can best be expressed in a reading of the April Budget. Therefore, we should not expect the new agreement to be signed before that time.

The energy minister has introduced more than a bit of good news into our lives with the announcement of a Japanese outfit doing a pilot study to extract rare earth elements from our large stock of red mud, the residue from refining bauxite into alumina. The projected earnings are staggering.

To many Jamaicans who have been burned by political announcements, the question which must be asked is, at which stage of the development of a policy initiative do government ministers make the announcement?

Remember now, the word on the street is, 'Dem nah do nutten.' One year in the life of a Government is never enough time to launch any transformative projects, but it does allow hard-working ministers to seek out the expertise and lay out the plans for big projects.

The problem is, with an increasingly impatient public, telling the people who are seeing nothing, "I am working" will never be enough, even though the "I am working" can be quite valid.

The other question is, which of them do we believe? After all, it is well known that lazy ministers will use the "I am working" mantra as an excuse while they push paper.

I have said it before that effective work by a minister of government takes long hours, much consultation and many miles of travel. For the lazy minister, the trips are mere junkets designed to further massage his oversized ego as he prepares to waste five years being an administrative pusher of paper.

Effective ministers like Phillip Paulwell from energy and Anthony Hylton from industry, investment and commerce need effective PR teams, but not the type to sell us snake oil. Proposals which have reached the planning stage need to be announced to the public, but the believability factor will have to be earned. Oftentimes that process takes, at the very least, four years.

In the short term I would love to see the agriculture ministry buying into what ought to be its core philosophy, that of the nation, at the very least, feeding itself. For sure we have some ingrained cultural tastes that will not change.

Jamaicans enjoy stuff like wheat flour, but we do not grow wheat in Jamaica. We consume cornmeal and I am not aware that there are any plans to increase our corn growing and to mill the produce. We like pickled meats — mackerel, pork tails, salt beef, saltfish. The big problem is, the more we increase our local stock of what we like to eat — ground provisions, the delicate banana and fruit and vegetables, there is the likelihood that it will also increase our desire to source foreign exchange to purchase pickled mackerel, pork tails, etc.

At some point, however, it must dawn on us that we have to grow more of what we eat.

The short-term prospects, that is, for this year, do not look good even as the medium-term plans in energy and industry and investment are looking good. The problem is, as those short-term prospects cast a general gloom over the population, people will be less likely to believe in the success of the medium- and long-term plans and rollouts.

At some stage it must dawn on the Government that it will become difficult to convince an impatient people to exercise a little more patience.

We need more MPs like Daryl Vaz

Only the very young and uninitiated were smiling last year as the somewhat late-season Hurricane Sandy roared in from the south, crashed into the eastern parishes and spent about five hours undoing banana crops, destroying shanties, blowing off roofs and with swollen waterways, creating landslides and eating up what was left of a number of already badly damaged roads.

Enter the 'young energiser' MP from West Portland, Daryl Vaz, the politician/businessman who spends his entire MP salary each month on his constituency development programmes.

Working along with various corporate entities, he launched the Sandy Relief Fund.

At Christmas an executive from Digicel donated US$15,000 to purchase two Food For the Poor (FFP) houses for two households which had suffered total destruction. The crazy thing is, when I made repeated attempts to contact the spouse of the executive (Shelly Curran) via her Digicel phone to secure additional details, every call I made went to voicemail, a problem dogging Digicel for many weeks now.

Food For the Poor agreed to match funds with Vaz's Sandy Relief Fund. In relatively quick time Vaz raised over US$100,000, and with matching funds, a total of 30 FFP houses (two-bedroom units) costing US$225,000 were arranged.

When Vaz toured the other badly damaged parishes of St Mary and St Thomas, his heart was forced to reach out beyond his representation of West Portland.

It was agreed that the 30 houses would be apportioned 10 to each parish, when he had the option to focus his energies strictly within his electoral boundaries.

In that region there are two ministers of government and other state ministers. The question is, in the wake of the very destructive Sandy, what have they done in terms of tangible relief, especially at a time when there was no shortage of talk?

Ever since the local government elections of 2003 when Vaz marshalled his energies for all of Portland, love him or hate him, he has been the action man in the JLP when too many others were running off their mouths.

When I spoke with him last Wednesday, he admitted that the time was opportune for the JLP to do serious introspection. I enquired about his seeming silence of late.

"There is a time to hold and a time to fold. We have to get back into ourselves and recognise what our core duties are. It must be to serve the people. That has to mean something in reality," he said.

As minister of information in the last JLP Administration, he was always very upfront with the press and had, at times, more than his fair share of misunderstandings. As an MP his main passion and buzzwords were always action, results and people.

Giving up his American citizenship after it had been established that his 2007 general election win had breached our constitutional arrangements, in the by-election he trounced the PNP candidate and increased his original margin.

Various PNP MPs can learn something from him, even as they slip in and out of their constituencies in the dark of night. Closer networking with corporate entities must be utilised.

Call Daryl Vaz and he will show you how.

Where is the water, Mr Paul Buchanan?

Residents of West Rural St Andrew have been complaining to me for months that their water supply is worse than the chance of a Pick Four win.

"I have been living here for 36 years," said the wife of a well-known personality. "We are given water seemingly at the whim and fancy of the NWC. This is no way to live. I have tanks, but what about the poorer people?"

Another man said, "Not all of us can afford the water from the various companies trucking in all sorts of dirty water. But the people are forced to use it."

Many tell me that the MP, Paul Buchanan, is even scarcer than the water supply. Immediately after the elections I had lunch with Mr Buchanan, who coincidentally attended the same primary school as I did — Jones Town — one of the best in the 1950s and 1960s.

Since that time, on the water and other issues I have attempted to contact Mr Buchanan but he doesn't answer his phones.

Granted his constituency is a huge one and his responsibilities must be even more awesome — unemployment, crime and poor roads.

Another person said, "Yu haffi gi him credit fi di road dem. Road a fix better dan when Gallimore was in."

Mr Buchanan, the people are bawling out for water but you are too far to hear their voices. Please use your clout with the National Water Commission to do something positive. It's time to come out and face the people again.

Oh, I forgot. It's not election time yet.






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