Columns

Failed politics and the IMF

HEART TO HEART

Betty Ann Blaine

Tuesday, October 23, 2012    

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Dear Reader,

The chickens hatched by the destructive tribal politics in Jamaica have definitely come home to roost, and ironically, without even a fowl coop to accommodate them. That is the nature of the failed politics of a country pregnant with possibilities and loaded with potential. Jamaica must be the most blatant oxymoron there is right now.

The under-achievement of the Jamaican economy and society is indescribably tragic. On the one hand, the country has demonstrated to the world the incredible gifts and talents reposed in its people, yet on the other hand, the country is being labelled as a "failed state". Some people are asking the question, "How can a country so rich in human and natural resources end up being categorised as a "failed state"?

My response to the question is to first of all affirm that Jamaica is not a failed state from the point of view of the huge untapped potential that exists, and the unbelievable capacity of the Jamaican people to persevere despite the overwhelming odds.

What Jamaica suffers from is "failed politics". With the exception of a general lack of passion and courage for substantive change, there is really nothing wrong with the Jamaican people.

Simply put, the failure of Jamaica is the result of the failure of political leadership over many decades. The combination of corruption and incompetence has stymied the growth and development of the country. Add to that the inability, deliberate or not, to educate and socialise the people properly and the partisan, policy-making culture of the governmental system, and the result is what we have now - a country "kotching" precipitously on the brink of a deep precipice.

The truth is that Jamaica has no business returning to the International Monetary Fund for a second time. We tried it before and it didn't work. In fact, it made matters worse for us as it did for every other country that entered into an agreement with that lending institution. We had every opportunity to correct the fiscal maladies after the first round of the IMF's bitter medicine in the 70s and 80s.

Jamaica's disentanglement from "Phase I" of the IMF three decades ago should have immediately triggered a massive programme of economic independence focusing on production and self-reliance. The current "Vision 20/30" is somewhat belated even though we are still 18 years away. What we should have had then was a "Post-IMF Vision Now" campaign with a clear mandate and buy-in from every sector of the Jamaican society. Success then would have meant that the "ta-ta" to the IMF would have been permanent.

What we saw instead was "paper" substituting for production. With little or no economic incentives, the private sector, which in any society is expected to be the engine of growth, became the "pillion rider" instead. It became much more convenient and profitable to buy government paper than to invest and sustain "productive" enterprise. The result has been a dismal and steady 0.8 per cent growth rate per annum for the past three decades.

Instead of creating an enabling, nationalistic environment in which incentives are provided for domestic production, successive governments have operated as "handlers" and "brokers", rather than "leaders", facilitating those factors and policies that have led to underdevelopment of the country.

The winner-takes-all "slash and burn" system of governance has not only incapacitated the Jamaican society, it has essentially destroyed it. Listening to a recent radio interview with a leading businessman from Ireland, I took keen interest in his characterisation of the synergy between the public and private sectors in that country regarding foreign investments and domestic economic policies. The gentleman made the point that foreign investors are guaranteed a long-term period of investment regardless of any change of government, in addition to other critical bi-partisan agreements.

In Jamaica the opposite is true. Whatever one party builds, the other one tears down for fear of losing political loyalty, in addition to the fact that the rebuilding exercise opens many more doors for corruption and for the distribution of power-sustaining largesse.

Having corrupted, "tribalised" and mismanaged the country, one party is telling the people of Jamaica that "the shop is empty", while the other claims that the so-called golden period of the 80s was squandered and generally unappreciated.

Of course, the IMF has no interest in the history or the tribal politics. It is first and foremost a lender that will not dispense one penny unless it is guaranteed repayment on time and with interest. The IMF has told us plainly that the ball is in our court, not theirs.

Since that is so, the question for us is, "Can the failed politics of the past be re-engineered and re-generated to fit the present and the future?" I suspect that the answer will definitely determine where we go from here.

With love,

bab2609@yahoo.com

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