Let's get ready to swallow


With Betty Ann Blaine

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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Dear Reader,

It's time for the anticipated IMF medicine to be dispensed to 2.7 million or so of us, and incredibly, only the Cabinet and, I imagine, a few other party faithfuls know the full composition of the antidote. After all, they are the ones who have been asked to prepare the drug, with guidelines and supervision from the external principals, of course.

Unless we are willing to ask to be euthanised (which I think is illegal anyway), we, the patients, have no choice but to get ready to swallow. After all, we were told long before this that the medicine would come and that it would be bitter.

Under intense pressure to come clean with the Jamaican people, the Cabinet, after a three-day retreat, has given a few hints as to what the taste of the medicine will be — it appears a potion laced mainly with new and increased taxes.

Interestingly, what the Cabinet dragged its feet in disclosing to the Jamaican people is what many of us already knew. The indisputable fact is that to secure a loan from the IMF, as it is with any lending institution, you must be able to demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt that you have the ability to repay.

That reality is now termed "primary surplus", which is translated to mean that the country must be able to accrue the additional revenue needed to repay our debt.

So the governmental juggling game is now underway, and as usual political considerations will more than likely trump pragmatism. It must be extremely discomforting for the People's National Party (PNP), which claims to be the party of the poor and working classes, to agree to measures that would place additional burdens on those groupings.

I suspect that this is the dilemma that has delayed the progress of the IMF negotiations thus far. Now that we are told that the Government has submitted to the IMF the basic tenets of the agreement, it is going to be interesting to see which socio-economic grouping the axe will fall on most heavily.

While the IMF is insisting on certain guaranteed actions or preconditions, I believe that the Jamaican people must demand the same from our political leaders on both sides of the fence. First of all, we the people must demand an apology for the combined PNP/JLP culture of mismanagement and corruption that has once again reduced us to beggars before the IMF.

In that regard, I recommend that every Jamaican should view the powerful new documentary produced by Professor Trevor Monroe's National Integrity Action (NIA), named, The Cost of Corruption. The film dramatically illustrates some of the key roots and pillars of the institutional corruption that continues to plague and stymie the Jamaican society.

Secondly, we the people must insist that a non-negotiable precondition is that the Government must delineate exactly how it is going to eliminate corruption and waste, and quite frankly, this Administration has already started off on the wrong foot.

Knowing full well the seriousness of the country's economic condition, I am simply flabbergasted that despite the austerity measures that the Government says must be taken, almost every Cabinet minister is now cruising in a spanking new SUV motor vehicle. Wow!

I have also noticed that the birthday parties and other social "bashments" are no less extravagant than before. The point I am making is that there is a glaring disparity between the lifestyles of those who govern, as reflected in the social pages of our newspapers, and the grinding reality of persistent poverty and the overarching dilemma of securing a loan agreement with the IMF.

Not only does it appear that there is continuous and unnecessary squandering of public resources, the Government is also squandering the opportunity to define and articulate the need for the people of Jamaica to begin adjusting our palates and lifestyles to conform to the changing economic landscape. The simple fact is that we cannot continue to spend what we don't have and borrow what we cannot repay.

One of the civil society groups voicing concerns as well as offering solutions is the Dickie Crawford-led Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development (JUSD). JUSD is of the view that "the country should begin to be prepared for the possibility of implementing an alternative economic plan if the conditionalities which the IMF seem to be insistent on imposing on Jamaica are unworkable and self-defeating".

The picture painted by JUSD is grim... "The energy crisis and JPS stalemate have to be solved. Oil imports for energy and transportation are three times the amount we earn from all of our exports. Land reform and use have to be implemented for environmental protection, agriculture and agro-industrial development, housing and investment expansion. Jamaica imported US$1 billion of food in 2011, and oil and food imports amount to some 45 per cent of our total imports.

"We have a balance of payments deficit of some US$2.4 billion, therefore the question must be asked how increased taxes and more cuts in expenditure by themselves solve this inherent structural economic problem?"

Frankly, that is a question that is hard to answer, and even harder to swallow, but swallow we must.

With love,





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