Let us temper our expectation of help after Hurricane Sandy

Raulstom Nembhard

Saturday, October 27, 2012    

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WITH a gradual shift to the north-east, the country has been spared the worst of our unwelcome guest, Hurricane Sandy. It is regrettable that a life was lost and a number of properties in the eastern end of the island destroyed. The hurricane has once again demonstrated the parlous state of the island’s infrastructure and the level of work that needs to be done to give us the kind of decent infrastructure which can contribute to the productive capacity of the country. The cleanup and repairs must be done with alacrity, especially on arterial roads that have been blocked and bridges that may have been compromised.

The prime minister has rightly opined, with gratitude, that things could have been worse in the aftermath of the hurricane. She also hopes that our international partners, including the IMF, will look favourably upon us in light of what the nation has suffered. While there is help that will come from our traditional partners such as the USA, we must not set our hopes too high. Some aid will trickle in, but we certainly should not expect anything remotely resembling the magnitude of what flowed after Gilbert. Philanthropy or general charitable giving has been severely cauterised by the ongoing global economic crisis. Even within the USA itself, there has been a drying up of aid to charitable causes as people find themselves with dwindling disposable incomes or no income at all. Indeed, there are not-for-profit organisations that have gone out of business for lack of support. In light of this, there ought to be a very judicious appraisal of the cost of the damage that has been done. There should be no attempt at padding in the hope that the greater the figures we come up with the greater the help we will get. Sector damage must be carefully and prudently evaluated so we do not frighten ourselves by capricious accounting, which in the end will engender more fear than goodwill. Things are hard everywhere and we must temper our expectations.

This thought applies also to the IMF. We should not expect that there is a great deal of help that will flow from that body outside of the present parameters in which our negotiations have already been determined. A national disaster on the strength of a hurricane will not shift those parameters in any decisive direction. There will be no relenting from the insistence that we reform taxation, pension arrangements with the public sector and carry out wage reform. For the fund, and I would daresay for the sake of Jamaica, these are things that have to be done, whether we have a hurricane or any other natural disaster hitting us. Arguably, if we had bitten the bullet from about two decades ago we could have been enjoying the kind of economy that could sustain the kind of problems that a hurricane of any magnitude could present. We would have had the kind of strength and viability in the economy that could provide a bulwark against any unwelcome national guest. But we have been very skilled at postponing the inevitable. We have dithered when less successful economies were taking the bitter medicine to get better. We preferred to “boil bush” instead of taking the more expensive, scientific treatments available. So while we may look for some breathing space from the IMF, we should not expect too much. I doubt they will be in a position to provide it anyway.

Once again a national disaster has provided us with an opportunity to work together. I agree that since the destruction this time around was not as national, as in the case of Gilbert, the thinking is that those who have been directly affected will have to work out their salvation with the little help that a limited government can provide. But what has happened in the eastern parishes must be a national concern and not just one for sectional interests. We cannot build a society on the philosophy of everyone for himself or a Darwinian survival of the fittest mantra. Even within the limited scope of the Westminster system, can we agree on a mechanism of governance within which we can come up with a national consensus of survival? Does any one party have all the answers? Are the calls for cooperation just empty rhetoric or serious attempts to come to terms with the dire problems that face us as a nation? My heart bleeds when I hear the empty and vitriolic rhetoric spewing from Dr Phillips and Mr Shaw as they try to score points over what is happening with the IMF negotiations. This has passed the mere political banter to which we have become accustomed. It demonstrates to me that with this rhetoric the possibility of the Opposition working together with the government to do something good for Jamaica is a mere pipe dream. It suggests further that what our political leaders are about is winning political power or preserving it. In the end Jamaica loses. Again, I plead with both gentlemen: tone down the rhetoric.





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