Self-respect and our negotiation with the IMF
As the saying goes, the more things change the more they remain the same. This is very true of our relationship with the IMF. Ever since Michael Manley took us into the Fund we have not been able to escape its dictates. We have had one of the longest-running relationships with the Fund. Even when Patterson said "ta-ta" to it, we maintained some kind of a link, though not a borrowing relationship. From the beginning the country was told to tighten its belts or bite bullets. Literally and figuratively we have bitten a lot of bullets over the time and we have changed a lot of belts as our waistlines have got thinner and thinner.
What has changed today? Have we grown wiser as a nation? With all the borrowing we have done the country remains poorer and more divided. Our debt burden has increased to unsustainable levels standing at around 150 per cent of our GDP. Our social and economic capital has been severely degraded. Our tribal politics has rendered us impotent as politicians of all stripes have sought to build monuments to their own egos instead of leading the people with deference and respect. Successive governments have come to the people promising all kinds of goodies which they know they cannot deliver, and the gullible electorate has gobbled all of this down, only to remain heavily bloated and winded at the end of the day. There has been an absence of statesmanship in the way we have managed our affairs, and after 50 years of independence the country waits with bated breath as an imperialist organisation - an icon of oppression - decides our fate. Like a naughty child waiting to be caned, we stand sheepishly before our masters, bereft of shame, but trembling at the licks to be received.
This time around we are in a more parlous situation than we were when Manley engaged the IMF in the 1970s. We certainly were not as indebted as we are today, and even though the global economic environment was not easy we were not in the midst of a global economic meltdown. We have very little wiggle room in which to manoeuvre and negotiate. No outcome will be palatable to us. The country will indeed have to bite more bullets, and there will still be a lot more belt tightening to do. I wish I could say that we should go into the negotiations holding our heads high as a proud nation, but how can we, when for more than a year we failed to keep the agreements we made with the Fund and did not have the decency to be open and transparent to the people about it so they could at least give the government some suggestions and advice? It was only towards the waning days of the Holness administration and as the party stumped for votes that we had any inkling that we had bitter medicine to take after the elections. And even then, the full details of the illness to be treated were not spelt out to the patient. We find the same kind of hedging and fudging with the present administration. The country is sold generalisations but there is no clear, global set of principles that the country is aware of that the government will engage the IMF on. Why is it that our politicians cannot be open to the people whose business they transact? Is it that they hold them too much in contempt that they believe they will not understand what is being said? Is it this political elitism that has been our bane these 50 years?
What is clear is that we are in the perfect storm of a grave social, economic and moral crisis and we cannot go on like this. We cannot lose whatever little self-respect we may have left as a nation. It is that little shred of self-respect that we must grasp and use as a platform to begin the long climb to building a viable society. We must even seek to recapture a sense of shame, for when there is an absence of shame people will continue to do the same things over and over again thinking that they are doing what is right. In other words, the crisis we face is largely a moral crisis. It is the absence of a sense of personal morality why we promise people things that we cannot deliver on; why we lie to escape the unpleasantness of sordid behaviour; why we take bribes and indulge in other forms of corruption to enhance our personal fortunes; why we are willing to engage in mob violence which results in the loss of life and property merely on the suspicion that a person may be sympathetic to homosexuals.
Yes, we may not have a great deal of it going into the negotiations, but let us not lose the little we have by grovelling in the dirt before our IMF masters. In the end we are the ones who will have to save ourselves whether we have an IMF agreement or not. Ultimately, the responsibility is ours to dig ourselves out of the hole that we have dug ourselves into. We hope that those conducting the negotiations on behalf of Jamaica will display the courage the situation demands. May they have the courage of their convictions and engage the nation in a well-needed conversation as they do the people's business.