The gloves are off, let the fight begin

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, January 20, 2013

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Well, the Empire struck back, or at least tried to, with the Monday press conference that promised transparency and compassion but really just alluded to the agony that is to come. A clever ploy in communications strategy designed to elicit conflicting views from labour unions, the private sector, the civil service, and the public at large.

By and large, the targets avoided taking the bait, and simply returned the serve safely over the net and back into the Government's court.

So the Government engaged play number two (which is a successful old strategy) normally described as obfuscation. Past PM Patterson, and past Minister Ennis grabbed the headlines in both newspapers on the same day, and John Public said "Aha, now dem a cuss dem one anadda".

Then came the third play, as expected, but not planned. Other events intervened and the wicked murders unveiled themselves, as did a foreign doctor with malaria, as did rare earth elements, Rebel Salute, and Jazz and Blues, and our world was perfect again. Then came the as yet unexplained delay in the Tivoli Inquiry, and FINSAC as yet incomplete, police shootings, murder in the hospital, and general righteous indignation at everything, and the IMF negotiations are a distant memory. As we said in school after reading the Scriptures, "Here endeth the lesson."

The inability of Jamaicans to stick to a focus on priorities is legendary and is perhaps an endemic disease. As the NIR continues to deteriorate, none of us is worried about where our next American apple is coming from or how we will even pay for it. Farmers are "waiting for Godot" before planting, companies are still expecting waivers, manufacturers are awaiting lower electricity costs in 2015, productive investments are all on hold, civil servants are not seeking alternatives, and construction is on hold pending the outcome of the contractors' litigation with the Office of the Contractor General. We are a NIN, that is, a Nation In Neutral.

I hate to play the recall line alternately known as "I told you so", but we need to think about serious things early. This columnist wrote about the world depression in March 2009 when not even the Americans or the Europeans wanted to go beyond the phrase "financial blip".

On our part we kept on borrowing, reducing duties on luxury vehicles, investing in government securities, and neither investing in real production nor working. Life was a blur of parties, drink-in-hand pictures, weekend binge drinking, lower exam passes, and all was well on the social pages, in dancehalls, expensive and exclusive clubs, and no-panty days on public transportation.

Well, 2013 is the year to see who can continue with our less-than-productive inclinations. Perhaps we can anticipate the usual migration fever and longer lines at embassies, or we could continue lotto scams, or resume ganja exports on larger planes that we could land at Vernamfield and Boscobel.

Now, I do support a private sector-led initiative as proposed by 'Butch' Stewart and supported by Mike Henry to expand Boscobel to accommodate the super planes that will never use Norman Manley nor Sangster International airports. I also support a negotiation with all cruise shipping lines for a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables as a quid pro quo for fresh water supplies. I notice that some cruise lines are pulling out of Cayman and the Turks and Caicos Islands, so we need to bargain now as cruise ships need lots of water and we have that to sell.

History has so many anecdotes that could forewarn us of impending danger and prepare us for overcoming the devastation that is the usual aftermath. The suggestion of a second JDX should have already sent the stock market upwards, and should be prompting more viable companies to raise capital through the IPO process, but I'm not seeing the movement from paper to real production, or equity capital replacing borrowing.

What are we waiting on, for God's sake? Let us be proactive for once in our lives, and break the circle of ineffective actions repeated throughout the past decades. We cannot continue as if the failed actions of the past are still relevant choices, especially as it concerns entrepreneurial activities. We chased out innovative business persons in the 1970s on the "five flights a day to Miami" doctrine. We "killed" the initiatives of the next generation of the 1990s with FINSAC, so I wonder if our 20-year cycle is about to return and remove creative minds and leave only the dross.

This is the time for the private sector to put aside stupid rivalries born out of competing in a declining marketplace. It is a time for co-operation, mergers, and joint ventures designed to earn foreign currency profits overseas. The 'crab in a barrel' syndrome is not a strategy for beating the current situation, and we should expect no help (but possible hindrances) from Government.

This is the time for Government to divest or close all loss-making companies and departments. Also, in the interest of efficiency, all systems need to be reviewed with a view to using one standard that can communicate across ministries and facilitate the sharing of information and common best practices. Non-essential services could be divested to current employees who would then be value-based service providers.

I am supportive of the position taken by Don Wehby in a recent article that outlined the need for Government to adopt the accrual accounting method as a superior method of control. I think that all accounting partnerships and practitioners should enter this debate and by so doing accelerate a sensible decision. I do not expect the Government to undertake any change without prodding.

Yes folks, we are in a real fight for survival and future growth, and a failure to take meaningful action would be a fatal mistake. Trying to sustain or win popularity is not an option at this time, and the thought of the one-upmanship dialogue is personally quite repulsive and misleading in the middle of a crisis.

The situation exists as a result of poor governance and indecisive leadership that have been sustained by both the PNP and the JLP over the past decades. Each has been a jockey and each has fallen off the horse with every term in office.

"To be or not to be, that is the question" that is on everyone's lips, even as we are distracted by mundane and trivial pursuits. For me it is far nobler to go down fighting, than wait to be dragged down by a governance system that has obviously been failing for years.

As the DJ toasted, "Forward ever, backward never, sounds to make yu little heart quiver down the river; here it comes". Let's get ready to rumble!




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