Time for shared sacrifices?
HEART TO HEART
Just in case you haven't noticed, our country is in the throes of a deep socio-economic crisis. We are struggling to sign an uneasy IMF agreement; productivity remains low and bound up with complicated and conflicting factors, some beyond our control; serious crimes, including the recent murders of two police officers, continue to escalate, and children are being raped and otherwise abused at rates and in ways never before seen in Jamaica - and all these in the year in which we celebrate our 50th anniversary as an independent nation.
The nine-month-old People's National Party government doesn't seem to understand the pressing realities, seemingly forgetful or oblivious to the steady downward trajectory that followed their 18 1/2-year stewardship of the country, followed by another four years of underperformance by the Jamaica Labour Party.
And let us not be fooled by the tit for tat between the two main political parties about who is to blame. They are both culpable. The cumulative total of 27 years of PNP rule and 23 years of JLP rule has now brought Jamaica to the brink of collapse. So now the clarion call is for all of us to tighten our belts and begin to make whatever sacrifices are necessary.
But who exactly is prepared to make any sacrifice, and are there any examples that the people can emulate?
The minister of finance, who would seem to be one of the most likely candidates to set the tone for any sacrifice, made what I considered to be a very weak attempt to explain to Jamaicans that "the shop is empty". That statement came after public concerns were raised about the acquisition of motor vehicles for government ministers, including one for the minister himself.
Since the "empty shop" speech, there have been no visible signs of frugality on the part of the administration. In fact, the opposite seems more apparent. In the middle of the pronouncements about austerity, the administration hired the services of 40 consultants at a combined estimated cost of $100m. Even while I understand the "gravy train" politics, I for one could not fully comprehend the need for so many consultants in a country already overstudied by experts and well-stocked by qualified, experienced and salaried civil servants.
With the carving knife being sharpened for public service employees, it is going to be interesting to see if any of the consultants are prepared to multi-task without additional emoluments.
Of course, the question of shared sacrifices must also be asked of Jamaica's private sector. Are there any to be made by this significant group of Jamaicans, and what would those be?
Let me hasten to say that I recognise that those answers might be slow in coming, given the deep philosophical divide between the public and private sectors in our country. So the real question is, "Who will go first, and is any side prepared to give up anything?"
One of the paradoxes of the Jamaican society is that at the same time that the economic fortunes of the country deteriorate, there are companies and institutions making unbelievably high profits. Are any of those companies prepared to take even a small cut in profits to facilitate the common good?
Only last week, a concerned citizen publicly posited that if all the banks agreed to forgo a small percentage of their surplus, they could easily facilitate the 40,000 job-creation initiative being bandied about. That citizen calculated that 40,000 jobs @ $40,000 per month for each employee for one year would create the kind of stimulus the country needs so badly. What a prospect!
But perhaps the biggest question of all is reserved for the Jamaican population at large. Is each of us prepared to make a sacrifice and what would that be?
Can we, for example, give up the appetite for foreign foods that cost the country US$1 billion last year? Are we prepared to drive smaller cars, thereby cutting our fuel bill to a more manageable figure? Most important, are we prepared to produce more and hopefully save more, so that the next 50 years can be better than the last? For me personally, the answer is yes, but I understand that every man must speak for himself.
The problem is that I keep hearing the buzzwords "shared sacrifices", but I'm not sure how and with whom it may be resonating. What is interesting is that those speaking don't appear to be heeding their own words. Those of us who are sincere patriots, however, must now step up to the plate and do our part.