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Victory at last, now the work begins!

Franklin Johnston

Friday, February 22, 2013    

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FINANCE minister Peter Phillips has done in 13 months what the posse of Bruce Golding, Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness could not do in 36 plus months. Respect due! Not a bad record. The longest journey begins with one step. The IMF talks were extensive over two administrations, and now closure; but there is nothing we know now that we did not know in 2011, and nothing we have done which we could not have done two years ago but for the pusillanimity of our leaders. Cowards die many times before their death, and as a nation we have been to hell and back with rumour, claimcounter claim and duppy story. Delays have cost us. Why do our politicians have to put us through the wringer before they hang us out to dry? Shucks, I think I answered that just now. The most bothersome is the deficit of trust between the IMF and our country. PNP or JLP is irrelevant, but it matters that there are people who do not trust us now owing to politics.

To those who rejoice at the IMF deal - almost, the worst is yet to come. We may have won consent, now comes hardship. We borrow to secure the IMF reference. Why? So we can borrow even more. We are over-indebted but increased our debt to the IMF so we could borrow more to try to build our country. What a paradox. So how has the "good" news of the necessary reforms gone down?

The Opposition has been vocal that things could be done better, but they are not credible as they had their shot at doing the deal and they flaked. They need to come good with new innovative programmes.

The private sector started by bitching and moaning. Even my granny knew taxes "was goin to drop" and waivers to disappear. Every week for years, articles were printed on the dire circumstances of an IMF loan — Ireland, Greece — riots and rampage. The first impact will not be felt until the third to last quarter. Expect riots from suffering parents, and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them. We will hydroplane for the rest of this year — the momentum of stored personal value, but as the year ends the blood-letting will begin. Unemployment will get worse before it gets better. Expect 2014 and 2015 to be hard years. We have never aligned loss of jobs with growth in productive jobs. Debt repayment is harsh. We get less of what we earn, so we must inform on those who do not pay taxes. If it does not hurt, we are not doing it right. We must all feel pain or it is not worth it. Since the announcement of the tax package, we now know things we did not as people bawl out.

Did you know that the rum business was a screwdriver industry? It exists on imported molasses and will die if it can't import. Our 300-year-old agro-industry is sham. They imported parts to assemble fridges, stoves and flat-pack furniture: the bolts, nuts, panels and screws, and used a screwdriver to put them together. Big factories in industrial estates and the sticker which said "Made in Jamaica" was printed in Trinidad. My uncle was a great distiller and a proud man. The massive cane yard was filled with bustling tractors and skilled operators manoeuvring a chain of trailers; the chain lift, hungry rollers and juice spewing; the granulation, clarifying and the off-take of dark viscous liquid which yielded a bright translucent fluid - "rude to parents" or raw rum. Everything came from our cane fields; we can't even grow cane now.

Where do we go from here? Should we spew venom at Peter's package? Should we create mayhem? Cuss Portia? We created this problem, we did not produce, we abandoned the fields to scuffle in the city, we wanted the SUVs, we reaped where we did not sow. The unemployed man with a fridge, stove, TV, car created this debt. You did not produce, you consumed. You did not earn FX to pay for them. You seduced your Cabinets to do your bidding and they were spineless. We have news of taxes, the pain is in the tax ... wait for it. The IMF has trusted a "bruk man" with new money; they have told him he has to cut out the big food, big SUVs as "the fathers ate sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge".

Let the work begin. There are a lot of the high-minded projects being touted, but I make the case for the humble "cash crop". We must plant and earn. The key to the cash crop is a secure market and a set price. Jamaica Milk Products made milk a cash crop by buying every quart, every day at a set price, rain or shine. Children sent to school and university, cars bought, homes built by a humble pail of milk. Nestle and the Banana Board made milk and small-man bananas cash crops, key items in the economy of poor rural and peri-urban folk. Your credit score soared if you had a few bananas in the yard. It was invisible, effortless, a housewife could tend a cow or two roots of banana; sold to a factory easily. Gungo peas as all pulses can save Jamaica. It can be a good cash crop, grown on marginal land and as we import so much, all it takes is for an agency to purchase it at a known price and end imports. Gungo peas can replace 50% of PATH. Just proclaim we will buy gungo all island at X dollars per quart, rain or shine. Then add some more pulses and other foods with shelf life. We can become self-sufficient and add to the income of hundreds of disempowered, underemployed or unemployed people. Food is power!

Banana was a good cash crop for the small man, housewife or unemployed, as even one tenement yard plant lovingly tended with wash-water, sold to the nearest factory at a set price will elicit supply. Papine market could do with a few backyard bananas at this time. Everythiung does not have to be rocket science. The JAS must renew its mandate by buying easily grown crops with long shelf life for cash. The supply will come. Pulses are good, as a few seeds can work wonders for a young man. Vegetables are sexy and callaloo is good, but they lack shelf life and need water. The same principle applies to milk. Every "Jack man" could keep a cow as we need milk for schools. Small people had a cow in rural areas and peri-urban areas as Riverton, Constant Spring, Papine, Harbour View, just about any place with random grass. Cash crops are not sold to higglers but stable aggregators at a price which changed in years, not months. There was security to planting and it flourished, so the poor had cash flow. It is only in the last few decades that poor people are visible. Before now the enterprising poor were the backbone of rural development. Today if you have one stalk of banana you can sell it, and if you allow it to ripen one bunch can give you two weeks wages at Papine market prices. Import controls can make several foods into cash crops. We must restore this model with some tweaking, so cash flow is dispersed islandwide. Stay conscious, my friend.

PAYOLA — the unethical, possibly illegal payments for music to be broadcast continues to tarnish the electronic media. The print media, newspapers to be specific, has its equivalent. PAYATA, unethical or illegal payment to have items of news or images placed is taking hold. Sources say this corruption is rampant. It ranges from the placing of a story, a photograph on the social pages to products, event and personality shots. Payola afflicts electronic media, but even the casual reference of a person or product or brand is not always casual. In services as the BBC it is a disciplinary, almost indictable offence. Small owner-managed firms are vulnerable to this, and the unscrupulous are brazen enough to shake down foreign agencies and diplomats in return for placement in the print media. A word is enough. Peace!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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