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Will the real Jamaica stand up!

Henley Morgan

Wednesday, September 05, 2012    

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READING what others are saying about Jamaica is like reading the tales of two different countries.

The following excerpt comes from an article entitled: "Jamaica punches above its weight", which appeared in the June 12, 2012 edition of the Toronto Star.

"Jamaica is paradise thousands of Canadians pay attention to only when the winter winds howl down Bay Street and University Avenue. But Jamaica is more than a fun-filled beach haunt. Jamaicans have known for centuries that their apparently featherweight island has the heart and punch of a super heavyweight. In 1668, Jamaica was the first British colonial territory to establish a postal service. Black River in St Elizabeth, then an extremely important port, got electricity in 1893, before New York.

"Jamaica is one of the world's longest-standing democracies, maintaining this state as larger neighbours in the Caribbean and Latin America have been torn apart by revolution and civil war. Jamaica has produced world leaders in politics; world-renowned intellectuals and artists, and supplied millions of immigrants to build 'developed' countries all over the world.

"Jamaica was the first country to impose economic sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa. It was the founder of the International Bauxite Association and spearheaded the International Seabed Authority, which both now have their headquarters in Kingston. Jamaica is the first country to sign a grant agreement on a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Apart from the United States, which has more than 300 million people, the island nation has won the most world and Olympic sporting medals.

"'Out of many, one people' says the Jamaican motto and the whole world echoes the refrain of Jamaica's most creative artist, Bob Marley: One love, one heart... Let's get together and feel all right".

The following excerpt from an article published in the July 21, 2012 edition of the Economist presents a sharp contrast. The article entitled: "On your marks, get set...oh", speaks to the reality many people living on the island know.

"The world is used to trailing behind Jamaican sprinters. Its economy, however, is not speedy. On current forecast it will finish the year with the slowest average growth rate since 2000 in the Americas - behind even earthquake-stricken Haiti.

"The Jamaican economy by rights should be booming. The island is just a 90-minute flight away from the United States, the world's biggest market, with which it shares a language. It's on the shipping route to the Panama Canal, and has a spacious natural harbour in Kingston. It is politically stable, without the ethnic tensions that have riven other Caribbean nations.

"Yet, in real terms Jamaicans are no richer today than they were in the the early 1970s. And most of the island's enduring problems, like its public finances, are home-made. Jamaica has run fiscal deficits in 44 of its 50 years of Independence. Few people pay taxes; the middle class is small, the informal economy big, and enforcement chilled out. The government has steadily dished out waivers to favoured industries.

"Lacking sufficient revenue, Jamaica has financed public spending by borrowing. Years of accumulated deficits, a bank bail-out in 1995, and punishing interest rates have swollen the national debt to Greek-style 140 per cent of GDP. Servicing the burden now accounts for over half the budget.

"The private sector has also been shackled by bureaucracy. Filing taxes requires 72 separate steps and over 400 hours a year, twice as long as in Trinidad and Tobago. Security is a big cost to business. Many hotels spend over $100,000 a year on guards.

"The island will need a political make-over to improve its policies. Both main parties pander to interest groups whose votes are controlled by unsavoury strongmen. Many constituencies plump almost unanimously for one party, a voting pattern one foreign diplomat compares to North Korea's. That means policy proposals have little effect on elections."

The weight of the Economist article is on government taking decisive steps to stimulate economic growth and dismantle political garrisons. The kind of big idea that can create a new set of wealth producers out of consumers and catalyse the process of "degarrisoning" will be on display at 4:00 pm in Trench Town today when the Jamaica Music Institute (JaMIN) will be officially opened. The project, which received funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), also celebrating 50 years of partnership with Jamaica, has the potential to solve deep social problems and create economic opportunities at one and the same time.

Jamaica's National Pledge boldly declares:"So that Jamaica may under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race." In that distressing Economist article, Damien King, the head of Economics at UWI Mona, is quoted as saying that Jamaica's economy has the potential to reach Chinese growth levels of eight per cent a year.

Will the real Jamaica stand up and take her rightful place among the community of nations in this the year of Jubilee?

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

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