A tough balancing act

Monday, May 21, 2012    

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IT'S sad but true that sometimes in addressing the necessity of macro-economic stability and the achievement of targets deemed appropriate by multi-lateral lenders, economic planners, analysts and even policymakers downplay the immediate needs of the very poor.

We sometimes forget that there are those among us in very large numbers so impoverished, they can hardly plan beyond today, or the next meal.

The story in yesterday's Sunday Observer of a resident of Majesty Gardens breaking down in tears in the presence of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during a function to mark an attempt at urban renewal captures to some extent the problem.

The squalor and deprivation are old news. But what must also be realised is that the economic crisis of recent years has rendered such dire situations much worse.

All across Jamaica in urban as well as rural areas, people — many having lost their jobs, some having never worked and others at minimum wage levels — are struggling to feed their families, not to mention deal with the other necessities of a civilised existence.

How does Government meet the tough macro-economic requirements while at the same time provide an environment for people in communities such as Majesty Gardens to survive and gradually progress out of poverty and ignorance?

Given Jamaica's dire economic straits it sounds and feels like an impossible juggling act. Yet, as was said in this space yesterday, it must be done.

Indeed, the 'Dudus' issue apart, a perception by a large chunk of the population that the then Jamaica Labour Party Government was unable to achieve that balance, led to its heavy defeat last December.

The recognition that somehow people at the base economic level had to be given some hope triggered the People's National Party's campaign promise of an emergency employment programme (JEEP). The reality of desperately scarce resource means the 'JEEP' has far less reach than may have initially been imagined by Mrs Simpson Miller and her Government.

But in any case that programme was never meant as a lasting measure. Logically, it must give way in short order to a more sustainable programme to help people earn and survive.

Empty Government coffers mean such a programme must be fuelled by private sector investment — from local and overseas sources.

The success of Mrs Simpson Miller and her Government in creating the atmosphere to attract levels of private investment which will boost employment and economic growth will largely determine how her Administration is judged.

Crucially it could determine whether or not Jamaica remains a stable society in the short to medium term.

But the responsibility can't only be that of the Government and the wider political directorate. It seems to this newspaper that at the level of the individual and so-called civil society, there is much that can be done to help those most in need keep their heads above water.

The local business operator, the community and service organisations, the church and all those — individually and collectively — with the ability to help a needy family or provide the wherewithal for a child to go to school should do so. When added together the little 'kindnesses' can make a big difference.

Also, when all is said and done, it amounts to enlightened self-interest.





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