Last Thursday, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) hosted the Jamaica launch of the Caribbean Growth Forum at the University of the West Indies at Mona.
Its objective was to move the discussion on resuscitating economic growth in Jamaica beyond the usual generalisations — which have become common parlance — to specific pragmatic policy measures.
It was immediately evident that the key private sector decision-makers remained at their places of work, while the main participants were the usual coterie of the cognoscenti of policy advice and the perennial gaggle of consultants. However, despite the public preponderance of the usual suspects, who are experts at talking the talk, the IDB appeared to have managed to extract some useful suggestions.
There is a clear disjuncture between the public and the public sector, as was evident when many suggestions turned out to have already been implemented by Government and many instances of Government actions of which the business community was ignorant.
Worse than that, representatives of the Government and JAMPRO, the State-run investment promotion agency, at times were describing urgently needed programmes as "soon come" — in one case the date being 2015!
Prime Minister Simpson Miller's recent acknowledgement that red tape was a serious problem was beyond dispute, but it elicited a telling comment from Mr Chris Zacca, president of the influential Private Sector Organisation of the Jamaica. He stated: "...Every Government in my memory has come to office promising less red tape, and has left office with more."
Reducing the delays is an inexpensive way to free investment and improve international competitiveness. An outstanding example is the approval process for planning. There is societal consensus that this process is too time-consuming, costly and fraught with ineptitude and corruption. Mr Chris Issa alluded recently to the corruption in the approval process.
No one any longer questions the overriding need to secure increased investments from abroad, but Jamaica's efforts to mobilise foreign investment are still neglecting the newer sources such as China and the Middle East, while still beating down the doors of old sources which are proving more and more unable or unwilling to respond.
In this regard, it was urged that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade should be more active in mobilising foreign investment through the embassies in Beijing and Kuwait City.
There are several inexpensive ways to stimulate investment, which is the driver of economic growth. We suggest that it is time to cut the talk and, more than all, cut the red tape that is strangling progress.