Great merit in Dr Tufton's suggestion

Monday, April 28, 2014    

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AS the country goes about the painful task of economic adjustment, care must be taken that as much as possible the poorest and most vulnerable among us are protected.

That recognition underlay the wrong-headed withdrawal tax proposed by the Government which this newspaper has joined others in opposing.

There have been suggestions as to how the Government should go about meeting the shortfall in the budget without the so-called ATM tax. Hopefully Finance Minister Peter Phillips and the Government will listen.

But even as we urge a change of tack, there must also be the cold realisation that whatever is done must have as little negative impact as is humanly possible on those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Times are hard. And for many Jamaicans it will get harder as the economy is adjusted to the stage where we depend far more on ourselves, and far less on borrowing.

Much as Jamaicans yearn for tangible and sustained economic growth, it won't come immediately. And, when it does, the effects are unlikely to be immediately felt by the mass of the population.

Meanwhile, people can't be left in utter despair and without hope. The poorest, unemployed and most vulnerable must be made to feel that society cares and is acting in their interest.

As Dr Christopher Tufton pointed out recently, it is in the enlightened self-interest of the nation state and all economic stakeholders so to do.

Impoverishment, anger and resentment can make for a most poisonous chalice leading to social unrest — which this country cannot afford.

In that respect we note Dr Tufton's call for a partnership between Government and private sector bodies to strengthen the social safety net. The suggestion is not new. Indeed this newspaper has urged exactly such an alliance.

It is true that various organisations, including the church, private voluntary organisations, various foundations and service clubs, etc are already doing a great deal.

But there obviously needs to be far greater coordination involving the public and private sectors to ensure that those in greatest need benefit speedily and easily from whatever assistance is available.

And, as Jamaicans work to disentangle from the debt trap, there must be a vision to ensure this country does not again fall prey.

How is that to be? It seems to this newspaper that a crucial element must be a deliberate, targeted effort to build a disciplined and trained workforce.

It's often said that people are a nation's greatest asset. We would suggest that in the case of Jamaica, that's little more than a useless cliché. Fact is that, as a people, we are largely undisciplined and untrained.

That has to change.

For that reason this newspaper endorses another suggestion by Dr Tufton. That the time has come for training as an unemployment benefit possibly embracing a compulsory youth service. The army and the education system, including traditional schools and technical/vocational training institutions, would have to be central.

Thoughts of a similar approach in the 1970s were effectively scuttled by Cold War politics and the ideological divide between the two political parties. That divide no longer exists.

The current economic constraints mean such a programme would not be possible immediately. But it's not too early to start planning.





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