THE Jamaican economy has been one of the worst performing economies in the world over the last 30 years judged by its dismal rate of economic growth. In addition, we are now one of the most indebted countries in the world with a debt/GDP ratio of over 140 per cent.
Diagnoses have differed widely and include a gamut of explanations, empirical and psychological. They include: structural features, poor management by successive governments, corruption, institutional weaknesses, ill-conceived macroeconomic policies, excessive taxation, inefficient private sector, exploitation by foreign multinational corporations, the dismantling of preferential trade arrangements, deleterious effect of the global economic crisis, and political rhetoric. We may have missed a few more, but the essential point is that none of these fully explain the problem.
In our view, the fundamental cause of Jamaica's economic problems is the fact that we have not had and still do not have in place the necessary foundation for a private sector-led, market-driven economy. These foundational prerequisites include physical security, security of productive property and security of earnings.
The stark reality of Jamaica is that citizens, in general - but business persons, in particular - are not physically safe. The insecurity involving serious injury and loss of life is increased significantly once a person operates a business of any size in any part of the country. Business persons are not safe at home or at their business place or in moving from one place to another. Business people are prime targets for criminals and the fear of loss of life or endangering family and loved ones discourages countless people from investing, operating a business and from returning home to Jamaica to do business.
The Jamaican economy is being murdered one business person at a time every day.
Even if someone is prepared to risk his or her life to go into business, very often they cannot because they are unable to get the use of their assets, in particular buildings and lands that have been captured. In many cases, there is no security of productive property which seriously discourages investment and prevents rightful owners from putting their assets into production.
The loss of construction and other investment to squatting and other forms of illegal possession is incalculable. The amount of idle land or under-utilised land in the agriculture sector is enormous. It is almost impossible, even with a court order, to regain possession of captured land for fear of violence and the interference of politicians.
If someone risks injury and death and has use of the property, there is no guarantee that they will reap the rewards of their endeavours. Praedial larceny is responsible in large part for sub-optimal production and insufficient private investment in agriculture. If a return is realised the business person may be deprived by extortion of protection money or simply robbed. No one farm or business is too small to be immune from robbery.
The fact that the mango tree is on your land does not mean that you will get any of the fruit. It is first come first served. Ownership and cultivation are irrelevant.
No economy can grow and prosper if business people are not physically secure, if their productive property is not secure, and if their earnings are not secure.