This time...

Monday, May 06, 2013

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A major challenge for the Government will be how to get the majority of the Jamaican people to appreciate that the programme just agreed on with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has not resolved the country's economic problems.

Rather, the four-year Extended Fund Facility for US$958 million is merely intended to provide breathing space for Jamaicans to get their act together and produce their way out of trouble.

The political Opposition — as is their duty — have strenuously made the point. To their credit, some Government spokesmen have underlined it. Indeed, it is at times like these that one such as Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke can be especially valuable for Mrs Simpson Miller's Administration.

A plain-speaking man who has stayed close to the people, Mr Clarke recently told a credit union forum in St Elizabeth the gospel truth. "It (IMF agreement) is not anything we should be happy about or boast about. It is about borrowing some more money, and the fact of the matter is, it is money that has to be paid back, and to pay back that money no magic wand is going to do it. It will have to be production, production, production," Mr Clarke said.

He and his Cabinet colleagues will have to keep telling the truth to the people in simple, clear, unequivocal language. That, for example, the loan funds, and very importantly, the "seal of approval" that comes from this agreement with the IMF is very conditional and likely to be costly in terms of the sacrifices. The Jamaican people must be told of the tough periodic targets that must be met. Targets which, if not met, can lead to the agreement being undermined, even scuttled.

This is no time to sugar-coat with short-term political ends in mind. Yet, with all of that straight talking, the people must not lose hope. It is important that Jamaicans have reason to expect that this time belt-tightening will lead to real benefits as the economy is transformed under the growth and development agenda.

For that reason, projects such as integrated resorts development involving the long talked-about embrace of casinos, expansion of the ICT sector, radical expansion and modernisation of the Port of Kingston, and transformation of the energy sector must not fail. And as the projects are implemented, the people must be able to see for themselves the evidence of meticulous planning, verve and energy.

Mega projects apart, businesses must feel that even in challenging times there is profit to be had and reason to increase production and employment. Farmers, without whom we are at dire risk, must be given reason to believe that the drive against farm thieves isn't just spasmodic and knee-jerk, but concerted and determined.

Crucially, as the nation enters this latest IMF programme, there must be "all hands on deck" in the words of the Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips. The role of the economic oversight committee will be critical in this regard.

For the political Opposition, the temptation will arise, as hard times bite, to seek short-term political gain at the expense of the greater good. Such temptation must be resisted. Mr Andrew Holness's pledge to walk the path of "transformational politics" must be the way to go.

We are at a stage where all Jamaicans must recognise that we have come to the edge many times before without actually going over.

This time, if we mess up, the precipice surely beckons.




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