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Towards a better Jamaica

Monday, May 13, 2019

This newspaper feels compelled to return to a column highlighted in yesterday's Sunday Observer headlined 'The Silent Revolution' written by Mr Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank's vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean.

As was pointed out, the World Bank, buoyed by Jamaica's “extraordinary” economic turnaround in recent years is committing to expand its support by US$140 million.

We were particularly struck by Mr van Trotsenburg's praise for Jamaica's commitment across political and social lines to turn its dysfunctional economy around.

Said he: “The fiscal turnaround and economic transformation were possible because of the strong commitment across political parties over two competing administrations and electoral cycles. The country also critically benefited from a sustained social consensus for change and the strong backing of the private sector.”

Indeed, when the then People's National Party Government went back to the International Monetary Fund for assistance in 2013, Jamaica's debt had long before reached unacceptable proportions.

As told by Mr van Trotsenburg, “The Government had a wake-up call when its debt overhang peaked at almost 150 per cent of GDP in 2013. With the support of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, the country embarked on an ambitious reform programme. These efforts have paid off. Jamaica is now one of the few countries that has successfully cut public debt by the equivalent of half its gross domestic product in a short time frame.”

It would be inaccurate to say that the kind of bipartisan and multi-sectoral partnership shown in the approach to economic repair was totally unprecedented in this country.

We shouldn't forget the joining of hands which led to the reduction in the tumultuous politically tribalistic temperature of decades ago and the development of an electoral system which is now a global model.

The truth, though, is that Jamaicans have not seen enough of that sort of cooperation to resolve difficulties haunting the country — not least being crime.

It's incumbent on Government, Opposition and sector leaders to come together to develop an approach to fighting crime — post-short-term, cauterising measures such as states of emergency.

Nor should Jamaicans believe that solutions for crime, unemployment, et al should be left to their leaders. They should not believe that, as individuals, they have no part to play.

They should note the example of returned resident and newly appointed The University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Rene Williamson, who has pledged to give up his annual salary to help needy students on campus.

“The kind of talent that we have here in Jamaica is unbelievable... but many of our young people are unable to pay to learn. All they need is an opportunity, encouragement and some support,” he said.

Obviously, most people can't replicate such an act.

But most Jamaicans, if they stop to think about it, can give of themselves in some way to make the lives of their neighbours, their community, and their country better.

Ultimately, all Jamaicans, rich and poor, regardless of political party or any other affiliation, should be nation builders.