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Do something, Prime Minister!

BY MAURICE CHRISTIE

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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The Jamaican dollar is on a downward spiral. Never in our history has Jamaica seen its currency depreciate so rapidly. Are we heading for the situation that was Spain's lot in 1991-1992, or are we descending into the chaos that is currently haunting Turkey?

In the last two or three months Jamaicans have watched with alarm as the Jamaican dollar's value dropped by $6 of its local value in one week. It continues to slide and now it is at some $136 (well, at the Bank of Jamaica counter) to the US dollar — the world's major currency market indicates sales at $136.43. At this rate the Jamaican dollar trading against the US dollar will certainly be sold for $140 before Christmas.

While these figures of depreciation — some would ignorantly say devaluation — face us daily, the impact continues to wreak havoc on families below the rich and upper-middle class strata. Yet, the prime minister and his finance minister continue to give stupid responses that cannot tell how the poor and masses will survive under this plunge in value of the Jamaican dollar.

Some days ago the prime minister sheepishly told his supporters that speculation is the reason for the dive. Speculation by whom, Prime Minister? The masses do not have the capacity or resources to buy dollars, hoard dollars, invest in US dollars, and then push up the prices by speculating.

In my opinion — and you do not need any economist to tell you — the dollar's depreciation is being manipulated by big business interests. Corruption is not just done by politicians. Often in small-island states like these, large capital owners and established business interests — some bending deeply on wealth from the colonial legacy — have in the past, and currently, manipulated the economy for supernormal profits and increased wealth potential.

Nothing is new under the sun. We only have to look at how some ethnicities in this country behaved when threatened by socialism. To draw on modern history, the day after the national election, Kingston Harbour, Black River, Ocho Rios, Buff Bay, Port Antonio, Negril, wherever there were water outlets or ports, large volumes of artificially short goods appeared floating in the sea and rivers. It is the same unpatriotic, but now greedy and selfish desires that have orchestrated the depreciation of the local currency.

A depreciated dollar is affecting nearly everyone except the rich and upper-middle class. All other classes — poor, working, lower-middle class, middle-middle class, peasantry and rural middle class — have been under pressure. Food, medicine, school fees, machinery, computers, dental fees, agricultural input, and others have become more expensive and demand more from our savings, income and financial resources. In a society with 90 per cent of raw materials imported, a fall in the dollar can only make life more miserable.

Yet, in spite of the known impacts, the prime minister has for weeks been silent until a day ago when he saw it politically expedient to speak to his die-hards and came up with an implausible answer.

No, no, no, Prime Minister Holness, do better than that. Jamaicans await a better answer. We are not fools. Do not take us for granted. We are still awaiting the truth which has dogged your governance. Our beloved country deserves better. Do not let us fall into the Spanish or Italian currency crisis symptomatic of the early 90s. If the country fails to get an answer, if the local dollar continues its dive against the US dollar, and should there be the resultant increased inflation, we will be witnessing a recipe of economic and social disaster.

Maurice Christie writes from Clarksonville, St Ann. Send comments to the Observer or christiemaurice@yahoo.com.

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