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Aubyn Hill challenges Portia

Transform economy to knowledge-driven one, consultant says

By GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 27, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Arguing that knowledge and education will lift Jamaicans out of "abject poverty", financial consultant Aubyn Hill has challenged Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to swiftly initiate transformation of the economy to one that is "knowledge driven".

"Jamaica must take the radical step to use knowledge as our main economic driver," Hill told the Manchester Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet at the Golf View Hotel late Saturday.

"Use knowledge and turn Jamaica into the knowledge capital of the Caribbean; use the knowledge economy to generate growth," he said.

Hill said that the knowledge driven strategy should be part of a three-pronged approach to restructuring the Jamaican economy. He identified the widely accepted view of a move away from expensive, imported fossil fuels to renewable and alternative energy, and a revamp or "creative destruction" of government bureaucracy to allow for efficiency and accountability as crucial.

Hill, who has been credited with helping failing businesses and banks, including Jamaica's NCB to achieve profitability, also identified crime as a major hindrance to Jamaica's growth.

However, he suggested that Jamaicans were largely at fault for not demanding that successive governments take the requisite action to subdue criminals.

"Jamaicans are being murdered at an alarming rate. It's sad, it's terrible and something that we all should not continue to accept," he said.

"It is because we continue to accept it why there is no change. Believe me, if we decide that we don't want crime here, politicians respond to votes and they will respond. We must love it otherwise we would change it," he said.

Hill suggested that Simpson Miller could begin the process of building a knowledge-based economy by emulating South Korea which he said had merged several ministries to form a super ministry of knowledge and economy. That move, he said, paved the way for that country's rapid growth in knowledge-based industries in addition to its longstanding manufacturing sector.

In setting up such a ministry, Hill suggested, Simpson Miller could "appoint a clear economic manager as minister in charge, to work very closely with the ministry of finance", with the latter having "focused responsibility for fiscal affairs, monetary affairs and debt management".

Insisting that "knowledge workers are the assets of the future", Hill appeared to suggest that the Jamaica Government should not be discouraged by the migration of the trained and educated to greener pastures.

"We must turn our education system into an education industry where we train actuaries, train nurses, train doctors, we train them for Jamaica, we train them for Saudi Arabia, we train them for the United States.

"We train ... them and send out like India did - when India was Socialist in the 1970s and by the time they come back in the '90s they are owners and investors of huge businesses ... send them out and train them well. It is an investment in Jamaicans, it is not a cost ... a cost you don't get back, an investment you get a return on," Hill said.

Using the changes to people's ability to communicate caused by cellular phone technology as an example, Hill claimed that knowledge could have a similarly revolutionary effect in lifting people out of poverty.

"Knowledge has always been for the elite in modern Jamaica and we must make it the tool to create wealth for ordinary Jamaicans," he said.

Costa Rica, he pointed out, had benefitted immensely from a targeted policy of educating its people with a highly profitable partnership with the US multinational chip maker Intel.

"In 2006, Intel's microprocessor facility alone was responsible for 20 per cent of Costa Rican exports and 4.9 per cent of GDP," Hill said. However, he added, "you cant get Intel in Costa Rican unless you have educated and smart knowledge workers".

Arguing that Jamaica's current oil bill of US$2.5 billion was unsustainable, Hill said that there should be a creative push to encourage the growth of renewable and alternative energy technologies.

"Can you imagine how many people we could put to work if it was legislated that every new building must have some minimum renewable component, wind, solar, bio-fuels or hydro?" said Hill.

He referred to estimates that ten 60-Megawatts windfarms "could produce 50 per cent of our energy. He added: "But you know what, there is a great investment and interest in the existing arrangement, which is terribly costly. We can't afford it".

Additionally, Hill said, there had to be an overhaul of the bureaucracy through what he called "creative destruction" - a phrase coined by political scientist and economic Joseph Shumpeter to describe the destruction of the old by the new.

"Many things in our Government and bureaucracy need to be creatively destroyed, our leaders need to focus the creative destruction approach to government policies, even ministries as we seek to reorient our government process for broad and sustainable economic growth," he said.

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