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Business leaders urge Gov't to apply radical economic strategies

Butch urges Gov’t to think big

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor - publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 15, 2014    

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A number of the island's top business leaders yesterday agreed with a call by Gordon 'Butch' Stewart for the Government to show courage in the face of the current economic crisis and implement strategies that will stimulate the economy.

At the same time, the business leaders concurred that they need to play a proactive role in bridging a trust deficit between the private and public sectors that, they believe, is affecting growth.

Stewart, chairman of the ATL Group, which includes the Jamaica Observer, made his call at a luncheon he hosted at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue headquarters in Kingston.

"I would say that we need a Government right now that's bold," said Stewart, whose group also includes the Sandals and Beaches resorts chain that operates hotels across the Caribbean.

"If you're not bold, not willing to take some chances, we're going to be back here in another 10 years talking about missed opportunities," he said.

Stewart framed his comments against the backdrop of the economic recession that is still affecting Jamaica six years after world markets crumbled under its impact.

The lingering effects of the recession have forced Jamaica to ink a financing deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has demanded austere measures in order for loan funds to be made available to the Government.

But Stewart is urging the Government to look beyond the IMF.

"Roll the dice, think big," he suggested. "If you don't do that, then you have nowhere going, because the IMF is only bailing you out to pay some money; they're not going to help the economy to make money.

"There's not one country that has come out of the economic problem since 2008 that did not put in stimulus packages. So if you want to come out of the hole, you have to do something to get out of the hole," Stewart argued.

He recommended the implementation of incentives to attract investments and, to make his point, pointed to the case in the USA where nearly 24 states battled fiercely for Boeing's 777X aircraft assembly plant after the aircraft manufacturer opened the contest during a dispute with a machinists' union in Washington state.

Washington, which was eventually successful in keeping the plant, is reported to have approved nearly US$9 billion in tax breaks for Boeing to assemble the 777X there.

State officials have also been reported as saying that keeping the 777X plant there would result in US$21.3 billion in tax revenue for 15 years, based on a total of approximately 57,000 jobs.

"What these states were trying to create were jobs," Stewart pointed out. "It would be so good, or even bold, to just do elementary things that would clear the cobwebs holding up the economy."

Donna Duncan-Scott, group executive director of Jamaica Money Market Brokers, agreed but raised the issue of trust.

"We as private sector have got to be more proactive in building trust," she said. "I think what needs to happen is really opportunities for conversations to be held."

Duncan-Scott suggested that private sector individuals should organise to meet weekly with public sector officials to hammer out solutions to the problems affecting investment.

"We need investments, we need equity, we need projects that can attract investment, let's work on that," she said to nods of approval from the more than one dozen other business leaders in the room.

"What is preventing us from sitting down together and saying, okay, we are going to work together at an unprecedented level -- private sector and Government?" she asked.

Duncan-Scott suggested that those meetings should be used to raise the level of accountability and implement structures to move things forward.

She acknowledged that such discussions are taking place in the partnership for progress, but said that doesn't prevent other groups, like the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, from engaging in that process.

Glen Christian, chairman and CEO of Cari-Med, agreed. "There is a trust deficit between the private and public sector," he said. "We have to put real solutions on the table... as to how we can be more efficient and save money, and stop speaking in generic terms."

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