BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau email@example.com
MONTEGO BAY, St James — Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips says despite the gains made by Jamaica over the past 75 years, the country is yet to establish an economic foundation that will enhance growth and development and allow citizens to achieve their dreams if they work hard.
"For all of the gains that have been made... the protection of democracy, the right to free speech, the equality for women... it is clear that we still have too much poverty, too much unemployment, too many people who can only think of escaping from Jamaica in order to pursue life," said Dr Phillips.
Dr Phillips, who is a former vice-president of the ruling People's National Party (PNP), was speaking at the party's Central St James constituency conference at the Montego Bay High School in St James on Sunday night.
He blamed the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which governed the country from 2007 to 2011, for derailing the progress, which he said his party had made in achieving sustained economic growth and development in previous years.
"There is no doubt that with all the progress that we were making on that road to achieve that mission, the four years of the Jamaica Labour Party set us back in the worst way that you can imagine," Dr Phillips told the Comrades.
He argued that during the JLP's four years in office, the country's debt doubled, moving from $800 billion in 2007 to $1.7 trillion, when they demitted office in December 2011.
However, official Government documents show that Jamaica's debt was already well over the $800 billion mark when the JLP took office in September 2007 — at $920 billion — and had reached $1.63 billion in December 2011 when the JLP was booted from office.
The PNP had previously ruled the country for 18 consecutive years from 1989 to 2007.
On Sunday, Dr Phillips explained that the enormity of the debt has stifled the growth and development of the country.
"When you get debt that is so high, it prevents you from growing as a country; it prevents you from growing because you have to spend more and more of the budget simply paying off the debt. When we came to office, what we found was a situation where spending for the debt was near 60 cents in every dollar in the budget; and you spend 20 cents paying public sector workers, which means that all that is left to repair roads, to buy chalk and books for schools, to buy medicine for hospitals... has to come out of the 20 cents that remain, so the money cannot stretch to do other things," he argued.
He stressed, however, that despite the challenges the Government is determined to reduce the debt and to set the platform for growth.
"Reducing the debt means that we cannot borrow anymore money, and that means that you have to find a way to live within the available resources," said Dr Phillips, adding that the Government is operating with a "tight budget, because we are not going to borrow and sacrifice our children's future anymore."
Already, he said the Government is moving to create an environment that will enhance growth and development.
"What we are doing is to create the conditions that the private sector can expand their businesses, set up new businesses and employ people," he stressed.