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Tufton recommends training as unemployment benefit

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Unemployment benefits, in the context of structured training and retraining, are being recommended by former Cabinet minister Chris Tufton as the country struggles to achieve economic reform while maintaining social stability.

And, arguing that the country needs pragmatic leadership and an abandonment of the political blame game, Tufton wants those involved in the current Budget debate to focus on providing hope for despairing Jamaicans.

He told the Rotary Club of Mandeville last week that the increasing apathy shown by Jamaicans to the political process was largely the result of disgust with the approach of their leaders.

Tufton claimed people had become accustomed to making huge sacrifices over many, many years and had no need to be incessantly reminded. While more sacrifices and hardships were inevitable, especially in the context of conditionalities dictated by the International Monetary Fund's economic programme, people needed their leaders to show the way towards growth and prosperity.

Similarly, Tufton said, Jamaicans were tired of being told who was to blame for the country's economic mire.

"When the speakers approach the podium for their budget presentation, the Jamaican people are looking for hope and a light at the end of the tunnel," said Tufton, whose political career is on hold following a falling-out with leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party Andrew Holness.

"They (Jamaicans) want to hear about the opportunities that exist for investment and growth and who or what can get them there in the fastest possible time. That's their relief," Tufton said.

The vision, he argued, shouldn't only be about paying off Jamaica's huge debt burden, but also to find ways of generating economic activity and employment, given the reality that "people are hurting".

To that end Tufton, who is executive director of Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) -- a think tank affiliated to the University of the West Indies (UWI) — brought his own recommendations to Mandeville Rotarians. They were framed as part of a comprehensive package embracing economic reform and revival, employment and training and relief for the impoverished.

To begin with, he said, there needed to be specific targets and timelines for investments and a healthy dose of "pragmatism and leadership" to reduce red tape and streamline processes.

He suggested that Cabinet, which meets once weekly, was well placed to speed the process. "Handled at the level of Cabinet it joins up government, so departments and agencies across ministries need to work together because everybody at the table can work together," he said.

Tufton also wants a fast-track approach to the divestment of non-core agencies currently run by Government, such as Nutrition Products Limited, responsible for the nutri-bun school feeding programme, and the government's examination depot.

"The fact is that a private contractor, subject to oversight, would be far more efficient in administering meals under our school feeding programme and operating national motor vehicle testing in accordance with national policy and oversight..." he said.

Out-of-the box thinking should also apply to private/public partnerships. He used the Kingston to Ocho Rios leg of Highway 2000 as an example of such a partnership.

"Already we are doing this, so ...why not sewage treatment facilities, water supply schemes, and even our prison system? It happens elsewhere in the world and represents an opportunity for governments that are cash-poor and require critical infrastructure development to facilitate growth and development," he said.

He argued that an agency such as the Development Bank of Jamaica could be asked to "fast-track capacity-building capabilities and develop proposals for private/public sector partnerships for critical areas of infrastructure".

Noting that free trade is a fact of life which can't be escaped, Tufton said Jamaica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade should be refashioned and redesigned to help Jamaica become more competitive in terms of external exports.

Foreign affairs and trade should not claim "bragging rights from signing another trade deal. Instead, it should become the champion of enhanced trade initiatives that help our manufacturers and exporters to compete", he said.

Tufton urged a fresh approach to Jamaica's troublingly high unemployment among youth. He suggested the incorporation of unemployment benefits tied to skills training and retraining. "The government should consider bringing the critical learning and vocational training institutions together and include other critical institutions like the army and private sector bodies, and develop programmes over the next few years for this national retraining initiative," he said.

Unemployment benefits should include the conversion of crash programmes for the unemployed and underemployed to training and retraining initiatives.

"I would prefer to pay an unemployed youth to learn a skill that is demanded by the job market and to appreciate the benefits of a positive attitude towards work and discipline, than to provide temporary relief through short-term non-productive endeavours," he said.

Tufton said he had "warmed" to the idea of a compulsory national youth service including teenagers at high school being required to serve the community as part of their education and training.

Noting that the welfare programme PATH has serious limitations, Tufton called for greater partnership and co-operation between government and private sector groups to protect the most vulnerable.

All, including the private sector and the multilateral lenders, should recognise that it was in their own self-interest so to do, because of the threat posed by social instability, he said.

"When the vulnerable become extremely vulnerable it has potential economic impact because of the threat of social unrest," Tufton said.

"Social unrest can mitigate the economic stability that we all seek. There is a limit to what people can withstand. Social safety net represents that valve to ease the pressure for the economic adjustments to be given a chance to work," Tufton said.

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