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Tufton wants Jamaicans to open eyes to economic realities

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 02, 2014    

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Jamaicans will have to come to terms with some stark realities that presently face the nation and focus anew in order to deal with them, former Senator Dr Christopher Tufton has said.

Tufton, who relinquished his position as Jamaica Labour Party chairman of the St Elizabeth South West constituency last Tuesday, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview before he made that decision that the Jamaican economy is on shaky ground and the various stakeholders must get more involved to deal with some of the underlying issues needed to resurrect it.

"The truth is that every administration has demonstrated areas of success. Despite the challenges of the seventies, the constant struggles between ideological viewpoints — communism and capitalism — social policies, maternity leave for example, were positive things. So one can, and it is appropriate when the time comes, weigh the options, make some qualitative distinctions and choices which are healthy for democracy," said Tufton, who served one term as member of parliament for St Elizabeth South West (2007-2011), before he was beaten by Hugh Buchanan in a close contest.

"While qualitative distinctions can be made between different administrations in specific areas, I am a party man and I can point to several achievements under the administration of the JLP," Tufton said. "During the four-year period when I was minister, crime did come down by 40 per cent. The dollar was stable for a period of time, interest rates were at a 20-year low and so there are a number of things that one could identify with and claim credit for.

"At the same time, all of us have to come to the realisation that Jamaica is in a perilous state. To a large extent, our democracy, which is not just a function of the party, but a function of the people, the stakeholders, voters included, has more challenges to overcome than many, many years back, and in a sense, some level of collective responsibility has to be assumed," he said.

Tufton stated that there is going to be a need to demonstrate a difference in management and approach, which can lead to better results, things he said that no administration could avoid.

He described the present IMF agreement as "clearly the most tangible manifestation of that".

Elements of the agreement, he insisted, could have been negotiated differently.

"In my case, for example, I have long outlined in the Senate, the extent to which these targets are not sufficiently subject to environmental considerations in a country where we are prone to hurricanes and so on.

"Something should be done more tangibly to deal with assessment, preparation, those sorts of things, because external debt is the leading cause of debts in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, and CaPRI (Caribbean Policy Research Institute) just did a study on it," Tufton said.

"Six of the 10 most indebted countries in the world are in the Caribbean and a big portion of that is external driven. So any agreement that you lock yourself into should deal with some of those external vulnerabilities.

"If you don't do what is necessary to contain our appetites to support bureaucratic inefficiencies, to build out entrepreneurship through insolvency legislation and doing business, to deal with crime, tailor education to what the job market requires, to focus on early childhood, which is the base, rather than just higher levels, you are not going to go anywhere," he said.

Describing them as "fundamental issues" that any Government has to take on, Tufton said that because of the IMF's involvement, there is an opportunity for a more deliberate, targeted and focused attempt at resolving issues, due to Government's back being against the wall.

It requires determination, he said, and also a lot of political collaboration.

"The extent to which that collaboration can be facilitated, where the Government is the driver and must take ultimate responsibility, but must do sufficient to accommodate, where the Opposition must say these are negotiable, but we reserve the right to do certain things; the extent to which that can be done is the extent to which there can be greater levels of hope in moving the society forward," Tufton argued.

"The extent to which it cannot be done, either because of a leadership deficiency or otherwise, is the extent to which the hopelessness will be preserved and enhanced," Tufton said.

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