Jamaica on alert but #stillbelieving

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, August 19, 2019

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We are borrowing Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams' hashtag #stillbelieving as we reflect on the global economic jitters that have resulted from the US-China trade conflict. Additionally, the price of aluminium has tumbled and threatens our bauxite industry. However, we recall the last recession in 2008 when Jamaica was able to weather the storm, as we had battened up our financial governance after the Finsac [Financial Sector Adjustment Company] fallout. Indeed, an investor who had brought Columbus Communications to Jamaica noted that his Jamaican holdings had shored him up when Wall Street was tumbling.

Well, as someone who has lived, worked, and invested in my country for decades I continue to be positive on Jamaica, even as I know that we have to be alert to the signals and be careful in our planning. My optimism is further bolstered by an opinion piece by World Bank Vice-President Axel van Trotsenburg published in the Miami Herald on May 16 this year. He refers to our emergence from economic doldrums as a silent revolution, noting that “Jamaica has shown a macroeconomic turnaround that is quite extraordinary… After decades of high debt and low growth Jamaica has changed its growth trajectory with positive economic growth for 16 consecutive quarters and growth getting closer to two per cent.”

He continued: “During that period, the Jamaica Stock Exchange went up more than 380 per cent. The credit agency Fitch upgraded the island's debt to a B+ rating with a stable fiscal outlook, and unemployment hit eight per cent in January, the lowest in decades.”

He credits this and the previous Administration with our serious belt-tightening: “The fiscal turnaround and economic transformation were possible because of the strong commitment across political parties over two competing administrations and electoral cycles. The country also critically benefited from a sustained social consensus for change and the strong backing of the private sector.”

Jamaica's Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), first chaired by Richard Byles, who assumes the post of Bank of Jamaica governor today, and now by Keith Duncan, has played a significant role in monitoring and reporting on the various aspects of our economy. There is an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Stand-By Agreement, but Duncan makes it clear: “This is Jamaica's plan, not an IMF plan.”

However, we cannot rest on our laurels. With a new wave of school-leavers and university graduates in the job market we have to be creative in supporting business start-ups and employment opportunities. Van Trotsenburg notes, “Despite unemployment at a new low, still too many young people are struggling to find a job. For Jamaica to continue to grow and prosper it also needs to develop the skills for the workforce of tomorrow, especially in the areas of technology and digitisation. This requires a sharp focus on creating the conditions for youth to strive and succeed in the modern business world and close cooperation with the private sector in this respect.”

Digital transformation

Van Trotsenburg's timely advice on technology must be taken seriously and acted on urgently. As we type an e-mail and see sentences being eerily completed in our writing style we understand how much artificial intelligence has impacted our lives. Indeed Google is now more a verb than a noun and has become the library that sits in our smartphone.

Inter-American Development Bank Caribbean Manager Therese Turner-Jones and Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Fayval Williams have challenged us to stay in step digitally with developed countries on whom we depend for trade and investment.

In an address at Mona School of Business and Management in June, reported by Abbion Robinson in the Jamaica Observer, Minister Williams reminded, “We are in the digital era, where the only constant is change. The technological revolution and transformation which are characteristics of the digital age have significantly changed and reshaped the way we operate on a daily basis and in business.”

She concluded: “Our future is digital in many respects, and we cannot, at this moment, even begin to fathom the extent and the reach of this transformation… I implore you to equip your business and leaders to evolve with times.”

Here again the conspiracy of mediocrity (my words) can rear its ugly head. Technology-averse managers may exclude bright, young workers who can create greater efficiencies for their companies, thus holding back not only promising personnel but also the organisation at large. This is a time when boards of governance must be vigilant, lest they find themselves endorsing flat-footed responses to the business imperative of digital transformation.

I congratulate our Jamaican innovators for setting the pace, including tech pioneer Ingrid Riley, Edward Alexander and Christopher Reckord of tTech, Tyrone Reid of iCreate Institute, Gordon Swaby of Edufocal, Kadeem Petgrave of Educatours, and Kemal Brown of Digita Global. They have helped us to see the huge promise of technology — it's a promise that will take Jamaica to more places than we can ever imagine.

Reaching seniors digitally

Our budget was modest, so we used MailChimp, Facebook and Twitter to promote a new health insurance plan for seniors. It worked. Hundreds turned out for the launch of the new CCRP health plan last Wednesday and we had a continuous stream of applicants for the rest of the week. We have heard of social media platforms being used for negative purposes, but without these, low-budget organisations which seek to do good would be at a disadvantage.

What we have been noticing however, is that some seniors who have smartphones are using them to make calls only. One lady said, “There was I trying to figure out this WhatsApp and the next thing I know, my friend is calling me to ask me why I sent her a photo of my feet!” Spare some time to sit with your elders and walk them through the nifty apps that will make them more engaged. Load up some of their favourite music as well.

Good Samaritan 5K

The Health Ministries Department of the Andrews Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church will be holding the eighth Good Samaritan 5K on Sunday August 25, 2019 under the patronage of the inspiring Senator Dr Floyd Morris. The funds raised will go towards the purchase of a dialysis machine and a water treatment system for Andrews Memorial Hospital, as well as renovations at Good Samaritan Inn, Geffrard Place, National Heroes' Circle. Good Samaritan Inn provides a 30-bed overnight facility for women and girls in crisis, free haircuts for men, showers for men and women, free health clinics, 900 lunches weekly, laundry facilities, and clothing for the needy.

Dr Marvin Rouhotas Jr, CEO/president at Andrews Memorial Hospital, has noted that for Jamaica's population size, we should have 500 dialysis machines. We barely have one-tenth of this number. Please support this worthy cause.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com


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