Columns

Quo Vadis Jamaica

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, October 04, 2019

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The independence macroeconomy has two phases; before and after Portia & Peter-2012 to now. Before Peter, debt to GDP went awry but with his fiscal discipline continued by Andrew debt is below 100 per cent and green shoots appear. Jamaica will be prosperous; maybe not in my lifetime so Andrew must leverage the recovery now or post-2021 he may not have this option. So let's reason a bit!

Friend, Jamaica was prosperous up to the 18th century and made many rich, but workers got nothing. So what do we learn? First, we are the scion of those productive workers who prospered Jamaica and we can do it again. Second, context is different as we now freely choose our leaders. Third, the key to success then, as now, is our leaders; so why are we poor when our diaspora produces amazingly, led by whites? What's the problem? Does the Academy, IMF, Cabinet, Opposition know? Let's explore.

At independence we were primed for success; envied by the West Indies, respected by Singapore; our thought leadership and Garvey won Africa; the largest bauxite producer; abundant local and export crops, high-end tourism; we built with cement, other islands built in wood; we won gold in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics so Wint and McKenley gave us global brand recognition. We were poised for growth. We did not.

We had six JLP, three PNP prime ministers white, black, brown; man, woman; an administrator, sociologist, economist, charity executive, two lawyers, three trade unionists; yet our GDP per capita was US$3,000; education poor, murders high. The West Indies had GDP above US$15,000; Singapore way higher with good education and civility. Our brand got us aid and loans so we ditched self-reliance, lived on debt and danced up a storm. By the 90s, deep in debt we went back to the IMF and though relations were fragile under Andrew, Portia & Peter came in, fixed things, and we were once more “poised for growth” then Andrew took office again, continuity reigns and we are praying.

My algorithm posits food, housing, education as enablers of growth which yield national security as an outcome. Try it. To grow, food is crucial, so Andrew and Peter should pledge that come 2023 no Jamaican should need to steal basic food to satisfy hunger. When first we prospered food was given to workers but now we must feed ourselves and export. Like our friends America, Canada, and the EU, our Government must give subsidy to select crops to protect farm jobs, rural development and nip crime in the bud. We must stockpile dehydrated local beef, desiccated yam, banana, cassava; pulses and powdered fruit.

Decent housing is crucial to family life so let's debunk old political clichés. Jamaicans want to own land but do not need land. We want to own our house but need rental housing until we buy. In America, Britain, where our diaspora live, most do not own land or house and live well. Our youth want technology and to start a business, not land. You don't believe? Land is plenty and cheap in Canada; do our diaspora farm? The NHT houses half its members; where do the rest live? Rent house. Of the other 800,000 in the labour force how many own, rent or squat? Cabinet must incentivise investment in rental housing to cut the roots of crime as most Jamaicans will never own land or house. Selah.

After WW II democratic socialist policies of Britain, France, Germany, etc, built the free education, housing and health care our diaspora now enjoy and we envy. Russia built the communist union so everyone gets basics and frugal wages. America went back to capitalism no, welfare; yet a Farm Act passed every three years gives farms massive subsidy and the poor get food stamps; a most democratic socialist policy!

Education is key to exorcise illiteracy. Take the Cockpit Country rumble; after 70 years, a global leader in bauxite; yet the reckless ignorance here and in the diaspora is pathetic. We the people own Noranda, so Cabinet can say no more. But special interests want a cass-cass to get global publicity riding on Brand Jamaica. We need to start education well with massive investment at the early childhood level as after age 8 it's all uphill; “basket to carry water”.

Good security will result and Dr Chang reminds us from 12 murders per 100,000 in 2007 we went to 182 in 2017 in sync with these other deterioration coincidence or cause? Yet we must make life unbearable for criminals, so mobilising districts for self-defence is key; who needs a model?; to train volunteer police (as the army), who is curious?; the five discrete but conjoined police forces Kingston Metro, Middlesex, Surrey, Cornwall, MoBay Metro with shared services, why not? We also need a deep dive into the small stuff and new covert tactics.

By July 2020 some 2,000 friends and family will be murdered; are we ready for the Singapore solution? Decent housing, family life, education, nutrition all conjoined; will colt crime by removing its oxygen. Forward to sustainable growth! Stay conscious.

— Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); teaches logistics and supply chain management at the Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com


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