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Good things are happening in Jamaica

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, June 11, 2017

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Jamaican Proverb: Poun' ah fret cyaan pay ownse ah dett.

Translation: One pound of fretting cannot repay one ounce of debt.

Explanation: Problems are not solved by worrying. The time spent fretting could be more gainfully spent on considering workable alternatives and solutions.

One of the unique traits about us Jamaicans is our ability to rise above adversity. Our national heroes — Marcus Garvey, Norman Manley, George William Gordon, Nanny of the Maroons, Samuel Sharp, Sir Alexander Bustamante and Pual Bogle — demonstrated that we can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

Our history, has proved that “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” [title of a song by Billy Ocean, Trinidad-born singer]

The great majority of Jamaicans are today no less resilient despite sustained efforts by some, especially in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the People's National Party, to peddle political, economic and social midnight. Those who sell fake news and messages of doom, gloom and damnation need to look around the world and realise that apocalyptic politics has peaked. People around the globe are embracing hope.

During the past three weekends I spent a fair bit of time in the parishes of St Mary, Portland and St Thomas. As Guyanese scholar, the late Dr Walter Rodney put it, I was having “Groundings with my Brothers,” and for those who are hyper gender sensitive, let me add Sisters, with a capital 'S.'

No, I am not looking a possible constituency seat. And no, I am not a pollster. Why then?

Ed Koch

I am a great believer in the Edward Irving “Ed” Koch political and social strategy of “How am I doin?” I don't posit that this method by itself is scientific. But then again, what is more scientific than people speaking their hearts in their natural, unvarnished, unrehearsed state and space? Anyway, that polemic is for another article.

Ed Koch was the 105th mayor of New York City. He served from January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1989. It is generally accepted by New Yorkers and political historians in the United States that Koch was one of New York's most successful mayors. One of his famous strategies for feeling the pulse of the people was to randomly engage especially the ordinary people of New York with this poignant question: “How am I doin?”

Positive Vibrations

In my random talks with folks over the last three weekends, I found that people were, in the majority, positive about the Administration, Jamaica and a future in Jamaica. I did not get morbid negatives. I did not get the 'sell-out refrain'. I did not get a sense that folks had succumbed to 'learned helplessness'. I did not get ingrained cynicism. Yes, people are concerned about the lingering high crime rate, matters related to economic growth, loss of respect for traditional social graces, internal migration, [some communities are being 'de-peopled'], as young folks move to urban centres; plus myriad other issues. But I did not get a sense that people were about to throw in the towel.

I found that people were very hopeful about a better and brighter future for Jamaica. I found, not surprisingly, that folks were very informed about what was happening in their country. In their sugary, rustic mannerisms, they pronounced upon who was and who was not doing what in Parliament.

Contrary to what some think, ordinary Jamaicans have a tremendous amount of goodwill for their country. The small goods shop owners, stall operator with one of two persons at the roadside, small restaurant and bar owners, farmers, employed and unemployed folks who I spoke with during my three weekends of random engagements were on the whole positive in their vibrations.

Removal of compulsory fees

If their reactions can be generalised country-wise, the Administration's removal of all obligatory fees at the secondary level has registered in a mighty big way. This was a recurrent positive with the overwhelming majority of people who had children not just in secondary schools, but children, full stop.

A word to the wise…

Any political party which does not understand that people, especially young people, are hopping off the cynicism bandwagon is involved in a zero sum game. People are interested in the quick implementation of measures that will improve their pockets and dinner tables in the short, medium and long term. I believe this Administration understands this paradigm.

Projects coming out of the pipeline

I was very happy to see this story entitled 'Old Goodyear factory to become new Morant Bay town centre', in the Jamaica Observer on June 3, 2017.

“St Thomas, a parish that has for years been yearning for further development, is slated to get a major boost with the establishment of a new town centre for the capital, Morant Bay. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the new town centre will be constructed on the 25-acre lot, which previously housed the Goodyear tyre factory in Morant Bay which has been closed for the past 20 years.

“The Government will take that space and we will, literally on the 25 acres that it occupies, we will create a new town centre for Morant Bay,” said Holness.”

“The disclosure was made by the prime minister on Thursday night during his keynote address at the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association Jamaica International Exhibition opening ceremony being held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James. The three-day exhibition ends today.

“Holness said the new town centre will have space for local government, commercial activities among others.

“The prime minister added that his Government's aim is to build an ecosystem for business while at the same time creating an organised township.

“Holness said such a town centre is something he hopes to have replicated across the island.

“The move by the Government is more good news for the people of St Thomas who have said in the past that they felt forgotten.

“Just last year, Holness assured the parish that they will be getting a 're-scoped' South Coast Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP), which will see a reduction in cost from the original US$504 million to US$384 million.

“The project will entail a four-lane highway from Harbour View to Bull Bay, and the upgrading of three roads between Bull Bay and Morant Bay.”

Those who helped to precipitate the closure of the former Goodyear factory in 1997 must forever hang their heads in utter shame. Many of them have, interestingly, done rather better for themselves compared to the scores of workers who were made redundant partly because of empty bluster and intemperate, idle comments.

Increased benefits for the poor and vulnerable

I am glad to see that the Andrew Holness Administration continues to look out for the very poor and vulnerable.

Beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) can expect an increase in their benefits by the end of this month.

Colette Roberts Risden, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, on Wednesday morning told Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) that beneficiaries will receive an increase of 30 per cent.

She said there has also been a 33 per cent increase in the ministry's budget which has moved from $6.03 billion in 2016/17 to $8.279 billion for the 2017/18 period.

The Government promised earlier this year that it would increase PATH benefits by $7 billion.

The announcement followed a warning from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that poor Jamaicans needed additional support to cushion the fallout from the income tax break.

PATH is the largest welfare programme covering more than 300,000 Jamaicans.

National Insurance Fund

Meanwhile, Mrs Roberts Risden said the National Insurance Fund's (NIF) net assets have increased by $13.7 billion or 17 per cent for the 2016/17 financial year.

The Fund, which manages National Insurance Scheme (NIS) collections, currently has more than $95 billion in assets as at March 31.

The increase was attributed to improved share prices, money market and real estate investments.

She said for the new financial year, the NIF has set out to achieve investment income of $7 billion as well as to grow its new assets by about $4 billion.

RJR News, June 7, 2017

Good things are happening in Jamaica…

“Both the central bank of Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) appear to be holding fast to the policy position of continued build-up of the net international reserves against future shocks. Jamaica's NIR has moved from US$496 million in March 1996 to US$2.65 billion as at Friday, May 18, 2017. Whether or not this build-up, which targets a level of US$4 billion by the end of the current standby agreement in 2019, is having unintended effects such as an impact on the value of the Jamaican dollar, is a question which neither body appears to believe to be true.

“Constant Lonkeng Ngouana, IMF resident representative for Jamaica, when asked by the Jamaica Observer what is the IMF's answer to those who say that seeking to build the Net International Reserves to US$4 billion will have a negative impact on the Jamaican dollar, said the short answer to this question is “No”.

“He clarified: The targeted level of reserves by the end of Jamaica's Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) in 2019 referred to in this question is based on the IMF's standard norm for Assessing the Adequacy of Reserves (ARA). The ARA metric is consistent across countries and determines for each economy the prudent level of reserves that, combined with sound policies and fundamentals, reduces the likelihood of balance-of-payments crises and provides some policy buffers.

“As such, the contemplated reserves build-up, to the contrary, would allow the BOJ to preserve macroeconomic and financial stability against disorderly FX market conditions.

“He pointed out that the US$4 billion figure referred to corresponds to the level of gross reserves which includes IMF credits (NIR excludes those credits).

“As for the Jamaican dollar more specifically,” Lonkeng told the Business Observer, “its value ultimately depends on the inflation differential vis--vis trading partners and the country's economic fundamentals. Those fundamentals will improve as structural reforms under Jamaica's reform programme incentivise private investment, attract FDI flows, ensure a vibrant domestic base for J$ assets, and improve labour productivity.

“The Net International Reserves (NIR) has been defined as the country's insurance cover against adversity. While economic fundamentals continue to improve, the BOJ still believes that keeping a healthy buffer in place is necessary.

“Within the last week, Governor of the Bank of Jamaica Bryan Wynter outlined that for the December 2016 quarter, the current account deficit of the balance of payments was “a mere 0.3 per cent of GDP (US$38.1 million) — a half a percentage point of GDP (or US$77 million) better than the deficit for the December 2015 quarter.

“The BOJ now estimates the current account deficit for fiscal year 2016/17 at 1.8 per cent of GDP, which is below the 2.0 per cent of GDP deficit for the previous fiscal year.” Jamaica Observer, May 24, 2017.

Good things continue...

“Government will, as of this September, be providing school transportation for students who are on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) in five rural parishes.

“The aim is to eliminate the problem of students being absent from schools due to transportation problems.

“Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid, who made the announcement yesterday, said he and Transport Minister Mike Henry are having dialogue on the issue and will be moving to have the bus system rolled out in the next school year, as a pilot project in St Elizabeth, St Thomas, St Mary, Hanover and St James.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 29, 2017)

• '170 jobs projected from US$204-m investment in logistics, manufacturing' ( Jamaica Observer, April 26, 2017)

• 'Hard Rock Hotel to create 1,200 jobs' ( Nationwide News Network, April 26, 2017)

• 'Montague says JCF to fill 3,000 spaces' ( Jamaica Observer, April 27, 2017)

• '8,000 BPO jobs this year' ( Jamaica Observer, April 10, 2017)

• 'Alpart upgrade to bring 1,000 more jobs'

• 'New Trelawny hotel to create 700 jobs' ( Nationwide News Network, March 31, 2017)

• 'Carib Cement to spend US$1 million to upgrade packaging plant' ( The Gleaner, April 10, 2017)

• 'Dredging of Kingston Harbour 50% complete' ( Jamaica Observer, April 7, 2017)

• “For 2017/18 NHT will start construction on 5,737 housing solutions and complete 1,682: generating employment for nearly 3,800 jobs.” ( Jamaica Information Service, March 16, 2017)

I maintain, Jamaica's best days are ahead and not very far in coming…

Jamaican Proverb: Good frien' betta dan packet money

Translation: A good friend is better than money in the pocket.

Explanation: No matter how valuable our material possessions may be to us, a good friend, especially in times of trouble, is always proven to be of much more worth. We should treasure our friends, not only recognising them when we are in need.

— Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer orhiggins160@yahoo.com.

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