Maturing governance has set stage for 2019

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, December 30, 2018

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When good fortune knocks, you have to open the door yourself. — Swahili proverb, Tanzania

Just about three months away from completing its third year in office, the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Andrew Holness-led Administration can reasonably be proud of its overall stewardship in government based on its real, not imagined, but real and measurable achievements. In former times, administrations all but lost their salt well before the third of a five-year term. Holness's is an exception.

The members of the local political flat Earth society will doubtless continue to maintain that the Holness Administration has done nothing. The obvious challenge of those 'flat-Earthers' is that each time they repeat their false narratives the public is transfixed at the length of their noses.

The era when a privileged elite, by virtue of their control of communication and other conduits of power, had a near monopoly to influence, if not determine what folks thought and how often they thought it is over. I believe that we are today a much more discerning population.

Maturing governance

Jamaica's economic boat is still in rough waters. Fortunately, compared to former years, our boat is now much more seaworthy. Political flat-Earthers will continue to say that all the objective and positive gains of the Holness Administration were set in the pipeline of the previous Portia Simpson Miller Government. But, even if that were true, the fact is that in today's global environment “you make progress by implementing ideas”, as Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress famously said.

Good governance in these times dictates that we embrace those policies and programmes which are of benefit to the country, improve on those which can be improved upon, and dispense with those which are unhelpful.

The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), that was set up in 2013, is a good example of this three-tiered approach in practice. These snippets from EPOC's latest report should send a mighty jolt to those who are locked in the pre-industrial revolution age:

“The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) says the country is set to meet the latest targets in the Precautionary Stand-by Arrangement (PSBA) with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

“In a statement issued Monday afternoon, EPOC said, based on the preliminary results, the Government (GOJ) is on track to meet the indicative targets for the period April to September 2018.

“EPOC's Co-chairman Keith Duncan says non-borrowed reserves as at the end of September 2018 stood at just under US$2.5 billion, significantly exceeding the target of $2.14 billion. He says inflation, which now stands at 4.3 per cent, is back in line with the programme range.

“EPOC says as a result of overall strong performance, the Government has met all eight macro-fiscal structural benchmarks for the November 2016 to October 2018 period.

“It says the GOJ has also met the 14 structural benchmarks for public sector transformation, public bodies and public service reform up to October 2018.

“EPOC notes that no new structural benchmarks have been added by the IMF under the fourth review of the PSBA. This, it says, signals that the focus is on the completion of the remaining reforms under the programme.” ( Nationwide News Network December 4, 2018)

I recall the days when the entire country would be on pins and needles whenever we faced IMF tests. It is to the eternal credit of all Jamaica that passing IMF tests no longer triggers gnashing of teeth.

Those who wish to hog credit for this important step forward do not, as rural folks like to say, “know what clock a strike” [out of sync with the realities of the time]. Their credit binge may soon cause 'running belly' (diarrhoea). I maintain that it is the blood, sweat and tears of the Jamaican people that have set us back on the path to economic recovery.

I maintain that if there is to be any credit-spree that should be the domain of ordinary folks who endured decades of belt-tightening, bullet-biting, and bitter medicine.

Good tidings

No one with a modicum of sense can deny that our economy is in a better state today than it was two and a half years ago, four years ago, or a decade ago. Unemployment is at 50-year low at 8.4 per cent and near 60,000 new jobs have been created in a little over two and a half years. This is an indication that we are regaining some of the economic respectability we lost in the 70s and 90s. Having a job is better than having no job at all.

Those who continue to berate jobs in the rapidly expanding business processing outsourcing (BPO) sector, for example, perhaps should spend some time to understand that the sector has “created 32,500 jobs up to September of this year”. ( The Gleaner, December 16, 2018)

They should also try and understand how countries like Singapore, South Korea, China, and others gradually moved up the jobs value-added continuum. They predominantly started near and/or at the lower end. Through guided, and sometimes unguided, knowledge transfer — admittedly some of it quite dubious — enhanced training, and innovation, countries like Singapore, South Korea and China graduated along the jobs value-added continuum. I believe with continual knowledge transfer, training and innovation Jamaican workers will move up the jobs value-added continuum really fast.

As this happens, like many places in the world, wages will improve and our workers' hand at the negotiation table will be strengthened; aided by the necessary strict State supervision and uncompromising enforcement of our laws.

The so-called 'invisible hand of the market', left to certain interests, will forever clap in one direction. Those who bad-mouth the BPO sector, some of them in similar fashions as the garment industry which employed thousands of especially females in the 1980s, “know which side dem bread butter on”, as rural folks say. Recall how the People's National Party (PNP) demonised and branded the garment sector of the 1980s as slavery?

The Holness Administration has performed commendably on the job-creation front. Recall that on December 3, 2015 the globally read Business Insider reported that Jamaica's youth unemployment was a shade under 35 per cent — then one of the highest in the world. Youth unemployment is now at 22.2 per cent.

Recall also this screaming headline in the Old Lady of North Street: 'High youth unemployment worries PNP'. ( The Gleaner, Monday, July 27, 2015)

Among other things, the story said:

“Robert Pickersgill, chairman of the PNP, has conceded that the governing party is not yet where it wants to be in addressing some of the social and economic ills bedevilling Jamaicans.

“After yesterday's meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Pickersgill told The Gleaner that joblessness among youth, as well as bad roads and water challenges are major worries for the party.

“ 'If the unemployment level — especially among the youth — is not improved you are going to have some amount of basic resentment,' Pickersgill predicted.

“He added: 'It's the first time in the history of Jamaica that you have so many qualified young people, including secondary degree and doctorate, and they are having difficulty gaining employment.' ”

Jamaica is in a better economic place today with business and consumer confidence at historic highs, inflation below five per cent and, “Jamaica's debt is steadily decreasing as a result of increased payments being made by the Government.” ( Jamaica Observer, August 16, 2018)

The prudent management of the economy by the Holness Administration during the last two and half years has ensured a stable dollar. The last time I checked, the Jamaican currency traded $128.36 to US$1. Interest rates are low; and the major international rating agencies, including Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's, have either affirmed and/or upgraded their outlook on Jamaica from stable to positive.

Jamaica is meeting IMF benchmarks with relative ease while not imposing suffocating austerity measures upon the population. At present Jamaica has US$2.9 billion in reserves in our central bank — the most we've had since our country's political independence. Reverse narratives cannot obliterate these realities.

Priorities for 2019

1. Lower crime figures: I believe additional significant reductions in crime is the linchpin to our continued economic recovery. Crime is costing us nearly J$70 billion per year. Our economy is valued at just over US$15 billion. The Economist of March 20, 2008 stated that: “If Caribbean countries were able to reduce crime levels to those similar to Costa Rica (with a homicide rate of 8.1/100,000), their rates of economic growth would increase notably. In the cases of Jamaica and Haiti, gross domestic product [GDP] growth would be boosted by a massive 5.4 per cent annually; growth in the Dominican Republic would be 1.8 percentage points higher; and Guyana's economy would grow by an additional 1.7 points per year.”

The latest figures from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) show that murders are down by 22.2 per cent. Violent crime is down by 19 per cent. There are 359 fewer murders in this year compared to 2017. St James, where there has been state of public emergency (SOE) since January, has seen a 69 per cent reduction in murders, and 203 fewer people murdered in the parish this year. It is critical that this trend is maintained and improved upon, notwithstanding the PNP's uncaring and cruel decision to withdraw its support from extending the SOE in St James, sections of St Catherine and the Corporate Area.

I maintain that any upsurge in shootings, rapes, robberies, murders, and similar crimes must be placed squarely at the feet of the PNP.

2. Stronger economy: Some weeks ago I wrote, among things: “Jamaica needs to quickly regain her position as the 'Pearl of the Caribbean'. We recently emerged from the ignominious category of 'sick man of the region'. Were we to backslide, that would destroy confidence in this country for at least two generations; then we would, I fear, become like permanent castaways.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 7, 2018)

The Holness Administration will need to keep an even tighter rein on the economic fundamentals in 2019. No imprudent stroke play, like careless shots outside the off stump, or suicide running between the wickets will serve Jamaica's interests, especially given predictions by some credible international financial experts that another global recession is likely to begin in 2019.

3. Ramp-up protection of the environment: This Administration has done a very admirable job with regard to the protection of our environment. I believe these efforts must be quadrupled in 2019.

The fact that there is no coal-fired plant at Alpart is a great win for the country.

The fact that there is no mining in the Cockpit Country is a win-win for all Jamaicans. The Cockpit Country is an area of very important ecological and cultural significance. It is located in the north-west of Jamaica. It is an island-within-an-island and contains specially adapted plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Moreover, the biodiversity of the Cockpit Country is of global significance. It is the largest remaining intact primary wet limestone forest in Jamaica and is the home to what is likely to be the only viable population of the globally endangered Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

Many of Jamaica's threatened birds are found there, including the endangered Jamaican Blackbird, and 95 per cent of our endemic Black-billed Parrot population. The Cockpit Country also replenishes the aquifers of five major rivers: Black River, Great River, Martha Brae River, Montego River, and Hector's River. These rivers supply water to St Elizabeth, Trelawny and St James. [Some of this information was taken from the website: Jamaica.com]

The ban on single use plastic bags, plastic straws and styrofoam food packs is a great move in the right direction.

More FDI

There has been news of increased levels of foreign direct investment (FDI). Some would rather this be the opposite.

“The Government's investment promotion agency, Jampro, continues to secure investments for the country across various sectors.

“ 'Up to June of this year we have booked foreign direct investments at US$166.7 million, while export sales stood at US$407.3 million, and the work doesn't stop there,' said Jampro Chairman Senator Don Wehby.” ( Jamaica Observer, December 17, 2017)

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

All the best to everyone for 2019.

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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