It’s all about the economy
The days of the woeful state of Jamaica’s economy need to stay permanently in our rear-view mirror.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks said: “Truth tellers are not always palatable. There is a preference for candy bars.” There is overwhelming objective evidence that candy bars are not good for one’s health. Some among us, though, would like us to eat candy bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We must not fall into their snares.

My piece last Sunday and the one previous to it, which centred on deliberate efforts by some to sanitise and deodorise disinformation and misinformation, what I call lies, seem to have woken up the proverbial ant nest. I maintain that some among us — owing maybe to voluntary ignorance, advanced and sinister-type motivations, variant forms of fanaticisms, or a combination — seem hell-bent on enabling the uncontrolled spread of lies. Lies are not “alternative facts”, as was proffered by Kellyanne Conway, former counselor to the President of the United States Donald J Trump, in defence of him, arguably one of the worst occupiers of the White House in the last 100 years.

My article last Sunday evidently ‘touched the corn’, as we say in local parlance, of many. Fake news purveyors, carriers of misinformation and disinformation, and their allies, bombarded my social media page and I received a flood of e-mail from individuals who trumpeted more falsehoods.

Notwithstanding the objective evidence which I presented from credible sources, they strenuously contended that the Andrew Holness-led Administration must be squarely blamed for the current rising rate of inflation which now hovers just above 12 per cent. Lovers of candy, tacitly and overtly, spouted that spiralling oil prices are the fault of the Holness Administration. Like ostriches, they close their eyes to the realities of the war in the Ukraine. And, like the wilfully blind, those with an abnormal craving for candy, ignored the realities of global supply interruptions occasioned mostly by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Trumpism is a rising menace to especially emerging democracies.

Some, in their genuine innocence, might say, “Don’t waste any time on those among us who spread falsehoods.” I beg to disagree. Those who sell us a “six for a nine”, as we say in local parlance, must not go unchallenged.

Noted author Hal Clement famously said: “Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you’ve only founded a superstition. If you test it, you’ve started a science.”

Objective reality, not superstition, should be our preoccupation. Those among us who are fact-averse, fact-resistant, fact-immune, or suffer with an advanced case of what the founding president of the People’s National Party Norman Manley called a “corruption of consciousness”, should be neutralised with the best antidote to propaganda, fake news, and falsehoods — timely doses of the truth.

As I noted last Sunday, the Holness Administration would do well to stay on its current economic trajectory. One does not need a PhD in economics to realise that deviation in accordance with recommendations from the Opposition quarters would spell disaster for this country.

There are some among us who are severely afflicted with the mentality of do and say anything to win State power, no matter the short-, medium- and or long-term negative impact upon the people of this country. Former Prime Minister P J Patterson, once advised, “Nuh mek hungry man carry yuh food.” I believe Patterson’s admonition has great currency, especially in these times.

The majority of well-thinking folks in this country do not wish to go back to the days when Jamaica was relegated to the ignominious category of ‘poor man of the Caribbean’. The days when some in the international financial community delivered hurtful jabs in numerous publications about the woeful state of Jamaica’s economy need to stay permanently in our rear-view mirror. Some may not remember the days of painful wage freezes, massively high interest rates, and runaway inflation – biting all at once.

Global economy and Ja

Those who are calling for Jamaica to abandon the sacrifices of the last 20 years need to consider this: “The World Bank has slashed its global economic growth forecast.

“It says 70 per cent of developing and emerging economies are facing economic recession as they are particularly vulnerable to the looming economic slowdown having racked up higher public debt during the pandemic.

“The World Bank, in its latest report, is slashing its growth projection from 4.1 per cent down to 2.9 per cent. There’s very little expectation for this to improve before 2024.

“While the world continues to grapple with the effects of the [novel coronavirus] pandemic, it’s now being faced with mounting fiscal pressures.

“The war in Ukraine, which has now gone beyond 100 days, rages on.

“The consequent surge in commodity prices has now been coupled with further lockdowns in China and more disruptions to global supply chains.

“World Bank President David Malpass is warning that recession will be difficult to avoid by many countries.

“However, Jamaica is among the exceptions.

“The multilateral is projecting the local economy will grow by 3.2 per cent this year.

“Jamaica is likely to avoid slipping into recession due to it’s debt management efforts.” (Nationwide News Network, June 8, 2022)

By any objective assessment, Dr Nigel Clarke, the minister of finance, has done a very good job of managing the national purse. This most recent validation by the World Bank is another reiteration of the correctness of the economic direction of the country.

Jamaica started this journey nearly 15 years ago with the Bruce Golding-led Administration, with Audley Shaw as the finance minister. The Portia Simpson Miller Administration, with Dr Peter Phillips, as the finance minister, continued the debt restructuring programme. It was a refreshing departure from the modus operandi of several administrations which extensively abandoned programmes at the change of an Administration.

I believe Jamaica is beginning to see a clear and sustainable economic path, forward. We must not kick over the pail. Jamaica cannot afford any more episodes of economic self-immolation.

In the 1970s we almost incinerated ourselves with policies that were rooted in ideology and not economics. The results were near catastrophic consequences. We still have not totally recovered from the trauma of that era.

In the 1990s Jamaica pursued economic slash and burn policies that almost ruined the black owners, business class, which developed out of many decades of blood, sweat and tears. The near-annihilation of locally owned businesses has set back this country for decades.

Recall Mutual Life (a company that operated locally for over 100 years), GoodYear Tyre Company, West Indies Glass, Homelectrix, Workers’ Bank, Raymar’s Furniture, Charley’s Windsor House, Thermo Plastics, Berec Batteries, Century National Bank, Crown Eagle Insurance, Crown Eagle Commercial Bank, Island Life Insurance Company, American Life Insurance Company, Eagle Merchant Bank, and Times Store (a company that operated locally for over 100 years). Add to these another 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses that folded during the 90s Administration’s prolonged scorched-earth economic epoch, and little more evidence is needed to conclude that the economic trajectory which brought this country to its knees in the past is antithetical to any sustained economic growth and development.

We must resolve, never again! No sweet-mouth politician, or any individual for that matter, must ever again set this country back by generations to satisfy their lust for State power.

Social fallout

For many years, I have used this space to warn that our economic gains would soon be nullified if we do not, urgently, halt the social decay in our society. Just under a year ago I wrote a piece entitled ‘The debilitating social decline in our midst affects everything’.

I noted, among other things: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the breaking of the law is like a reflex action in daily relationships in this country. There is an abundance of statistical and anecdotal evidence which pinpoint domestic exchanges and relationships gone wrong as root causes of our high crime.

In a low-trust, low-consequence environment these realities are lit fuses leading directly to power kegs. It should be obvious to those who don’t suffer with convenient blindness and voluntary amnesia that the social infrastructure of the country, over many years, has been so severely damaged it now exudes a Victorian reek. There is a foul, mean-spiritedness and grotesque obsession with unenlightened self-interest which seems to have penetrated even the deepest recesses of daily life. If we don’t become uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable, and arrest the hugely deleterious social decline all around us we can kiss all hopes of Jamaica becoming “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business”. (Jamaica Observer, June 27, 2021)

With each passing day we are seeing the social fallout, right in front of our eyes, and in real time now that we have social media. Unlike some, I do not believe the solution is to grab a suitcase and leave Jamaica. Those who take on that mentality need to increasingly realise that there are problems everywhere. There is no Utopia.

I have long advanced in this space that we need to fix Jamaica because, ultimately, this piece of Rock is the only place we can really call home. Some have taken to social media to blame the Holness Administration for the social fallout. For some among us, political considerations will always trump reality. Those of us who are not suffering with and advanced state of political amnesia know very well that we have been sliding socially for decades.

Where do we go from here? I do not believe that we are in a hopeless situation. As I pointed out in the mentioned article: “Other societies which have found themselves in a worse state... [and] have successfully rolled back the tide of social decline. I believe we can too. First, the national will for a radical shift is needed. That can only happen when a critical mass is sufficiently sick and tired of being sick and tired and decides to do something to cure the ailment.”

We were at the brink economically 20 years ago, and we dusted ourselves off and started all over. Socially, we can do the same and save the country.

Don’t forget God!

I think, that an important part of the approach to halting the rapid social decay is a fervent rekindling of the importance of spiritual growth and development in this society. I know some are going to frown at this suggestion, and that is fine. I previously said in this space, that I am a firm believer in academic excellence, but that I also think that spiritual development is equally important. I stand by that position.

A national reinvigoration of attendance at Sunday and Sabbath School, will do the this society a lot of good. Many of the wholesome values which we learned in school were buttressed in the home, but more so at church. Church is a great place for enhancement of the three “Rs” of education – reading, writing and arithmetic.

Dangerous threat

While Prime Minister Holness and the service providers are implementing, there are miscreants who are busy destroying the crucial advances, via theft of cable wires and fuel from cell sites and wholesale destruction of the communication infrastructure. I believe they are involved in an act of terror.

A friend of mine in Portland brought to my attention that she has been without Internet service at the time of writing for nearly two weeks. Why? Malefactors stole the cable wires from near her home. For the last two weekends she has had to travel some 15 miles to her sister to access the Internet. Think of how many others in her community are suffering. This is an act of terror in my view.

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

Garfield Higgins

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