Sri Lankan riots and the Jamaica situation
Duane Smith

THE uprising that has hit picturesque Sri Lanka is quite unfortunate.

But from what I have seen, courtesy of major media outlets like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and others, the people of that Asian country, said to number around 22 million, have been suffering for too long and it was only a matter of time before they showed, to the world, how disgusted they had become with the political system that is in place.

Major shortages have plagued Sri Lanka, known previously as Ceylon and a country that has produced some of the world's outstanding cricketers, among them Aravinda de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, pace bowlers Lasith Malinga and Chaminda Vaas, and the greatest of them all offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan — the world's leading wicket-taker in Test match cricket with 800 wickets.

The Sri Lankans are a resilient people, yet they have gone through a lot. Many of the hiccups that they face having to do with politics. A tsunami in 2004 sapped the energy of the people, killed thousands, and left the land devastated. Yet, they persevered, rebuilt, and were seemingly poised for greatness and more prosperity when the latest economic decline intervened.

Many ought to be aware of the demonstrations that were commonplace across the land, but more so in the capital of Colombo, which culminated in hundreds, if not thousands, taking over the residence of the president who is said to have fled his native land in fright and has been replaced, in the interim, by the country's prime minister.

The president, whose family ruled Sri Lanka for close to 20 years, threw in the towel like a battered and weary boxer who had not prepared adequately for fight night.

Now, what lessons are there to be learnt from the Sri Lanka situation that Jamaica could look at?

For starters, it is not impossible for Jamaica to find itself in a similar position, and, I dare say, could have, had it not been for the astute leadership demonstrated by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and the performance of certain members of his Cabinet.

Being a member of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party does not prohibit me from suggesting that not every minister has been performing at his or her best, although they try very hard to do so, as they work to meet the needs of a demanding population.

Surely there will be shortcomings but high at the top of the list of those who have gone beyond the call of duty are two people in particular — Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, and Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke. They have been truly outstanding, and the prime minister is justified in choosing them to head those crucial ministries.

Bartlett and his team of technocrats have managed to not only steady Jamaica's tourism ship, which had been battling choppy seas since the advent of COVID-19, but they have since managed to surpass pre-COVID numbers and have gone about setting visitor arrival records along the way.

The contribution of tourism to Jamaica's GDP over the years has been significant. In fact, only remittances can come close. So when an Administration can stand up to the bruising obstacles that such a fragile industry faces and comes out even better than when the battle started, it is worthy of high commendation and praise. Well done to Minister Bartlett and his team.

Controlling inflation is key to the functioning of any economy. Sri Lanka was feeling the pinch with a whopping 54.6 per cent inflation rate (annualised).

Even the great United States has been in a desperate bid to keep inflation under control, which stands at 9.1 per cent, while Jamaica continues its uphill battle to do the same. Global challenges have caused inflation in Jamaica to be at 10.90 per cent currently, which could have been worse had it not been for the guidance and management of our very own minister of finance and the public service.

COVID-19 again…that unwelcome and unfriendly visitor held Jamaica against the wall with some lusty blows. Minister Clarke piloted the economic resistance, and rebounded, to that. But then came along the Russian attack on Ukraine, which is now like the second leg of a nagging relay of doom. As a consequence, global markets have been under pressure, and one of the commodities that has impacted greatly on Jamaica is oil.

That Jamaica has been able to withstand the pressure, announce programmes to assist the poor in particular, and keep working to have inflation stay far from mirroring the numbers of one of our neighbours, Haiti (16.84 per cent) and as far away as Zimbabwe with a whopping 191 per cent rate, speaks volumes to how much Minister Clarke has been able to work on our economy.

There will be other challenges, but there is great encouragement that the work of some of our political leaders continues to set us apart from many others.

The signs are more than encouraging that Jamaica will make it and will be admired as one of the bright economies of the future.

Duane Smith is councillor for the Chancery Hall Division in the Kingston & St Andrew Municipal Corporation.

Duane Smith

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