We were once on the brink
Members of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) march towards the Peruviancongress in Lima, on April 7, 2022. Tensions had been building all week, with President Pedro Castillo'simposition of a 24-hour curfew in Lima on April 5 backfiring and having to be called off six hours early.(Photo: AFP)
...but we're out of the fire

At the time of writing there were massive demonstrations in Sri Lanka, and the Government of Peru had declared a state of emergency after protests intensified in recent days. Why? Credible media, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have reported violent clashes between the police and demonstrators in Lima, the capital of Peru.

Protesters say they can no longer endure growing food shortages, the spiralling cost of basic food items, and massive increases in fuel and fertilizers. Peru is experiencing its highest inflation in 24 years. In the meantime, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo is fighting for his political life.

Two weeks ago, he narrowly survived a second impeachment attempt by Peru's Congress.

In Sri Lanka, mass public angry has led to thousands of protesters taking to the streets. Demonstrators tried to storm the house of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently. His Government is teetering. Ships docked in harbours will not offload cargo. Why? There is no money to pay them. Why?

Sri Lanka, with a population of some 22 million, is heavily dependent on imports. This means large foreign currency reserves are needed. Its reserves have been in free-fall for many years and her continual chaotic economic situation has been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tourism, which a report in The Economist says is responsible for near 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's gross domestic product (GDP), is on its face, according to a recent report by the BBC.

These reputable news sources also report that bilateral support from India in particular is slowing to a trickle. Sri Lanka has been stubbornly resisting the route of balance of payments support via the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to credible reports. They may have shifted. A report on CNN last Thursday said Sri Lanka has a meeting with the IMF later this month.

Research in why Peru has come to its present economic flashpoint gave answers that mirror the chequered Sri Lankan economic/political template. In summary, massive and ill-timed tax and spending, which include feel-good economic and social programmes, wasting of hundreds of millions of dollars on phantom projects, highly questionable use of billions of dollars of public funds, and mountains of claims related to nepotism. Specifically, in relation to Sri Lanka, vanity projects funded by the Chinese have been identified by some economic pundits as albatrosses around the necks of the Sri Lankan peoples.

Most Jamaicans are familiar with Sri Lanka as a cricketing giant. Some of us know about Sri Lanka for its exports of coconut oil. Look at the labels of many of the coconut oil brands in your supermarket and you will likely see “made in Sri Lanka”. Sri Lanka is the fourth-largest exporter of fresh and dried coconut products in the world. Anyway, many Jamaicans, doubtless, are asking: So how did she get into this economic quagmire?

My research revealed that both Sri Lanka and Peru are suffering the inevitable ill effects of years of imprudent fiscal management. But there is an even bigger cause/culprit. Recent articles in The Washington Post, The News York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist posit that since political independence Sri Lanka and Peru have overwhelmingly elected populist leaders to be in charge of their national purses and related affairs.

The vast majority in these two countries have been voting with their hearts and not their heads for decades. The ruinous decisions of many of these populist leaders have come back to haunt the people of Sri Lanka and Peru. Sounds familiar?

Jamaica, in the 1960s, was regarded as the Pearl of the Caribbean. We were registering growth in the high single digits. Then came Michael Manley, “Mr Charisma”, who promised, “Betta mus come.” What we got was near economic ruin. We were relegated to the category of the 'Poor Man of the Caribbean' by near three decades of anaemic economic policies of the People's National Party (PNP) in the 1970s and 1990s. The PJ Patterson Administration of the 90s attempted to implement capitalist policies which they did not understand. We are still suffering from the costly mistakes of Manley and Patterson at the wheel. I have detailed their wrecking ball impact previously.

Applaud Audley and Peter

We are not in the position of Sri Lanka and Peru today because of the work started by former finance ministers Audley Shaw and Dr Peter Peter Phillips. Some will doubtless say, “They did what they were hired/elected to do.” Others will say, “They deserve no thanks, because they did what they did only because they were guided by the IMF.” Some will even say, “Is dem and their kind did mash it up, so ah dem fi fix it back.”

Those perspectives are not without merit, but I still believe Audley Shaw and Dr Peter Phillips deserve kudos, a lot of it too, for taking this country through some of her roughest economic waters.

Recall the journey began in 2010. The Bruce Golding-led Administration, with Audley Shaw as the finance minister, began decisive actions, including two domestic debt exchanges, to bring our debt trajectory on a more sustained path. Our economic recovery continued with the Portia Simpson Miller Administration with Dr Peter Phillips, and has continued with the Andrew Holness-led Administration, with Shaw and now Dr Nigel Clarke.

Peru and Sri Lanka could learn some valuable lessons from Jamaica, albeit that we still “have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep” (Robert Frost).

I am very weary, no, terrified, of those who want the country to backslide into an era that was characterised by “outages, stoppages and shortages” (Edward Seaga).

There was a time in Jamaica when ships docked in Kingston Harbour and would not offload the cargo because the providers had serious doubts that we could pay them. No, that was not caused by the Central Intelligence (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the US, and God knows what else! It was caused by the negligence of a leader who was drunk on socialist dogma, similarly many around him, while the country was going to hell in a hand basket.

Jamaica almost went over the precipice, except she was rescued by Edward Seaga and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on October 30, 1980. Some who I see as little more than artificial leftists are now beckoning, like a ghost in a horror movie, “Come, come back to your doom.” We must rebuke them without apology. They should petrify us.

Senate seat? No!

On the subject of rebuke, I think the most recent call for the Senate to be expanded to include individuals from the Diaspora by Mark Golding is part and parcel of a kind of 'pass round donkey' brand of politics that we continue to play in this country.

I am absolutely against anyone who does not live in Jamaica having oversight of the laws which govern me. I live in Jamaica. I can live elsewhere, but I have chosen to live here. I don't have one foot in and one out.

Those in the Diaspora who argue that because they send remittances to their relatives here they should, as a consequence, determine whether the laws that are passed in the Upper House are suitable for us who live here, at a minimum, commit a total conflation of their obligations to their relatives. The line of thinking is convenient and opportunistically infused with a kind of entitlement which does not equate. We who live here must outrightly reject this nonsense. Any party which champions this lunacy will not get my vote.

All these fires!

Lunacy of a different kind is causing havoc in the lives of hundreds of hard-working Jamaicans, most of them women who have many mouths to feed.

The frequency of certain curious fires recently has not escaped my notice. They should not escape yours either. Check this: 'Everything gone'... Fire destroys 'Ray Ray' Market in downtown Kingston'. The Gleaner news item noted these and more: “Moments after heavy gun fire erupted in a section western Kingston last night, a blaze engulfed the popular 'Ray Ray' Market destroying everything in its path. (June 9, 2020)

Consider this: 'Ray Ray Market on fire, again'. The Gleaner story of February 22, 2022 gave these and related details, “Two years ago, there was also a fire at the facility located in the heart of the commercial district. At that time, everything was lost.

“In April 2019 there was also a fire at the market, resulting in extensive damage and significant financial losses.”

Look at this: 'Two fires illegally lit at Riverton disposal site on Sunday.' The news item said among other things: “Concern has been raised at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) after two fires were deliberately lit on Sunday on the outskirts of the Riverton disposal sites in St Andrew.” ( RJR News, March 21, 2022)

The front page of this newspaper last Monday would have tugged at the heart of all well-thinking Jamaicans: 'DEVASTATION! 12 businesses destroyed in New Forum Fishing Village fire'.

The Jamaica Observer story delivered these and related tear-jerking details.

“Several business owners at New Forum Fishing Village in Portmore, St Catherine, spent Sunday morning viewing scenes of devastation after a fire of unknown origin ravaged a section of the establishment overnight.

“The blaze delivered the third blow in four months to Blossom 'Plummy' Page, who owns and operates Ocean View Sports Bar and Restaurant at the fishing village, leaving her trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces.

“ 'Right now it's three times from the year start I am having loss. In February, in March, and now. In February about $700,000 plus loss, March about $1.5 million, and now is about $2 million as half of the building is burnt down,' she said.

“According to Page, she had closed her bar a mere hour before the blaze started and returned as quickly as she got to call to assist with efforts to control the fire.

“But her biggest disappointment is that while she was scrambling to save what she could from her bar, people were busy looting her establishment.”

Some among us clearly are eating bread from the sweat of the brows of others. Most of the victims are women who are in all likelihood the economic head of their households. What is the end game of those who are perpetrating this great wickedness upon some of our most economically and socially vulnerable? Are all these and other recent fires just coincidences? I think not!

Companies fleeing Russia

It is not a coincidence that hundreds of internationally recognised brands are fleeing Russia. Yale School of Management, on April 6, 2022, noted that: “Since the invasion of Ukraine began, over 600 companies have announced their withdrawal from Russia — but some companies have continued to operate in Russia undeterred.”

Other renowned institutions note that between 700 -1000 companies have fled Russia since the invasion. This information, in my humble view, should immediately trigger the raising of the antennae of those who are in the business of attracting investment that is directed towards fuelling sustained growth and development in Jamaica. If this is going on, it must the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project.

Jamaica is geographically and strategically close to one of the largest markets in the world. We speak English, and we are a stable democracy with a stable economy. Senator Aubyn Hill is the minister of industry, investment and commerce. How many of the companies fleeing Russia are coming here, Minister Hill?

President Paul Kagame

Regular readers of my column know of my admiration for leaders like Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the USA; Lee Kuan Yew, first prime minister of Singapore; Thomas Sankara, the assassinated president of Burkina Faso; Nelson Mandela, first black president of South Africa; and Paul Kagame, Rwanda's president.

Paul Kagame, nicknamed the Lee Kuan Yew of Africa, has transformed his country from the ashes of a genocide that ended with the slaughter of one in every 10 Rwandan. I encourage readers to do some research in how the seeds of ethnic hatred, buttressed by gradation of differences rooted in the Willie Lynch doctrine, sown, watered, and fertilised by German and Belgian colonials, with much help from native Rwandans over decades, exploded into a putrid disaster in 1994.

We could learn (not ape) a lot from Rwanda.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

Protestors take part in a demonstration in Colombo on April 9, 2022. Severe shortages of food andfuel, alongside lengthy electricity blackouts, have led to weeks of widespread anti-governmentdemonstrations — with calls for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign. (Photo: AFP)
Michael Manley
Rwandan President PaulKagame, who will be visitingJamaica next week
P J Patterson
Audley Shaw
Peter Phillips
Edward Seaga
Garfield Higgins

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