Business, Investment and Economics

My Two cents: What really is the purpose of the Economic Growth Council (EGC) of Jamaica?

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It doesn’t take an economics pundit to see through the fluff which surrounds the Economic Growth council of Jamaica. Its membership for one, right off the bat, tells you that this isn’t a unit seriously concerned about the ECONOMIC GROWTH of our country; but rather the LOOK of there being a special machinery in place for our economic growth. Let’s take an actual look at the council itself:

  1. Michael Lee-Chin, OJ Chairman, EGC
    Chairman, National Commercial Bank
  2. Ambassador Dr. Nigel Clarke Vice Chairman, EGC
    Dep. Chairman & CFO, Musson Group of Companies
  3. Hugh C. Hart, OJ Senior Partner, Hart Muirhead Fatta
  4. Patrick Hylton, CD Group Managing Director, NCB
  5. Noel Hylton, OJ, CD Noel Hylton and Associates
    Former Chairman, President and CEO, Port Authority of Jamaica
  6. Paula Kerr-Jarrett Director, Barnett Limited
  7. Pat Ramsay Cultural Consultant and Development Director
  8. Adam Stewart CEO, Sandals Resorts International
  9. Senator Kavan Gayle
    Representative from Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions
  10. Phillip Gore Owner & Executive Chairman of Gore Developments Ltd.

You’ll notice, for the most part, it’s nothing but a group of businessmen, lawyers and Investors. And if you’re wondering about Dr Nigel Clarke, he has a doctorate in mathematics (not economics). Another thing which stands out for me is the lack of youthful exuberance on this council. If it’s expected that the youth of Jamaica are to be the successors of any efforts coming out of this project, then why aren’t we represented? Where’s the young economics student to offer a different (and more contemporary) perspective to the discussions on growth? And if this Council is in place then what then was the purpose of creating a Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation? Aren’t we kind of repeating ourselves here? hmm

There are a few people in society today that I’m surprised weren’t tall enough to get on this ride either. Dr K’adamwe K’nife, lecturer of entrepreneurship at the UWI Mona and sustainable development specialist would make sense as an addition to me; Dr Peter Phillips MP, former Minister of Finance and Planning (who also holds a PhD in International Political Economy and Development Studies I might add), and the only man who could offer insight on our growth over the last 4-5 years; Dennis Chung, CEO of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica to guide offer insight on the structuring of that public/private partnership; Professor Trevor Munroe, Executive Director of the National Integrity Action (NIA) to advise the proper preventative measures for corruption control in the grand scheme of growth; and the list goes on.

What also concerns me is the overarching mission of this council with their “five in four plan” i.e 5% growth over the next 4 years. Is this even possible? Are they saying 5% cumulative growth by the year 2020, or in the year 2020 they expect to achieve growth of 5% after any given quarter? Below is a graph showing Jamaica’s economic growth trajectory over the last 4 years:

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As you can see for yourself, According to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the GDP expanded 1.6 percent. GDP Annual Growth Rate in Jamaica averaged 0.58 percent from 2003 until 2016, reaching an all time high of 4.30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 and a record low of -4.50 percent in the second quarter of 2009. So if you really think about it, if they can replicate what was done between 2003 and 2016 and add 0.30%, 5% “growth” is possible. But will this really translate to socio-economic development? Rather, is this council AT ALL concerned with the socio-economic development of Jamaica or just boosting the numbers on paper? Because they are basically promising another 4 years just like the last 4 years (only a little bit better to account for the extra 0.30%). Is that what the Jamaican people would consider as growth?

A more believable approach to this would have been to extend the trajectory to about 15-20 years with a memorandum of understanding between the two political parties and civil society groups that just like the vision 2030 development agenda, this growth agenda would remain untouched. Notice also, that the current administration’s campaign for government was hinged on the promise of economic prosperity (growth) for Jamaica if elected. Also notice, that this 5 in 4 plan will conveniently conclude just in time for election season again? *hint*hint*

Finally take a look at the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) and the newly convened Economic Growth Council (EGC). Notice any similarities? Why did they recreate the wheel that was the EPOC instead of adopt and reform it? Why is the chair of the EPOC, Mr Richard Byles, not even an honorary member of the EGC? *sips tea*

I want to end my rant with a word of advice to the powers that be reading this and may be feeling uneasy with the revelations: get over yourselves. The growth and development of Jamaica Land we love should not be a tactic to retain power and/or boost the aesthetics of the party which forms government; but rather a social partnership between ALL stakeholders of Jamaica (Rich, Poor and Young ) committed to the long term agenda for economic growth and prosperity. I would also implore the EGC going forward, to dialogue with the youth of our country and get them directly involved in this mission for economic growth. After all, whatever progress or decline that comes from this initiative will be OUR responsibility as youth to carry on. So it makes sense to give us a seat at the table.

 

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Social Commentary

My two cents: Andrew Holness, the “Champion bwoy”

 

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Now, I had my doubts about Andrew’s leadership capabilities at first, just like everyone else did I would imagine. I mean, those undated resignation letters last year highlighted a very impulsive and arrogant opposition leader that I couldn’t picture as my Prime Minister. Then the general elections came along, and a transformation was made that I dare say is probably unprecedented in our political history.  Andrew’s image moved from being this stiff, impulsive, emotion-less juvenile politician to a very calculated, controlled, fervent and mature-looking leader whom consequently won the hearts of the Jamaican people.Upon victory, he proclaimed himself the champion boy, a direct reference the Dancehall artiste Alkaline’s hit single “Champion bwoy” which the electorate gobbled up cravenly.

He seemingly has also won over the respect and approval of his naysayers within the Jamaica Labour party, as challenges to his leadership these days seem to be a thing of the past. It’s still early, so we can’t say anything too conclusive about his leadership as yet, but the bangarang unfolding within the Peoples National Party (PNP) in recent months has definitely made him more favorable in the eyes of the electorate; a fact which his publicists exploit every chance they get.

He has made some good moves recently, I’ll agree; especially in delivering on some of his promises that we were anticipating; particularly his $1.5 million tax break. But there’ still a lot more that needs to be done before he gets assigned a passing grade. Public relations are on point yes, but that alone won’t translate into votes 3 and a half years from now. I’m still waiting to see how he will address unemployment (especially among youth) with more sustainable fixes and not another call center. I’m very interested to see how he and his economic council will handle the IMF programme which I might add was under excellent management by the former Minister of Finance, Dr Peter Phillips. Crime and violence in our country is climbing like a wildfire, and I’m eager to see the plans he has up his sleeve to remedy this problem. You see, being young, likable and good with communicating to the people is only 40% of the job. The other 60% is governing the country. Let’s watch how he governs.

 

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Politics, Leadership and Governance

The Arrogance of the PNP defeated them

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And so said, so done. Democracy has played her hand and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has been returned to power after claiming 33 of the 63 seats to the 30 seats claimed by their opponents, the Peoples National Party (PNP). Some have the JLP’s victory as the biggest upset of all upsets predicted; considering polls prior to the election day would have placed the PNP on a route to victory. The results have left many wondering what went wrong? What went right? What mistake or mistakes could have costed them an election that they didn’t foresee happening? Here’s what I think.

It was arrogance. Often times a word we use to play down someone’s character, but let me state unequivocally that my intention here is not to disrespect the PNP; or prop up the JLP. But to give a critical and objective post-election analysis. So to my die-hard comrades and labourites who are reading this, please don’t take it the wrong way. This arrogance is something I have been observing for some time now, ever since talks of an election started to slip through the cracks in late October 2015. Then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller took a big risk when she reassigned Dr Fenton Ferguson for his mismanagement of the Health Ministry, instead of removing him from parliament altogether. I think she bet too much on the fruits borne from the IMF program to keep the people happy, and it was from then that the mistrust began and the people started to see the deficiencies in their quality of government.

Following that blunder, we saw two very prominent youth in leadership Mr Damion Crawford and Mr Raymond Pryce in what it would appear to be a brawl between the Young and the Old. Crawford’s response to the party’s decision not put him on the slate of candidates hindered the party more than they realized; especially with senior party heads like General Secretary Paul Burke and Senator Dr Angela Brown-Burke seemingly “fighting out the Utes”. But I think Raymond Pryce’s unfortunate exit from the leadership of the party costed the party the biggest decrease in the youth vote; especially given the fact that it highlighted the indifference of some comrades towards Portia Simpson Miller as party leader. It sort of removed the mystic that surrounded Mama P of being the most loved among ALL her followers, which humanized her enough for the JLP to capitalize as best as possible.

What was noticeable for me was that meanwhile all this is happening in the PNP, the JLP camp was tightening their machinery and perfecting their impression of being a party united in solidarity behind their leader Andrew Holness. It’s funny because I doubt much people recall that it was just a few months ago the party delegates met to discuss his fate as party leader. All water under the bridge now, since the power has been reclaimed (or is it?).

But fast forward to the election now, a few things stood out for me. The JLP I think had a very clean and structured campaign which utilized more modes of communication than the PNP; and ultimately made them more effective in their reach. The PNP, in their arrogance I presume, neglected social media engagement and youth interaction because they thought that the people would see beyond the JLP’s party tricks; and pick sense out of nonsense. Notwithstanding this, the PNP still did an impeccable job with their campaign, and must be commended for this.

The JLP also consistently maintained an inclusive marketing strategy in their advertisements which was very noticeable in them using up a lot of their new candidates (especially their women) to be the face of some adverts. Conversely, the PNP I think focused mainly on their “people pullers” like the party leader Mrs Simpson Miller and their campaign manager and Gleaner’s man of the year for 2015 Dr Peter Phillips to name a few; neglecting the other factions of the electorate whom were anticipating to see someone different, or maybe younger sending the message to step up the progress. They did however make an effort with the advert from Damion Crawford later down in the campaign; but by then the attention had shifted to the party manifestos. 

The focus  I think on Andrew Holness’ Mansion on the hill by the PNP only strengthened the JLP’s message for prosperity; especially after he silenced their strategy with what some would say was a reasonable explanation as to how he managed to acquire such an asset. Now to the average Jamaican in the struggle, experiencing a fight from “badmind people”, Andrew would have caught their appeal with this revelation and further inspired them to partner with him for prosperity. His act to reveal himself to the people and get so personal I think suggested to many that he has grown considerably since 2011, is willing to equalize with the Jamaican people to prove his sincerity and might just be serious about strengthening the transparency and integrity of our governance.

The PNP’s refusal to debate was a poor strategic move, and one which set them couple paces behind in the pursuit for power. After being predominantly silent on topical issues over the last several years, the Jamaican people were anticipating to hear what their Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had to say; and more importantly how she would square off against a more learnt Andrew Holness. But it would appear to many that the PNP believed facing the people in this way was not a necessity for them to win the race, while not realizing that the people did in fact hold the staging of a debates in high regard. At this point, I think the people started to question the integrity of the PNP, and how far they fall on the party’s list of priorities; a party that is suppose to be for the people. The JLP cunningly, further charged their message of partnership for prosperity; leaving the average Jamaican to think they would be valued more on the greener side of the field.

All in all, I hope these election results sent a strong message to both political parties about how the motivations to vote have evolved in the last decade. The Economy can no longer be the focal point going forward, but the approach must be balanced to produce strides in other areas of our governance like Healthcare, Water Security, National Security, Youth Development and Education to name a few. I don’t think a 45.5% voter turnout for this elections is anything to be proud of either, coming from a 53% voter turnout in the 2011 elections. I hope this new government, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), takes some time to reflect on what this really means for democracy as an institution of our governance; and the work they must put in this term to inspire us again. I would also want to charge the two political leaders to put aside the childish bickering between opposition and government, and work towards to building a better Jamaica for all. For the sake of Jamaica Land we love, please let’s do this together.

 

-G.B

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