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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Business, Investment and Economics

Has the Current IMF program furthered your right to an Education at the Tertiary Level?

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Is the current IMF program making it any easier for you to pay for your degree? Do you think it is making the cost of pursuing a tertiary level education any cheaper? In the negotiations happening now, do you know how much effort our government has put into ensuring education is a priority of the program? For all intents and purposes, this analysis will be carried out in reference to the University of the West Indies Mona and the extent to which access to a tertiary level education at this institution has increased since the dawn of this new IMF program.

In a January 2012 Article article entitled ” IMF Talks result in Greater Understanding of Priorities” published on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) website, it was reported that the major issues in our economy at the time included a reduction in the primary surplus of the central government that was targeted for this fiscal year, and a rise of the overall deficit of the public sector. This, after the PNP administration restarted the conversation with the IMF following their victory in the 2011 general elections to negotiate a new deal with the Fund pursuant of strong policies that would enable Jamaica to address the risks posed by both the global environment and the worsening fiscal realities.

In a May 2013 article on the International Monetary Fund Website (IMF), entitled ” IMF Loan to help Jamaica cope with Growth and Debt challenges”, it was underscored that Jamaica’s very high debt undermines confidence and investment and that the new program will boost growth and jobs, lower debt and improve competitiveness. The IMF’s executive board had extended the arrangement to Jamaica with a loan of JMD $932,000,000 to further the objectives of this new program. The IMF’s mission chief for Jamaica, Jan Kees Martijn, in response to what he considers to be the key priorities in Jamaica for the Fund and the government and the role he envisions for the Fund beyond financial support in promoting these measures, said that adjusting policies to lower debt to a sustainable level and establishing the conditions for durable growth will be the requirement for building a prosperous future for Jamaica. However, it was made clear that the program does have a social welfare component which speaks to the protection of the most vulnerable groups in society (youth in this context). The extent to which these vulnerable groups are protected is the question we are trying answer.

Mr Martijn posited that the new program includes a range of measures to improve competitiveness and the business climate, so that Jamaica can attract investment and create jobs, as well as training opportunities to assist the migration from welfare to work. He went further to say that a second element of the program is requiring a floor on social spending to make sure that it is given priority even when the overall room for government spending is limited. The government, He said, also intends to increase the number and targeting of beneficiaries under the Program for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATHE).

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In a June 2014 article entitled ” Prime Minister Says Growth and Employment Highest Priority” published on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) website, Prime Minister, the Hon. Portia Simpson Miller says stimulating growth and employment is the highest priority of the Government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), at this time. Madam Simpson Miller reports that the progress made in the first year of our program (presumably January 2012 – January 2013) include: upfront fiscal consolidation and reform; several structural initiatives aimed at improving the business environment and restoring external price competitiveness; while strengthening the social safety net. But does the social safety net here speak to the educational opportunities afforded to Jamaicans at the tertiary level (with reference to UWI Mona)? Specifically, has this net been strengthened such that more Jamaicans can exercise their right to access a tertiary education from the State?

She went on to emphasize that stimulating growth and employment is, at this time, the highest priority of both the Government of Jamaica and the Fund. From these reports, It can be deduced that while the program is successful thus far in meeting the targets it set out to achieve, the social welfare of Jamaicans has been made less of a priority behind lowering unemployment and stimulating economic growth. With 80% of most SME’s (Small and Medium sized enterprises) failing in the first 5 years of operating and a national unemployment rate at 13.2% (32% of which is youth unemployment), one can understand the need to prioritize these issues in the program. But what we need to now ask ourselves is what of the statistics on enrollment at the University level? Are they significant enough to build an argument for a greater focus on improving access to a tertiary level education?

According to the enrollment statistics produced by the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona , over a 5 year period (2009-2014) enrollment into full-time and part-time first degree programs has averaged at 11,358 students. According to Education Statistics produced by the Ministry of Education for 2012-2013; 84,847 students were enrolled in secondary school who were between 15-16 age group; and in the 17-19 age group only 32,697 students were enrolled in secondary schools. Cumulatively, 117,544 students were enrolled in the secondary school system between 2012-2013.

With reference to the enrollment statistics produced by the UWI Mona for the year 2012-2013, only 12,105 students were enrolled into the institution. So of the 117,544 students eligible for matriculation to the tertiary level that year, only 10.3% made the cut to attend UWI Mona. Is this acceptable? What of the other 80.7% students eligible to read for a tertiary degree?? Have they been appropriately placed in the other tertiary institutions island-wide? Collectively, do these other tertiary institutions have the absorptive capacity to enroll that 80.7%? Has our government done enough so far to afford more students that right to higher education? Essentially this is saying, approximately 1 in every 10 Jamaican youth in 2012-2013 had a chance at exercising their right to higher education at UWI Mona.

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The fact that the current IMF program fails to produce a positive surplus in our economy affects our government’s ability to contribute more to subsidizing tertiary education than they currently can afford. At present, the Jamaican government allocates a total of JMD $5 billion yearly to UWI Mona, which is intended to subsidize 80 per cent of fees students pay to attend the institution. The issue however, is that this amount has been frozen for some time amidst rising costs to operate the University due to externalities of the same IMF program, such as rising inflation rates. Therefore, we see a unique relationship here which explains the extent to which the Jamaican government can actually further the right to seek a tertiary level education at UWI Mona. Your ability to pursue a degree at UWI Mona hinges primarily on the extent to which this IMF program can yield a surplus to aid in advancing our development agenda.

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In the interim, I would suggest to our government that they look to establishing a stronger social partnership with the private sector to offer more assistance where tertiary financing is concerned. Create internships for students in a particular field that will allow them to work part-time with a select firm in the private sector while increasing their ability to finance themselves through university. More public-private partnerships such as the recent housing development between the National Commercial Bank (NCB) and the UWI Mona should also be encouraged in other areas such as facilities upgrading and student mentorship. Firms need to understand that creating that intimate relationship with your customer before they have the purchasing power, is how you create a loyal customer base for the future. Finally, I want urge Dr. Peter Phillips and his team to aggressively advance the notion that greater access to tertiary education should be a priority of this program, and is equal in status to lowering unemployment and stimulating economic growth.

  • G.B
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Art and Poetry

Proclamations of the 2.0

revolution

My voice….I’ve been asked to share it

But most times it’s just diplomacies

to combat their controversies

conjured by jacket and ties

with agendas for their big agencies…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

But if I was to speak out, you would hear the revolution in my cry

Because I, am a child of Marcus Garvey

a string in the Tuff Gong’s guitar

a single current in this air of revolution…….waiting

Frustrated, Tired, trapped in a space of false pretence

Emancipated…no, emancipendence…but still recognize a Governor General in residence

When will we break away from this mental debt trap that the Maasas have us living in…

and stop starving our minds with their empty truths

When will we stop taking their monies, only to give them back!

taking their money and giving them back! Take, Give! TAKE, GIVE!

This cycle of “unprogressiveness” labelled as a strategy for growth..

meeting their targets, while creating more targets of our unsuspecting Jamaican citizens…

How much more children need to go to bed hungry to meet their targets??

How much more slashes to the back must our dollar endure to meet their targets?

How much more targets must we make of ourselves to meet their targets?

My brothers, my sisters, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for

We are the fire, we are the guns, we are the war that we’ve been praying for..

WE ARE THE REVOLUTION that will NOT be televised..

but tweeted, posted and SHOUTED….from the throats of change..

– G.B, in collaboration with L.K and K.H

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