Aubyn Hill | No growth produces bad politics
Bill Clinton's evergreen political statement - 'It's the economy, stupid' - served to limit George Herbert Walker Bush's presidency to a mere single term.
Wise politicians know that unless there is an overwhelming national calamity or emergency, 'people vote their pocketbooks'. When the pockets are empty and bellies are hungry, politicians who are perceived to be the cause of these bad states of personal affairs are generally punished.
Politicians in power, who campaigned on making people's lives better but brought them sustained and crippling economic pain instead, must be held accountable for broken promises and for broad general hardships.
Incumbent politicians will always try to shift the responsibility from themselves to their predecessors, world economic conditions, or even to huge debts which they created. They will try to move the blame for current economic hardships from themselves, who hold all state power, to anyone, or to any fanciful thing or event.
Government economic success is being defined in terms which the international community - especially those in finance - loves. Phrases such as 'passed IMF tests', 'maintaining the 7.5 per cent primary surplus', 'tax collection increased 13 per cent over the same period last year', 'fiscal consolidation' and 'holding strain' provide music to their foreign ears. Naturally, the finance minister and some in EPOC would want Jamaicans to think that's the only sankey that can and should be sung.
NEW ECONOMIC TUNE
Jamaicans want a song that also brings music to their ears. The new economic anthem must be titled, and supported by a robust chorus of strong economic growth. Every verse of the new economic tune must be wrapped in the spirit-lifting growth chorus.
Finance Minister Peter Phillips must put in place the plans to facilitate the economic growth to make the 'passed IMF tests' medicine - necessary but near poisonous - more palatable to the long-suffering Jamaican populace.
When EPOC Co-Chair Richard Byles can speak glowingly about the 13 per cent increase in tax collection but cannot speak of strong, even ordinary, economic growth, we know we are in serious trouble. No matter how Richard Byles tries to pretty up the report and blame a previous administration - as if the PNP has not ruled Jamaica for 22.5 of the last 26.5 years - there is still no growth or enough new jobs.
Maintaining an oversized, uniquely high 7.5 per cent primary surplus brings no joy to most Jamaicans who cannot find jobs because businesses who work for the Government often cannot get paid. The extreme cash demands of meeting the primary surplus also means that the Government cannot meet even its own capital expenditure budget, so social and economic infrastructure suffer, and more jobs are vaporised in the process.
Similarly, 'fiscal consolidation' and 'holding strain' translate to poverty and hunger when not matched with broad, strong, private-sector-led economic growth which is actively and purposefully facilitated by sound government economic policies.
Government growth-facilitation policies - and especially those making Government more efficient and willing to serve the public and business community - have been woefully absent.
FISSURES ARE SHOWING
This no-growth problem is now really serious. PNP supporters are now saying what people like me have been saving for over three years - no growth is hurting people in their pockets and bellies. But the PNP stalwarts have added another entity which I have never blamed for our financial pickle - they blame the IMF.
This is how Gleaner senior reporter Daraine Luton's article over Lloyd B. Smith's and Dr Lynvale Bloomfield's photos started in Wednesday's paper: "A depressed economy and an austerity-laced International Monetary Fund-backed reform programme are being blamed for many problems faced by some first-time government members of parliament now facing the boot. 'I have suffered from those two things and I have no doubt that other MPs - especially the new MPs - would have suffered,' said Lloyd B. Smith, MP for Central St. James."
Dr Broomfield, who, like Smith, was deselected - what an awful word! - shared the St James MP's sentiments. Earlier in the week, Smith was quoted in the Observer newspaper using words such as 'skulduggery', 'corruption' and 'travesty' against the PNP and how he was treated in the internal PNP elections last Sunday. Many others may feel the same way but won't go public - having seen the fate of those who did.
Smith says he has lots of more truthful, 'earth shattering' things to say about corruption, but would keep quiet if the PNP kept him on as candidate. Is that an ethical stand? Will he spill the beans now that he has been booted and, according to him, his life threatened?
Raymond Pryce went more ballistic and raised the racecard on Twitter in late August with: "I am reminded of a childhood chant 'Black is beauty. Red is corruption'. It really does apply - thank God I am not a red man".
My Twitter response was: "I suppose National Hero N. Manley, former PM Mike Manley, Mike Peart, respected ministers R. Thwaites and M. Golding are corruption?"
Did Pryce really have to bring race into this issue? Does he not subscribe to 'Out of Many one People'?
Dr Phillips needs to take note of what his no-growth policies are doing to diehard PNP stalwarts and to a whole swathe of increasingly poor Jamaicans.
Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the opposition leader.