100,000 jobs projected, not promised – Phillips
Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips said the 100,000 jobs expected to be created by the incumbent government over the next five years is not a promise, but rather a projection.
Referring to the latest labour force survey undertaken by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), Phillips, speaking at a press conference with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Kingston recently, said "It is my view that it is possible to see our employed labour force increased over the next five years sharply."
Basing his projection on what he said was the economic progress made by the Government under the extended fund facility with the IMF thus far, the minister said that between July 2013 and July 2015 the employed labour force increased by close to 40,000 jobs, actually 39,600 over the two-year period.
He noted that over the last four years - between October 2011 and July 2015 - a total of 63,900 jobs have been added to the labour force.
"Also of significance is that the increase in the employed labour force from April to July 2015 was 18,400, of which the 20-24 age group increased by 11,200," Phillips said, emphasising that the pace of job creation has increased in the last few months.
"We must be able to maintain this momentum, especially given that we have been able to identify specific investments under way in tourism, business process outsourcing, the energy sector, agriculture, and even manufacturing," he said.
"I believe that at a minimum we can achieve and, indeed, I believe we can surpass these targets," Phillips said. "It will mean, however, that we will have to continue to maintain our fiscal discipline and further improve our business environment and reduce our bureaucracy."
He added: "That means that going forward we have to build our focus on the public-sector transformation efforts to ensure that we not only are able to continue the pace of improvements in the ease of doing business, but also make the public sector more cost-efficient by removing the duplications in the work of agencies, using common services where possible and utilizing to a better extent the available information technologies," the finance minister said.
"What the country has been able to achieve in a relatively short period of time is significant, and particularly if considered in relation to where we are coming from," said Phillips.
Jamaica's economic transformation in just over two years has seen the country evolved into an economy with single-digit inflation - point to point inflation was 1.8 per cent in September, the lowest since 1967, he said.
"We have seen a sharply reduced balance of payments deficit on the current account. We have more than tripled our Net International Reserves from what it was when we started the programme - it was US$2.9 billion at the end of October. We have increased local and foreign direct investment. The stock market index is at record levels," Phillips said.
"We have a declining debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio, an improved business environment, and declining unemployment, and improved credit ratings from international rating agencies," he added.
Both the IMF mission team which undertook the 10th review of Jamaica's IMF-supported programme under the extended fund facility and the Government agree that increased levels of growth will solidify the gains that have already been made, Phillips said.
At the press conference, IMF mission chief to Jamaica Uma Ramakrishnan also noted data from STATIN which show that the unemployment rate declined to 13.1 per cent in July, and said that employment gains are being generated in the tourism and business process outsourcing sectors.
She added that the Jamaican authorities and the mission agreed that the focus now should be to ensure Jamaica moves quickly to a position of strong, sustained and dynamic economic growth and job creation.
Ramakrishnan said that with macroeconomic stability now well entrenched, and the debt dynamics improving, the authorities and mission also agreed that a loosening of fiscal policy and a realignment of monetary policies were both warranted to better support the real economy.