Mass layoffs would be madness
Long-distance runners know they have to pace themselves. They know about the starting push, the settling into the steady input, the not being tempted by hotheads. Jamaica is like a long-distance runner. I admire Dr Peter Phillips for his dogged determination. It has brought the country a far distance. It is time, though, I would urge, to settle for the steady pace that will carry the entire country over the long haul.
The primary surplus of seven and a half per cent of GDP has meant three things to our economy, at least as interpreted by Peter - rapid debt reduction, minimal growth, and low social expenditure. Back in 2013, it was his Government's only choice, the 7.5 per cent. The country was bankrupt and the IMF was demanding. In fact, the IMF is still making heavy demands. It wants layoffs now!
Given its excellent and much-lauded performance of the past two-plus years, our Government does have some leverage, though, if it chooses to use it, to now insist on a smaller primary surplus going forward.
The IMF could not afford to lose its poster boy at this point. A smaller surplus would mean, of course, a less rapid decline in the deficit, a slower debt reduction, an extension on the four years. We should not expect to nearly eliminate, in five or 10 years, the massive debt and the high-living mentality and practices accumulated and engrained over the past 40.
A smaller surplus would allow more to capital spending. And if that were directed in such channels as small and micro enterprises, agriculture, agro-business and the input needs of manufacturers and exporters (as Claude Clarke has outlined, Sunday Gleaner, 21/6/15), consider the impact. Expenditure of that kind - if we follow this line of reasoning - would mean growth, the kind with a direct effect on employment and the social sector.
This growth, then, would enlarge income and tax returns, which yields another route to debt reduction. It may appear roundabout. But it is healthier, it is developmental. It gives our people the resources to express their creative initiatives and energies, already evidenced in song and music, in medical science, in tourism and commerce, and increasingly in other novel directions.
INCLUDE EVERYONE IN THE PROCESS
This country cannot be built purely by big, top-down projects, top-down thinking. The people at every level - grass-roots community individuals and organisations, university and high-school students, workers unionised and contracted, private-sector employees and civil servants - ALL MUST BE DRAWN into this process. And they cannot be drawn by politicians who are not biting the same bullet that the people are being told to bite (as pointed out by Aubyn Hill, Gleaner, 19/6/15). That is not leadership.
We cannot be building a nation - the PNP's mantra - while we flog our brightest and best, our doctors, nurses and teachers, mechanics and farmers, younger and older, to seek survival overseas in spite of their own patriotic desires.
For months now, the entire country, at every level, except at the top of Big Business and Government, even among bright orange PNP high-ups like Stanley Redwood (as Ian Boyne, Sunday Gleaner, 15/6/15 has noted), has been calling for a balance between debt and growth, between the economic and the social. The teachers have been outspokenly against the five and then the seven per cent. Are the nurses likely to be any less militant? Police have only been constrained by the law bearing down on those working in essential services. Even UWI's West Indies Group of University Teachers has chipped in.
It really is time that Portia - who did promise balance - and Peter listened and heard, that is, opened their minds to their people by believing they can learn something valuable from them. The PATH benefits offered by Dr Phillips for the social side misses the real issue: the social needs of those who have escaped poverty, on whose well-being the country more depends. To meet these wider needs, priority has to be given to health, justice and education over roads, buses and other infrastructure.
Larger budget allocations to the health and justice ministries would take some of the pressure for better wages off those employed in or affected by conditions and operations in these ministries. While the public sector needs slimming, with few new jobs being created and an already high number of unemployed, large-scale layoffs now would be madness.
Before calling for this measure, businessmen and women must take up their responsibility to create employment opportunities. Unlike a business, a government still has a duty that it cannot ignore, to those it cannot employ in the public sector and whose job it has to make redundant.