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Debt relief Jamaica’s only solution

Published:Tuesday | August 11, 2015 | 8:00 AMJahmar Clarke, Contributor

The prime minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, has recently made a plea for debt relief for Jamaica. Jamaica is regarded as an upper middle-income nation, and, as such, does not qualify for debt relief as a heavily indebted poor country.

For the past 40 years, Jamaica has been repaying debts at a very high interest rate. The truth is, no matter how genuine our efforts, the possibility of Jamaica actively repaying the amount owed is de minimis. Jamaica has repaid billions of dollars owed at high interest rates and we are still significantly in debt.

It was estimated in 2013 that Jamaica spends more than two times the amount on debt repayment than that which is spent on education and health combined. If we pause for a second and think about it, how could we possibly be facing stringent measures for the better part of two and a half decades and there be no light at the end of the tunnel?

It gets harder and harder each year. That is because most of our revenues go towards the payment of debt. There is no measure in place to stimulate economic growth; rather, what is implemented, particularly by the International Monetary Fund, is a policy to aid solely in the repayment of our high debt bill.

Jamaica's economic problems are devastating and our children and our children's children will suffer severely because of our debt bill and the rate of interest at which we have to repay. In my estimation, after the horrors of slavery that lasted more than 200 years, we were left with a void, and our leaders valiantly attempted to fill that void, but it took capital and an economic machinery capable of competing with nations that were for centuries working their economic machinery at our expense - nations that were centuries older than our nation.

This is not a reparations call; it is a call to the British High Commission of Jamaica and the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Dave Cameron. It was unfair for your nation to have benefited from more than 200 years of free labour, and there is no denying the everlasting impact it has had on the growth of your nation.

We declared Independence in 1962; Britain gave us nothing to aid in implementing a sustainable system of economic growth. Now into our 54th year of Independence, it is time to make it right.

Jamaica does not qualify for debt relief and I humbly beseech the powers that be in your country. We are on an incredibly steep slope heading downhill and at considerable speed. Assist us in repaying our debts, though we may not be categorised as a heavily indebted poor country. Preventing us from becoming a heavily indebted country is by far cheaper and more fruitful than granting us relief when we inevitably become a heavily indebted country.

I ask our diplomatic delegations worldwide to let this be our premier objective - to obtain aid from our sister countries to relieve debt.

Our local economists ought to pool together and determine the best way to sustainably get the economy growing during this period. Our leaders, at every conference, every luncheon, every mission, every time you appear before a microphone, whether it be local, regional or international, this message should be the first, main and last thing leaving your lips.

With what I perceive as the sincere interest in Jamaica by the US ambassador and the Chinese government, if we create a strategic plan that will make allowances for foreign direct investments, I suspect our international sister nations will come to our aid once we have a sound and transparent plan as well as a system of implementation.

- Jahmar Clarke is a second-year student at Norman Manley Law School. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jahmar_clarke@yahoo.com.