Tue | Sep 19, 2017

We’ll get government out of the way

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2016 | 1:00 AM
Andrew Holness

Last year, our Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) was recognised as the top-performing index worldwide. This is a great achievement of itself. It is also a great signal of the tremendous economic potential that exists in Jamaica.

One point on which we can all agree is that the pathway to growth and job creation runs through the JSE. The aggregation of equity for investment in productive enterprise is a critical pathway for growth, particularly so when the financing environment is such that there is a preference for consumer loans over productive loans. The success story of the Junior Market is a perfect example of how stock markets support both growth and job creation.

Since its establishment in 2009 under a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration, billions of dollars of equity capital have been channelled to entrepreneurs from investors. Companies such as Access Financial Services, Derrimon Trading, Blue Power Group, LASCO Manufacturing, Jamaica Teas, Dolphin Cove, and Knutsford Express, just to name some, have all expanded production and employment from the equity financing received through the specially created pathway of the Junior Stock Market.

 

RESTORE INCENTIVES

 

One of the first actions that I will take as the next prime minister of Jamaica is to restore all the incentives and facilitation to the entrepreneurial investors through the Junior Market. I give a commitment that there will be no equivocal discussions, no restudy, no committees. As we say in Jamaica, 'no long talking' - we will just do it, because it is the right thing to do. This will reopen a critical pathway to economic growth and job creation and facilitate innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors to accelerate economic activity.

The pathway to economic growth and job creation passes through the Jamaica Stock Exchange for another reason. Public listing forces a higher level of transparency and efficiency in enterprise operations. We all agree that the public purse would benefit significantly if state-owned enterprises were more transparent in their operations, and indeed, more efficient when they are transparent. We are fully aware that not all state-owned enterprises would qualify for privatisation through public listing on a stock market, but there are several candidates which are worth examining. Last year, the Opposition suggested the National Water Commission (NWC) as an example and we have been studying how we could list the NWC.

Another likely candidate, however, could be the Urban Development Corporation. There is no question that greater innovation, entrepreneurship, and efficiency would result, if the board and management of these state-owned enterprises were accountable to shareholders rather than ministers. The next JLP government will use the Jamaica Stock Exchange to bring transparency, efficiency and profitability to some poorly run and poorly performing sectors of government that probably should not be owned and operated by the government in the first place.

Let me hasten to point out that this is not an original or novel idea, because this pathway to growth and job creation has been tried with varying degrees of success across the world. New Zealand's experience in this regard readily comes to mind.

The JLP is clear on the need for institutional reform of the public sector and a rethink of the role of government as an important part of actually charting the pathway to growth and job creation. We believe that Government's role is to facilitate traffic on the pathway to growth and job creation.

 

BUREAUCRACY A CONSTRAINT

 

Under my watch as prime minister, we will get government out of your way. It is an unfortunate truth that government bureaucracy can be a significant constraint on growth potential. It is not just the existence of a huge, dense and oftentimes self-serving bureaucracy; which places value on the form rather than the function; which takes long to make decision;, and which is not incentivised to serve. Anyone who has to interact with the bureaucracy of the Jamaican State will readily identify with what I am saying, whether it is the extortionate payment for approvals, the many paper-based forms that must be filled out, the long wait in lines, or the many different agencies that have to be individually applied to and physically visited.

However, the greater problem is when government bureaucracy becomes corrupt and is uncoordinated; ultimately working against itself, entrepreneurs and investors.

The Jamaica Labour Party will undertake a 'missioning exercise' of all ministries, state enterprises and agencies. We will start with the executive structure of government. Every minister in my government will be given a consequential two and a half year job letter, setting out their key performance targets, as drawn from our manifesto towards economic growth and job creation, for which they will be held to account. Additionally, immediately upon appointment they will be given their targets of low-hanging changes that must be made within the first 90 days of our new administration. This will set the cascading example throughout government.

More important, we have started the exercise of ensuring that every ministry of government is aligned and fit for the purpose of supporting the growth and job creation mission. To this end, we will create a Ministry of Economic Growth and Employment. It will incorporate elements of such existing ministries as Industry and Commerce, Labour, and Finance and Planning. To be clear, it is not our intention to expand government. Rather, it is our intention to create a more aligned, agile, entrepreneurial, robust, service and task-oriented government.

- Andrew Holness is leader of the JLP and leader of the Opposition. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.