Editorial: Gleaner Honour Awards ignite hope
Last week, as he accepted his award as the Gleaner Man of the Year, Peter Phillips looked around the room, then quipped: "Today's function gave me a feel of the enormous potential of the Jamaican people."
We understood what he meant. We felt the same way, for Dr Phillips was not the only person being celebrated. He shared the occasion with several outstanding and talented individuals and institutions whose actions and achievements can only bolster faith in Jamaica's future.
Until recently, not too many Jamaicans may have heard of Padmore Primary School, or its principal, Keisha Hayle. Except, perhaps, for the people of Red Hills, where the school is located, and nearby communities.
Government schools in inner-city or deep rural communities, lacking resources and facing stigma, are not the ones usually associated with exceptional performance. Yet, through Ms Hayle's leadership and commitment to excellence, Padmore defies the odds. It is a school of choice for many parents. Its waiting list is long.
Similarly, it would have required the dedication and commitment of hundreds of people to have kept the Little Theatre Movement going for three-quarters of a century, producing, each year, the now iconic National Pantomime and other shows that exercise the creative imagination of Jamaicans, providing us with alternative prisms through which to view society and evaluate ourselves.
And there is someone like Lascelles Chin, the entrepreneur who has built successful businesses, but whose motivation is clearly beyond personal wealth. So, well into his 70s, he continues to invest in new enterprises, helping to drive economic activity and create jobs, even as he contributes to social causes.
You might question, too, why Gary Hendrickson, the principal of Continental Baking Company, not only donates many millions of dollars to early childhood education projects and helps start-up enterprises promote themselves and their products without expectation of personal return, or fear that they may eventually emerge as rivals.
But innovative business ventures and social enterprises require more than the goodwill of the likes of Messrs Hendrickson and Chin, who themselves require an environment in which their firms can continue to be prosperous if they are to continue to help others. Which is where this newspaper's recognition of the work of Dr Phillips is relevant.
Four years ago when Dr Phillips became the finance minister, Jamaica was close to the fiscal precipice. Its debt was close to 150 per cent of GDP; private lenders were wary of lending to the island; Jamaica had a ballooning current account deficit; and it propped up its currency by depleting its reserves. Dr Phillips largely stared down sceptics in his own party and Government and, under an economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund, has taken Jamaica through an often painful reform project. That demanded courage.
There is still a substantial way to go, but growth is returning to the economy. Foreign capital, especially in tourism, is flowing into the country. Last year, the island's stock exchange was the best performing in the world, and Jamaica has improved substantially on most business prospect indices.
It is perhaps significant that Dr Phillips is the second reformist finance minister to have received this award, following Edward Seaga, in 1980, the year he led the Jamaica Labour Party to victory, and in 1981, when his reform programme was under way.