Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Is Growth Council more capable than GOJ?

Published:Monday | May 9, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh

There were more flashing cameras and veneers inside Jamaica House last week as the prime minister anointed the nation's latest wizard of prosperity, Michael Lee-Chin, as chairman of the Economic Growth Council (EGC).

In his acceptance speech, the suave billionaire revealed his lofty projections:

"I pledge, as the chairman of the EGC, that the EGC will work tirelessly and passionately to achieve a GDP growth rate of five per cent over the next four years, which is 10 times more than what we have seen for the last 20 years, which is 25 times more than we have seen over the last 10 years," he asserted.

Considering that the World Bank projects Jamaica's GDP growth increasing by 1.7 per cent in 2016 and more than two per cent in 2017, Lee-Chin's targets are bullish, seriously.

For us, the sufferers in post-Independence Jamaica, more specifically during the span of time in which Mr Lee-Chin (and others like him) acquired substantial wealth, our eyes are affixed to the back of our heads, unimpressed by this dreamy rhetoric, and still necessarily vigilant about the wily beasts boldly roaming this nation just beyond those flashing lights.

Grand announcements such as these are reminiscent of the fanciful platitudes lobbed around by Eddie and Joshua in the Cold War era, as Jamaica struggled for competitive advantage sandwiched between competing interests in the new world order. High-profile consortia like the EGC have endured in Jamaican politics as high tea for well-to-do friends of the administration, proxies on which governments can seemingly deflect blame for missed targets and general sloth. This particular incarnation, we are led to believe, can brew a growth potion unlike all the others - an antidote for economic anaemia.

 

Sustainable growth

 

The EGC chairman said that in order to achieve the growth rate envisioned, "We need the involvement of every single small and medium-size enterprise, the energy of the youth, families, labour unions, the parliamentary Opposition, students, teachers, professors, local investors, corporate heads, religious leaders, and the diaspora. If you are going to achieve sustainable growth, we need the involvement of everyone in Jamaica."

This kind of socio-economic kumbaya has been the consistent theme of every capitalist-in-chief since we started our life in debt. It is a means to motivate participation in the formal economy and restore faith in its governance since economies are fickle, ethereal concepts prone to conniptions if people lose faith in them.

Ever since we were sold this development dream some 30 years ago, scores of Jamaicans have been preparing to make a contribution somewhere along Jamaica's growth trajectory via the acquisition of skills, chiefly through education, but idle hands quickly find alternative occupation and sceptical minds soon calcify.

I wonder how many higglers will find a place on the EGC? Those bigwigs can certainly teach the fat cats a thing or two about reasonable returns on investments. In a country as heavily reliant on cheap consumer goods as we are, that section of the import sector is a great litmus test for the buoyancy of the Jamaican economy.

No matter what noise the finance ministry might try to sell as music in the market, we all still watch the sales, and as much as higglers might have the uncanny ability to bawl on command, theirs aren't always crocodile tears.

We have invested heavily over the years in the science of scions, and based on results, it would seem few, if any, have been capable of growing anything but discontent; obviously they find more success in their own private ventures.

Economic growth, much like its botanical counterpart, is dependent on the creation and sustenance of an enabling environment. Blood in the streets is poison, not fertiliser, for an economy.

Beyond chasing binary indicators, the EGC and its stakeholders will also need to conduct a sober assessment of Jamaica's labour force to see what proportion is still "unemployable and irredeemable", as once famously opined by a government minister. Our economy cannot grow if our workforce remains undignified by slave wages and hopeless in manifesting their honest ambitions.

Nor will we attract legitimate long-term investors to Jamaica if we continue to dump murdered infants on the beach, dismember the hand that feeds us, or trick 'farrin' geriatrics into repatriating their wealth to the West Indies.

It seems that with this new momentum and rhetorical positioning, we might finally get to settle the ideological score between neo-liberalism and democratic socialism, but what is the likelihood the country will survive that battle of the egos this time around?

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.