Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Editorial | What Michael Lee-Chin must do

Published:Monday | August 22, 2016 | 8:00 AM

It is a brave man, or woman, who would bet against Michael Lee-Chin on his prediction of the success of a business in which he is involved and his own money is at stake. After all, the man is a certified billionaire. He founded, and used to control, a big fund-management outfit in Canada and owns a bank and related financial entities in Jamaica. He has businesses elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Guiding a government on economic growth, however, is a slightly different undertaking. Success requires the alignment, or something close to that, of many variables over which an entrepreneur like Mr Lee-Chin may not exercise command and control. Yet, only days ago, Mr Lee-Chin, who heads Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Economic Growth Council (ECG), maintained that his group was "maximally enthused" that it would deliver on its promise of last April of "five in four". Which is to say, driving economic growth rate, in four years' time, to at least five per cent.

That, in the absence of its context, doesn't seem a big deal. Except that for the last 40 years, Jamaica's annual growth rate has been under one per cent. Except that, as Mr Lee-Chin likes to explain it, the projected growth would be "10 times more than we have seen over the last 20 years, and 25 times more than ... the last 10 years".

Like Mr Lee-Chin, this newspaper believes that Jamaica has, over the past four and a half years, established a foundation from which there can be growth, with a tough programme of fiscal containment that has begun to change the trajectory of the country's oversize debt; brought the current account under control; ensured relative exchange-rate stability; and moderated inflation. There is, however, still much work to be done on economic reform to lock in, and expand on, these gains.

That the Government, under the previous administration, and this one since March, has adhered to a tough project rests in no small measure on the consensus around the measures. Everyone understood that Jamaica couldn't go on as we were. So, too, must Mr Lee-Chin build and achieve a broad consensus around his agenda. But people have to know what it is.

 

IDEA OF GROWTH

 

Indeed, everyone supports the idea of growth. The question is how to achieve it.

While Mr Lee-Chin's group has reported having more than 50 meetings with stakeholders - a level of engagement that suggests that they are by now certain of their direction - the public, we believe, still lacks clarity on its mission: whether the ECG's role is to pick winners and pursue specific investment projects, sort of like the hand of the central planner in a command economy; or to propose broader, growth-supporting, but not market-distorting, policies, whose implementation they will monitor.

That is something that Mr Lee-Chin and his team must urgently address. They must outline a credible plan, set clear and clearly attainable priorities, and go hell for leather in gaining public support for them. If their ideas are credible, they have more than a good shot at the effort.

Not only does Mr Lee-Chin have a reputation to protect, we'd trust he has one to sell as well. And a five per cent growth rate would be transformative for Jamaica.