Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Editorial | The PSOJ’s lease on life

Published:Monday | August 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Institutions tend to reflect the people who lead them. So, it isn't surprising that the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) seems to have had a new lease on life.

Its president, Howard Mitchell, the lawyer and businessman, is irrepressible and articulate. He pops up often, adding his voice to the significant debates of the day. Usually, he is thoughtful. He is big on matters of governance.

The PSOJ's intervention in the Andrew Wheatley affair, mustering the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce into a joint call for a forensic audit of the agencies within Dr Wheatley's portfolio, no doubt got the attention of Prime Minister Andrew Holness and contributed to the downfall of the former energy and technology minister.

Early this year, at the start of his tenure, and with the country facing a runaway escalation in homicides, Mr Mitchell captured the imagination of Jamaicans with his plan to host a summit on public order and safety. That summit was postponed, apparently in deference to the Government's wish to complete the passage of the Zones of Special Operation bill and install a new police chief with new anti-crime initiatives.

 

Poor Parliamentary Decorum

 

Mr Mitchell has also spoken out against poor parliamentary decorum, threatening in June not to send PSOJ observers to sectoral debates unless the behaviour of MPs improved.

Our sense is that the PSOJ, a large tent of enterprise and business leaders, is articulating its interests not only in hard economic terms. Mr Mitchell understands that while the ideological debate that gave rise to the birth of the PSOJ in the 1970s may be over, business is not easily sustained in an unstable social environment.

This newspaper agrees with this broader engagement inherent in Mr Mitchell's leadership. In that regard, we believe it is time for him to put back on the PSOJ's agenda the matter of the security and safety summit.

The more than 470 murders reported in Jamaica up to mid-July was four and a half per cent over the number for the same period in 2017, which, in most societies, would be a serious cause for concern. But for Jamaica, where murders were nearly 20 per cent more in 2017 than the previous year, and increased at an annualised rate of around 25 per cent in the first quarter, this is a significant reversal.

Yet, it is one about which Jamaicans can't be complacent. The decline is driven largely by a two-thirds drop in homicides in the parish of St James to 53 by July 14 - where a state of public emergency has been in force for several months and its communities are awash with police and soldiers.

States of emergency, which allow for impingement of normal rights and freedoms, are not intended to be long-term crime-fighting and policing strategies. It would be useful for a serious national discussion on what is to replace the current ones when they come to an end, as well as other initiatives to achieve social stability.

Any such discourse, however, must, in relation to the private sector's input, be informed by more than Mr Mitchell's insightful observations. And here is where we have, in recent years, found the PSOJ wanting. Too many of its statements on public policy, including the economy, at least what is discernible to the public, are insufficiently buttressed by data-driven analyses.

The PSOJ does have a large economic policy committee of skilled and accomplished members, but it is not our sense that the agency maintains a full-time research and analytical staff to support the efforts of that team and its president. If we are right, it is a shortcoming that should be remedied with urgency.