Mon | May 1, 2017

In defence of the JMA

Published:Sunday | October 5, 2014 | 10:00 AM
Brian Pengelley, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association. - File
University of the West Indies Professor Damien King. - File
1
2

AlfredĀ  Sangster, Guest Columnist

There have been a number of recent attacks on the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) that call for comment.

The first was the broadside by Dr Damien King, head of the Department of Economics of the University of the West Indies, who accused the JMA of pushing a Trojan horse on the Jamaican people. The legend of the Trojan horse, as recorded in Homer's 'Iliad', goes back to the days of the war between Troy and Greece. The Greek fleet eventually sailed away leaving a huge wooden horse behind. The citizens of Troy, thinking the war was over, moved it into the city, but inside the horse was a band of Greek warriors. At night, a traitor opened the horse for the Greek soldiers, who captured the city and so a war was won by stealth and deceit, giving rise to the ancient proverb, 'Cave Graecos dona Fereates' (Beware of the Greeks bearing gifts).

Dr King is accusing the JMA of deceitful behaviour - an unworthy comment by a senior academic. Added to that, he can also be accused of hypocrisy. As JMA President Brian Pengelley noted in his reply, Dr King is a board member and shareholder of one of Jamaica's major manufacturers.

Dr King was joined in a later article by fellow academic, Dr Peter-John Gordon, who wondered if employment generation was a key objective of any company's operations, as distinct from profitability. The latter is the feature that enables a business to pay taxes, employ people, and contribute to GDP as the JMA has demonstrated.

The Gleaner, in an editorial, also joined the attack on the JMA. Not to be outdone, our erudite minister of industry, investment and commerce, Anthony Hylton, speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum, noted: "Manufacturing, as we know it, which is simply to manufacture for local production, has no future," though he did suggest that a link with the planned logistics hub would be an important direction.

What can we say of achievements of the JMA in response to the minister?

1. The following statistics and contributions of the manufacturing sector to the Jamaican economy are of interest, as pointed out by Brian Pengelley.

Direct revenue contribution to the Jamaican economy: J$30 billion.

Foreign exchange earnings: US$700 million.

Direct employment, 71,000 Jamaicans, and, by extension, their families.

GDP contribution: 8.4%. Compare: Agriculture, 6.6%, and tourism, 5.4%.

2. The problem of foreign-exchange availability and the Bank of Jamaica's bureaucracy was circumvented by the innovative partnership of the JMA and the Jamaica National Building Society, which obviously recognised a good investment prospect.

3. The JMA is obviously led by a bunch of doers rather than some of the other talkers in society. I wish to record helpful correspondence with Mr Pengelley. Clearly, the JMA has to break new ground and expand its capacity. But it is a productive and contributing organisation and needs to be encouraged and supported.

Some suggestions

  • Expand the membership, break new ground, expand capacity and become increasingly innovative. Include many non-traditional organisations and 'makers of products', e.g., music, sports, petroleum and agricultural manufactures. A key company for potential in this latter area is the flavours project in Bull Savannah.
  • Improve local product manufacturing to compete with the Caribbean and the USA.
  • Reduce energy costs with the initial incremental introduction of daytime solar technology. Explore partnerships with innovative financial supporting institutions.
  • Explore import-substitution products that can be manufactured here. Challenge other manufacturers in this approach.
  • Explore export market opportunities and partner with foreign companies in parts manufacture and partnerships.
  • Suggest a Jamaican partnership with China Harbour Engineering Company in the development of the Kingston Harbour port and other possible associated hub partnerships with Chinese projects.
  • Continue your 'other-sector' outreach initiatives and partnerships and go for a private sector-driven growth agenda with those who have that vision.

Alfred Sangster is president emeritus of the University of Technology. Email feedback to columns@gleanerj.com and sangsteralfred@yahoo.com.