Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Holness right on growth czar

Published:Sunday | July 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMAubyn Hill, Contributor
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has rubbished the idea of a growth czar, saying instead that her entire Cabinet should be growth centred.
Andrew Holness has proposed a growth czar as a driver for the economy.
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Andrew Holness has put forward the idea that the time has come for a specifically named, capable and accountable champion of economic growth in the Cabinet.

This new minister will work closely with the prime minister to marshal all the factors available within the Government to facilitate robust private-sector growth.

Like a vast number of Jamaicans, the JLP leader has noticed and is concerned that for over three and a half years under the current Simpson Miller administration, there has been negative growth, or a statistical-error-like figure that the Government trumpets as 'growth'.

The JLP leader is keenly aware of Einstein's Law of Insanity, which holds that to expect a different result from doing the same thing over and over is madness. Since Independence, no PNP government has focused energy or political capital on economic growth. In the 1960s, the JLP's Robert Lightbourne, who was not only a visionary politician but an experienced and successful businessman, pursued a national industrial plan and import substitution strategy. This was a decade of sustained and significant growth under the JLP.

In the 1970s, the term 'economic growth' was not in the PNP's socialist manifesto and was never even a minor concern to the administration of that decade. Claude Clarke should know well, as a former PNP minister of industry, that D.K. Duncan's Ministry of Mobilisation had nothing to do with executing growth policy. Mobilisation is a socialist concept aimed at organising the society for political indoctrination and control, and the distribution of wealth. It had nothing to do with economic management or growth in a free-market system.

Holness' suggestion of the need for a growth czar is primarily the result of an analysis of the deficiency of PNP leadership in the area of economic growth. The idea of a named Cabinet minister with the clear responsibility and broad reach in a smaller Cabinet, and who is recognised as accountable, bothers some.

Up to about 20 years ago in the banking industry and for many centuries before that, there was no perceived need for a compliance function and a senior executive to drive that process. Today, the compliance function touches and guides every operating aspect and corporate governance activity in banks.

In spite of our many decades of recorded no- or low-growth activity, we have never given any minister the specific responsibility - and make him or her publicly accountable - to organise the multiplicity of government activities into one cohesive force to foster fast economic growth.

No such 'growth minister' has been mandated to oversee that all government spending facilitates growth in identifiable and quantifiable ways, with the possible exception of when such spending is to ward off, or respond to, an impending natural or man-made disaster.

 

PRIME MINISTER AS A GROWTH MINISTER?

In calling the Cabinet a "headless committee", Claude Clarke unleashed a fierce and damning indictment, if only implied, on Prime Minister Simpson Miller - she is, after all, the head of the Cabinet. He went on to say, "What is more, her position suggests that she expects each minister to initiate policies and actions which promote growth, even where the credit will redound to another minister. No minister does this unless specifically requested by the prime minister."

I have read with interest commentary that would suggest that Andrew Holness would prefer to have the prime minister divorced, or being distant from, his economic growth czar. Such writers could have had only a very perfunctory reading of Mr Holness' column on the subject. He wrote: "Jamaica needs a growth czar, and it doesn't have to be the prime minister. In fact, it would be a good idea to draft in a credible figure from the private sector with the imprimatur to lead growth policy."

Commentators should not have stopped there, because the JLP leader expanded his opinion with the following: "However, nothing is more effective than the executive head of the country [the prime minister] leading the charge. As it is now, there is no credible political leadership and mobilisation towards growing Jamaica." In Claude Clarke's language, what exists now is a headless Cabinet, but Andrew Holness made it perfectly clear that he, as the prime minister, would lead the charge for economic growth.

So that no thorough reader could be confused, Holness named national leaders whom he identified as leading such a drive for economic growth in their countries. He said, "China had its Deng Xiaoping; India, Manmohan Singh; the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Rashid; Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew; Rwanda, Paul Kagame; Jamaica ... . ?" So the idea of Claude Clarke's eunuch is at variance with Andrew Holness' idea of how his prime ministerial-enabled and expanded growth minister would function.

 

PM MUST LEAD GOVERNMENT

In the 1980s, Edward Seaga made growth his mission. He is the only 'growth' minister who trebled as prime minister and finance minister to produce economic growth in excess of five per cent in the late 1980s. Many do admire former Prime Minister Seaga for those growth achievements. However, some of his admirers also contend that the combination of so many roles in one person led to an excessive micromanagement syndrome, which, it is argued, led to the people and party management downsides that were manifested in the Seaga administration.

When Prime Minister Simpson Miller was asked by reporters about Mr Holness' proposal of a growth czar, she responded: "I don't know what that means, because every ministry is supposed to be making their contribution to growth," After 31/2 years, every minister is 'supposed' to be making their contribution to growth? More of Einstein's Law of Insanity in that the same economic management approach is adopted over and over with the expectation of a different result.

Those who support the prime minister in this insanity gambit and criticise Andrew Holness' proposal out of hand remind me of the quotation from the 18th-century English poet, Alexander Pope, who penned, "Whatever is, is right." It is the antithesis of change and progress. Well, whatever we have done with the management of our economy has not been right; it has produced little or no growth.

The PNP had the privilege of leading the government for 22 of the last 26 years. It is insane to continue with that bad management practice and expect robust growth as a result. One necessary change is to move to the appointment of a capable and prime minister-supported growth czar to facilitate private sector-led growth.

- Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the opposition leader. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and writerhill@gmail.com.