Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Mark Ricketts | It must be done, it can be done

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Mark Ricketts
FILE "The prime minister's first two appointments on the Economic Growth Council merit rave reviews," Mark Ricketts writes.
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Progress is the attraction that moves humanity.

- Marcus Garvey

The Jamaican economy has to be turbocharged, not next week, not next month, and certainly not five years' time when it is forecast by the chairman of the Economic Growth Council, Michael Lee-Chin, to grow by 5%. It has to be now.

It won't be easy as transformation produces disruption, but it must be done, and, it can be done, BREXIT's negative outcome notwithstanding.

Today I start a series of weekly columns in The Sunday Gleaner that I hope will stir meaningful debate among readers as to what can be done, as against hearing every conceivable reason why it can't happen. These articles will offer specific proposals and make recommendations as to what is necessary to transform our economy.

A lot of what I propose is bold, unorthodox, outrageous, but as the French Nobel Prize winner in literature AndrÈ Gide says, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore".

Our country is beautiful and has such enormous potential. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said it best, "Jamaica is a country whose culture has captivated the globe. It is a country of enchanting beauty, with a freshness and grace that stir the soul. Its people are blessed with a gift of inspiration. It is so rare to find such talent packed into such a small space."

In spite of such commendations, we must lose sight of the shore and immediately discover new oceans. Why?

• Indiscipline has morphed into lawlessness.

• With lawlessness, we have lost our sense of what is right, what is fair, and what is just.

- Hustling and beating the system have for some time been the new normal.

• The begging - "I have my youth (yute) to feed," the scuffling, the idleness, the drift, is just too much and too pervasive.

• Entitlement, rights, and privilege have eclipsed people's sense of responsibility, order, civility, and accountability.

• Murders now have become so abhorrent and brutal that to cope and grieve, we are becoming increasingly anaesthetised to all that's happening.

With the economy stagnating for years, the number of employed cannot take care of the large numbers of able-bodied men and women out of work. Abraham Lincoln noted decades ago, and it is so true today, "No country can sustain in idleness more than a small percentage of its numbers."

These negatives tell us time is not on our side and, more important, what it tells us is that with our country's high indebtedness and IMF strictures, we must do something novel, something bold, something different, to find billions of dollars to transform our economy.

 

Consumer confidence

 

But, there are other reasons for the urgency. There are some good things that are happening, that are percolating in business and in the society that have led to increases in business and consumer confidence. We don't want to lose that momentum.

More telling is the fact that we have a vibrant democracy, a democracy that just a few months ago allowed one party leading the government to engineer levels of fiscal stability, allowing us to pass a series of successive quarterly IMF tests. Now, another party has taken the reins of government without confrontation and without breaking stride.

As a country, we take our democracy for granted. We have had growing pains knowing how to engage debate and minimise conflict, but our continued commitment to democracy and democratic ideals has probably saved us from civil war and the brutal excesses of absolute power.

It is instructive that the People's National Party-led government of Portia Simpson Miller, along with Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, committed itself to prudent and effective economic management, so much so that the finance minister earned the moniker Dr No. That was a massive first step. It was huge. It was significant and resulted in us finally coming to terms with reducing our gargantuan debt.

Shortly after his election, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a stroke of genius, appointed Michael Lee-Chin as chairman of EGC and Dr Nigel Clarke, investment ambassador, as chairman of the Planning Committee. That was a massive second step.

I am so glad the prime minister got moving so quickly on this election promise, and his first two appointments merit rave reviews. For the rest of us, we have to find a way to offer ideas because human lives matter and growth and development are critical if our country is to have the resources to deal with its pressing problems.

A central focus of my strategy for economic development is the role of cities in this regard. Cities emerge as hubs of economic activity and countries are about their major cities. Most countries with significant appeal and alluring brand image have clean, safe, thriving, livable cities. Weaknesses with Jamaica's capital city, Kingston, with its prime downtown location, are issues of safety and security, livability and innovation, viability and momentum.

Yes, some things are happening: GraceKennedy has broken ground for its new office building; Pan-Jam, in talks with Marriott, the world's largest hotelier, is looking at a new direction for the old Olympia hotel; the refurbished Supreme Court on King Street retains a certain old-world charm, and Digicel's corporate head office, overlooking the ocean, was trying to be a trendsetter after years of quiet as far as construction goes on the waterfront.

On the port side, there is excitement by German Ship Repair Jamaica Ltd about its dry-dock facilities and its mobile ship-repair capabilities and outreach. Kingston Wharves is ecstatic about its soon-to-be-completed multipurpose terminal; and Kingston Freeport Terminal is spending US$600 million in dredging the shipping channel and port basin, renovating and refurbishing the terminal and improving the quay wall.

 

Youth unemployment

 

Encouraging signs, yes, but we need much more than that to impact meaningfully on our high youth unemployment, to change significantly the face of Kingston, and to rebrand Jamaica.

Jamaica is the jewel of the Caribbean, and Kingston is Jamaica's port city on one of the seventh largest harbours in the world, a harbour that has the best location in the region in relation to the Panama Canal.

With all this going for us, it is about time we have a pre-planned, integrated, inspiring, imposing development that places sufficient attention on consumption amenities (a plethora of hospitality and cultural offerings); massive housing and office-space development; logistics and supply-chain optimisation; and, most important, safety and security (that means no murders, no crime, no fear - day or night, weekdays or weekends).

How to get it all done are the issues my weekly column will be dealing with.

Our country, with its assets, with its talents, and even with all its problems, is waiting to happen. In the words of President Obama, yes, we can.

- Mark Ricketts, author and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper; and publisher of Money Index, a weekly business magazine. Mark Ricketts is an economist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and indexmoney48@hotmail.com.