Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Mark Ricketts | Jamaica’s economic independence – is it a reality?

Published:Sunday | February 23, 2020 | 12:20 AM

A major thrust of Governor General Sir Patrick Allen’s 2020-21 Throne Speech was that economic independence for Jamaica is no longer a dream. It is becoming a reality. That reality was encapsulated in the theme “Towards a Decade of Growth”, expressed in the following language by Sir Patrick: “We are committed to making this new decade one of increased growth, peace, and prosperity in our land.”

Some might argue that if we mean by the reality of economic independence that: defining and instituting Brand Jamaica as a global phenomenon; being able to earn adequate foreign exchange; having a world-class laboratory that drives innovation, inspiration, creativity, output, and excellence; sustaining such excellence over decades; and having exaltation, self-esteem, and pride of place of a nation as a manifestation of such excellence, then that reality is already in evidence in the performing arts, the fine arts, and the visual arts.

It was ennobling for the creative, entertainment, and performing arts industry, and for the country as a whole, that a few weeks before the ceremonial opening of Parliament, at which Sir Patrick delivered his Throne Speech, Toni-Ann Singh, born in St Thomas, was crowned Miss World, and Koffee, the 19 year-old music ­sensation, won a Grammy award.

In this month of February in which the GG opened Parliament with all its pomp and pageantry, the National Gallery is running an exhibition highlighting Reggae’s history, evolution, and impact, and the Institute of Jamaica is conducting its annual February Grounation Sunday series under its Jamaica Music Museum, inspired by the leadership of its indefatigable director-curator Herbie Miller.

Attendees at the institute last Sunday, where Grounation examined the Chinese contribution to Jamaica’s popular music, could have been forgiven for being elevated and enthralled and for being unambiguous in their commitment to the land of their birth.

Even a defence of the reality of their country’s economic independence made sense when the maestro on drums, Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar, transported and brought forward unblemished over 50 years of sustained creativity, innovation, and that sense of percussion and pulsating staccato rhythm on drums. It was moving to say the least, and spoke volumes of the country’s sense of self, its reality, its independence, and its tremendous possibilities. These provided relevance to the governor general’s expectations, “a decade of increased growth, peace, and prosperity in our land”.

Sly Dunbar’s on drums, when consolidated and integrated with Lloyd Parkes, bass; Robbie Lyn, keyboards; Bongo Herman, percussion; Romeo Gray, trombone; Vivian Scott trumpet; and the Mighty Diamonds vocals; Tabby and Judge Diamond happened to be excellence that inspired and defined success.

Ethno musicologist and adjunct lecturer at The UWI Dr Dennis Howard chaired a panel discussion detailing the brilliance and vision of the four Hoo Kim brothers, all Chinese, who were an integral part of the inner city and were the owners of the famed Channel One Studio and label.

Howard, in underscoring the role of the Hoo Kims, said, “Their engineering wizardry, vision, and the freedom they gave to their musicians were an incubator, a laboratory that fuelled the best in creativity and innovation among our artists.”

These achievements in the performing arts, including Third World, Ronnie Burke’s original Sunplash, Sumfest, Rebel Salute, though significant and uplifting, have not been understood and acknowledged sufficiently in the economic data influencing macroeconomic outcomes and the realities of economic independence despite Don Drummond’s genius, Marley’s sustained and undisputed dominance of the world stage, and Cliff and Sean Paul’s global ascendancy.

In his speech, Sir Patrick pointed out that the country had successfully concluded its programmes with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and it had met all structural benchmarks, all quantitative performance criteria, and all indicative targets.

In other words, Jamaica has passed all tests with flying colours, and its sense of economic independence should be now more self-assured. It has no loans with the IMF, and except for ongoing agreed technical assistance, the country does not have to go cap in hand to the Fund anymore.

The GG also outlined to Parliament and the nation that “the seeds the country planted in previous years are germinating, and our economic achievements, based on where we are coming from, have been nothing short of extraordinary and have been globally recognised”.

The important current account in the balance of payment captures elements of this progress as our current account is now a far cry from what it was before the country entered into an economic reform programme with the IMF in 2013.

To give context, it should be noted that the current account includes the country’s visible trade balance, which is horrendous in that we import far more than we export, leaving an ever-widening trade gap, which at the end of 2018, was US$3.5billion.

Besides visible trade, the current account also takes into account net incomes (inflows less outflows), including international transfers of capital, dividend payments and interests, remittances, and tourism earnings. Strong inflows here have helped the country reduce its trade deficit and what remains is the country’s current account surplus or deficit.

As seen from Table 1, which provided a quarterly figure for the country’s current account, 2012, 2013, and 2014 which were not very good years and with inadequate net international reserves in 2012, the country’s back was against the wall. That’s why calling in the IMF, as Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller did after the Jamaica Labour Party was defeated, was not an option, but a life-saving necessity.

The current account table also shows the progress the country has made over the years across both administrations and with more robust net international reserves (NIR), hopefully, this new decade, starting from now, will see the country benefitting from seeds germinating over the last six years.

This will give credence to the governor general’s hope that this decade, starting from now, will be one of increased growth, peace, and prosperity. And, I might add, safety and security for its citizens if economic independence is to be a reality.

In this way, as Bob Marley would say, “one good thing about music when it hits, you feel no pain”.

Mark Ricketts is an economist, author and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com

Current Account - 2012- Sept 2019 (US$millions)

Quarters 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

March -205.2 -281.9 -156.3 -9.3 +153.5 +28.8 -36.4 -97.8

June -306.0 -236.1 -306.6 -121.0 -15.1 +44.0 +30.7 -37.9

Sept -536.1 -340.8 -323.1 -185.1 -130.4 -287.0 -193.8 -141.8

Dec -392.9 498.2 -328.4 -114.8 -51.5 -171.4 -88.1

TOTAL -1440.2 -1347.0 -1114.4 -430.2 -43.5 -385.6 -287.6 -277.5*