Patria-Kaye Aarons: Audley Shaw impressed me
Label me anything you please, but I maintain that I am patriotic; not at all partisan. I couldn't care less which party makes up the Government as long as they get the job done.
I am one of two children of a single-parent teacher and I have first-hand felt the squeeze of every public-sector wage freeze my mother suffered through. I am a business owner who wept with anger at the thought of paying a minimum business tax before I ever made my first candy. I am a 32-year-old woman who still can't get a business loan from a single government agency because they haven't been provided with any funds to lend. I feel the 34 per cent devaluation of the dollar because some of the inputs for my candy I must import. And having listened to the finance minister's presentation last week, I was not hopeful that things would, or could, get better.
However, yesterday in Parliament, Audley Shaw spoke to my bleeding heart.
A significant portion of Mr Shaw's presentation was devoted to Jamaica Labour Party shoulder patting, and I saw it for what it was. He is dramatic and spared no theatrics, tears included, painting a picture of doom and gloom in Jamaica. The melodrama almost lost me at the start because he was speaking truths that I didn't need to be reminded of in a very anecdotal manner. But then the anecdotes became numbers. Scary numbers.
If I am to take Mr Shaw's statistics as truth, 20 per cent of Jamaicans are living below the poverty line, basic food items have increased in cost by 40 per cent, and near one in every five Jamaican women are unemployed. GDP is down, remittances are down, exports have declined, the dollar has devalued, and less housing is to be provided.
These are realities you can't ignore. Mr Shaw, for me, put forward a credible cause to question placing my faith in the People's National Party's management of the Jamaican budget.
I took issue in my Tuesday article with misplaced priorities and celebratory dances each time we pass an IMF test. I was heartened to hear the opposition minister commiserate. According to Mr Shaw, the Government was "passing the International Monetary Fund test and failing the people's test". I agree.
I appreciated more than anything else the last segment of Mr Shaw's presentation, the section he called 'Growth and jobs our only salvation'. Credit to the sitting government, the two finance men on both sides of the divide are singing from the same hymn sheet. They both recognise the importance of sustainable growth through commerce, but for me, one painted a clearer picture of how to actually make it happen.
As an entrepreneur, I listened keenly to both presentations, looking for the growth-engine stimulator small businesses would need. Whereas I didn't hear the issues addressed materially by the finance minister, I applauded from my living room at Mr Shaw's mention of reforms needed for the Self-Starter Fund, the administration of Development Bank of Jamaica finances, the regulation of commercial bank spreads.
I celebrated for my interns who are about to leave university unemployed, who could find hope, income and experience in Mr Shaw's proposal for a structured and regulated work-abroad programme in areas other than farming and hospitality.
Only last month, Jampro opened the doors for me to export my product to the United Kingdom. I see the potential of their bridge-building capabilities. I applauded the suggested move to increase their budget because I see first-hand the implications that can immediately have for export, productivity, job creation, and foreign exchange generation.
The finance minister is arguably the most powerful man in Jamaica. It's a heavy burden to bear, and, undoubtedly, the most difficult ministerial job. Every ministry depends on his allocation to finance its annual activities. He can determine the stimulus for social services, job creation, economic growth, wealth creation, and the list goes on. He is charged to earn more than he spends. It's a difficult and powerful job.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and we can't afford to make the wrong decisions. Not now. Effective money management is crucial to the country's success. With a response from the finance minister pending, I will withhold my judgment. But as at today, I will only say that Audley Shaw impressed me.