Growth Council 'deficient in a number of ways'
The much discussed Economic Growth Council (EGC), appointed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and chaired by banking mogul Michael Lee-Chin, has been described as one of the less commendable achievements of the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) first 100 days in office.
This characterisation has been attributed to what are believed to be deficiencies in the composition of the council, deficiencies that were highlighted at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum convened to assess the Holness administration's honeymoon period.
"That council is deficient in a number of different ways ... a growth council has to have a number of different players outside of the ones that we have seen thus far," entrepreneur Yaneek Page said in giving her assessment of the EGC.
According to Page, the fact that the council is led and dominated by individuals involved in the financial services sector is problematic.
Banks have not done enough
Pointing to Inter-American Development Bank research and Bank of Jamaica data which indicate that Jamaican banks have not done enough to facilitate the growth of small- and medium-size businesses through access to credit, Page posited that "the banks take a majority of the country's savings and they put it in consumption-type loans ...".
She added: "We are seeing that more than 70 per cent of loans are given for consumption purposes, and when you take out that 30 per cent that is actually given to businesses for productive services, 70 per cent of those loans are given to large entities."
The neglect of small business and social enterprises by the financial sector has long been a platform of advocacy for Agency for Inner-city Renewal (AIR) founder Dr Henley Morgan, and he wasted no time adding his voice to the matter as it became a point of heated discussion during the forum.
"By the global entrepreneurial monitor, Jamaicans rank among the most entrepreneurial people in the world ... and what would be so hard to introduce things like social stock exchanges to provide venture capital funding, and other things like that, to energise the base," he said as he agreed with Page.
Morgan proposed that the integration of inner-city and disadvantaged communities into the formal economy was the best way to achieve economic growth and a suitable alternative to the growth council.
"I see ambassadors being appointed, but ambassadors by their very nature run away from the problems, and the solution is not in India, Pakistan or China. It's in Trench Town and these communities," he said.
Gary Peart of Mayberry Investments and Mona School of Business and Management Executive Director Professor Densil Williams voiced strong disagreement with Page and Morgan.
According to Peart, Jamaica needs all the help it can get, and the willingness of Lee Chin and the other members of the council to serve should be welcomed.
While noting that foreign direct investments (FDIs) are not a magic bullet for economic growth, Williams argued that the work of the council in driving an increase in more productive investments will be important as this will ensure that macroeconomic stability is maintained. For him, the work of the council and the establishment of social enterprises in communities, as championed by Morgan, are not at odds and should operate in tandem.
Insurance Executive Donovan Mayne anchored the views of Henley and Page by noting: "We tried this in the 1980s under (Edward) Seaga ... we tried it with (Michael) Manley with the Council of Wise Men and now we come back to a situation where, for me, we have the chairman of a growth council and the biggest impediment to growth in our country are the banks, and he is the head of the biggest bank in this country."