Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Letter of the Day | Economic growth is the key

Published:Thursday | November 9, 2017 | 12:07 AM


A columnist in The Observer, Doran Francis made an interesting point about Jamaica's most significant period of economic growth, 1967-1972, which he attributed to Edward Seaga, who served as minister of finance during those years. This led me to the World Bank's database where one can review various metrics on Jamaica.

I was particularly interested in our economic growth measured in gross domestic product (GDP) over the years. It is interesting to note that during the last few decades Jamaica has struggled to reach GDP levels even at the very lowest point in the late '60s, early '70s. Indeed, it is true that under Seaga's stewardship, Jamaica experienced significant economic growth and development, and much of the major infrastructure on the island began or was completed in that same era, 1967-72. Mr Seaga also ensured significant strides in human resource and cultural development to complement economic growth, especially during his stint as prime minister from 1980-89. He created numerous initiatives and institutions related to planning and development. With development comes jobs and improvement in quality of life and standard of living, regardless of one's level of income.

As a child, I recall a memorable Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) political TV advertisement where former prime minister, Hugh Shearer , named some schools, and after each, he would state emphatically, "Built by Labour!". I've often wondered why we have not seen any new high schools built in decades, despite the significant growth in population, especially in urban centres and the challenges we see every year using the stressful GSAT placement system to allocate the scarce spots available in traditional high schools.

We struggle to understand why crime has peaked at alarming levels, when we know crime is directly linked to the current state of the economy with high unemployment, extreme poverty, lack of opportunities, and so many of our citizens, especially the youth with limited education. Our health care is in crises. We cannot adequately care for the most vulnerable: the elderly, the young, and the sick. This is not to say that the People's National Party which governed for most years since independence didn't try, but it is fair to say that they achieved limited or negative growth, and much of the economic hardships experienced were under their governance.

Having reviewed the GDP growth chart for Jamaica since the late 1960s, there were two major periods of significant growth: 1967-72, 1985-92, and both periods can be attributed to Edward Seaga.

The other years, we mostly experienced negative growth, or marginal growth. Indeed, times have changed, and we are impacted by global markets, but the past provides food for thought. In the last few decades, the most significant development we have seen would be the highways, built by the Chinese.

We haven't seen much other development in terms of infrastructure, construction, and support services to stimulate growth and development. Yes, a number of new hotels have been built, but these are mostly foreign-owned and much of the tourism profits continue to leave our shores. Although I believe the Andrew Holness-led Government is on the right path, it might be prudent if our policy makers studied the past in an effort to get some ideas which, hopefully, will help to get this country back on track, economically.