Letter of the Day | Inequity comes with putting country up for sale
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The new song Country for Sale by Buju Banton has highlighted a very important and equally complicated issue. The sale or concessionary transfer of national assets to local or overseas investors is not a straightforward wrong-or-right issue. It is a far more complicated matter that many Jamaicans cannot easily understand.
I have supported many sales and concessionary transfers of public assets to investors, done by both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People’s National Party (PNP) governments over the last 10 years. I supported the divestment of the sugar industry and Air Jamaica in principle, under the Bruce Golding JLP Government. The Air Jamaica divestment I supported, even though I had a problem with the final composition of the ownership structure. The concession agreements for Kingston Container Terminal, Sangster International Airport and Puerto Seco Beach under the PNP I supported, as I did with the Norman Manley International Airport under the current JLP administration.
Local and foreign investments in the country is a good thing in the broad sense. However, the problem that the JLP is failing miserably to deal with is the economic and social inequity that is accompanying a lot of these investments. One glaring example is the rampant use of long-term employment contracts by many investors, in different sectors of the economy. How can any person and their family flourish with long-term contracts which exclude vacation, sick time, health and retirement benefits? The choice equates to working to pay the bills, or skip work without pay for a day or two to see the doctor or spend time with the family. This practice is counterproductive, unsustainable and needs to end.
The real problem to be dealt with is not the influx of investments. It is the economic and social inequity resulting from it. The country needs, and should continue to welcome, investors. However, ensuring that the benefits of this influx of investments are maximised for all Jamaicans and that none are left marginalised, should be the aim of a forward-thinking government. If this is not done in short order, it will only be a matter of time before this discontent reaches the boiling point and begins to spill into the street.