Get it right, Bullock tells policymakers
Colin Bullock, director general of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), has identified the failure of successive administrations to match their spend on infrastructural development with a parallel investment in a long-term process of meaningful social transformation as the single greatest factor which continues to undermine any attempt at sustained economic growth.
He said despite the obvious advantages to empowering the people as a critical component of the economic equation, five decades after political independence, Jamaican parliamentarians have still not made the connection.
"The problems that we are grappling with in Jamaica are the same problems we grappled with in 1960 - poverty, unemployment, poor social conditions, rural/urban drift, and inequity - and so on. Over 50-odd years of independence, we haven't made a significant transformation, and JSIF (Jamaica Social Investment Fund) has been instrumental in a very practical way in terms of addressing some of the social problems that we have spoken of - urban squalor, dealing with rural poverty, institutions, and infrastructural development," he said during last week's signing of a memorandum of understanding between the JSIF and the PIOJ.
Bullock noted that while the successes achieved by the JSIF had been in its capacity as an implementing arm of the State as a major channel for developmental projects funded by international agencies, usually in partnership with the Government, its exemplary best practices were not being duplicated elsewhere on a scale to effectively improve the lives of ordinary Jamaicans.
He pointed to the irony of this mismatch: "This social transformation being implemented by JSIF is intimately related to the growth agenda as espoused by the PIOJ, and in terms of growth, there is always focus on major infrastructure - the next port and the next highway and the hotels, and so on and so forth. But over the last 50 years, we have had these major projects, but when the events and those projects end, the sustaining of growth also ends. We've never been able to sustain growth.
Bullock continued: "And to our mind, the failure to sustain growth has been related to our inability to transform the way in which our people live, and just to relate it to the growth agenda very quickly, that if we say our most abundant resource is our people, if we keep our people poor, uneducated, unhealthy and so on, then those people, your main resource, you're wasting it. Then you are not going to be able to contribute significantly to the transformation of the economy."
The PIOJ director was speaking at PIOJ's Oxford Road, New Kingston, offices on the occasion of the MOU to facilitate the storage and display of a comprehensive collection of JSIF documents and material relating to more than 1,000 community projects on which it has disbursed more than J$9.9 billion over the past 18 years. These have been converted from old formats such as VHS tapes and cassette recordings and can be retrieved in digital formats and can be accessed at the Wesley Hughes Documentation Centre, named after the former director general and which is located at the PIOJ.
In fact, Hughes used the occasion to challenge policymakers to utilise the material to inform public policy instead of wasting valuable resources on studying the old problems in the same way.
"There is a lot of research, a lot of data, that has not been brought into the mix in terms of public policy and it's not always about doing new research. Sometimes it's doing a search of what has been done already and bringing that to the fore for public policy purposes," he said.
"And to the extent that the two institutions - critical institutions with a lot of experience and expertise - would have built up a fair amount of knowledge over the years can collaborate to share this information which informs public policy is good and should be encouraged. The data that we have, a lot of data, on the public sector can be utilised for more than just show but actually living raw material for public policy."