Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Don’t destroy our future

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2016 | 2:00 AM
What will Jamaica will look like in 10, 15 or 20 years when these young people matriculate into positions of leadership?
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Sustainable development is a concept that has been getting a lot of attention over the past few decades, and while a full definition is still developing, there is a general understanding of what this entails.

Though loosely defined, sustainable development is when the needs of the present are met "without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Naturally, people equate this with climate change. However, we tend to leave economic and social development as a byline.

More and more, the very mention of the concept of Vision 2030 is being met with increasing scepticism. What was once an ambitious development plan for Jamaica now seems inconceivable.

Growing up, we heard stories of Jamaica's once powerful economy. However, what has the latest generation been privy to?

The sale of the major industries, a sliding dollar, a dreadful debt managed by harsh, almost inconsiderate International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities, and an economy that seems to be solely reliant on tourism and agriculture.

While the world moves ahead into the 21st century of technology and manufacturing, Jamaica putters behind, serving the Global North with the scratchings we find in the dirt, shifting for bauxite or cash crops, or else literally serving them, waiting hand and foot on tourists who get to experience more of the beauty of this island than we do.

While there have been commendable achievements, are we doing enough to make Jamaica a place where our young people want to work, live and do business? What will Jamaica look like in the next 10 years?

Vision 2030 does not adequately provide for the rise in oil prices that will, inevitably, choke productivity and mobility as the world's fossil fuel sources drip their final drops. There is not enough thought given to the social issues, increased droughts, dying fishing industries, increased food insecurity, and harsher hurricanes which will come because of climate change. Sustainability is not just about the environment because people live in it.

Economic overview

The World Bank's overview of Jamaica shows that over the past four decades Jamaica has experienced little or no signs of growth, crippled by an exorbitant debt-to-GDP ratio.

Despite the fact that we missed the initial growth projections, the 2016 Global Economic Prospect still shows some gain, with the economy growing by 0.5 per cent in 2013, and 1.3 per cent in 2015. The report also projects a GDP growth of 2.1 per cent for the year 2016. Hopefully, we can meet that.

In 2010, the IMF rated Jamaica the seventh slowest growing economy in the world with public debt predicted to increase by $125 billion dollars by the end of 2015-2016 fiscal year. The Guardian, in 2013, reported that Jamaica "spends twice as much on debt repayments as it does on education and health combined, and looks set to miss several Millennium Development Goals".

According to economists, the country would need strict fiscal discipline to fix this. However, as young people who did nothing to incur this debt, we will be made to suffer these "strict conditions" to help bring things back under control as we join the working world.

It is certainly unsustainable to keep selling off finite resources at fixed prices for other nations to exploit for infinite profit. Especially when money flows out of our economy to buy from foreign-owned companies operating on our soil.

As the island continues to sell itself, there could soon be nothing left but a hollowed-out shell in which only debt remains, and there's nothing sustainable about that.

Technology

The agricultural sector provides up to 6.6 per cent of Jamaica's GDP. Agriculture is so significant that Jamaica's poor performance in the 2014-2015 fiscal period was part due to the persistent drought that affected that sector, according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

In an article titled 'Slow but steady growth,' Dr Andre Haughton explained that, "Drought conditions have been severely affecting economic activity and economic output over the last three years and nothing significant is being done to address the issue."

Studying Jamaica's history shows that our economy has been playing this game of sink or swim on the back of the agricultural sector since its birth. It's the same island, same soil. To think that a largely agricultural economy in Jamaica will ever be anything more than a gamble is the definition of unsustainable.

The Networked Readiness Index (NRI) outlines a country's ability to make use of information and communications technology (ICT).

The Global Information Technology NRI report of 2015 shows that the top 31 nations listed are countries with the most advanced economies. Jamaica is currently ranked 82nd out of 143. In this age of drones and androids and teenage geniuses, Jamaica is not making use of the wonders of technology even though it is exactly what we need right now.

Sustainability now

We must ask what Jamaica will look like in 10, 15 or 20 years when young people matriculate into positions of leadership. What resources will be available for us to inherit and to build on? Have mechanisms been put in place to ensure that future generations have majority shares in Jamaica?

Many young people have given up on the revitalisation of the country, and many political leaders and policymakers do little to quell this discontent. But, worse, they do not adequately prepare for future discontents that are charging towards us on an unprecedented scale.

The life of a politician is in slightly myopic cycles. Small, quantifiable achievements in the short term make for an electable candidate. Long-term goals that take time to show results ... well.

Who's going to vote for that?