Jamaica's cry for leadership, development and productivity

Published: Sunday | May 24, 2009

Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds, Contributor

Minister of Agriculture Dr Christopher Tufton (right) is assisted by Locksley Waite in planting a dwarf June plum tree on the grounds of the Ministry of Agriculture at the launch of the Residential Fruit Tree crop project at the Ministry of Agriculture at Hope Gardens recently. Looking on from behind the minister is MP Dr St Aubyn Bartlett, and partly hidden is Al Powell, the CEO of RADA. - File

In an article 'Is there aconspiracy against Jamaica?' published in 2008, first in the Sunday Herald in Jamaica, and an extended version in the New York Amsterdam News, I questioned the commitment of Jamaica's leadership to the social and economic betterment of Jamaica.

This was not the first time I was questioning leadership in Jamaica. In several of my writings over the past two decades, most appearing in The Sunday Gleaner, I have questioned the country's leadership's commitment towards development. And going further to postulate possible conspiracy to arrest Jamaica's socio-economic development.

Political scientist

My old friend, Dr Basil Wilson, political scientist and former provost of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, does not believe that former imperialist and colonial powers, namely, Great Britain and the United States, have any reason now to stymie, with the help of Jamaica's political leadership and ruling class, Jamaica's development. But many others do.

Jamaica's experience is similar to many so-called developing Third World nations, particularly African nations. And my further reason for this contemplation is that, despite Jamaica's enormous potential to propel itself out of its socio-economic quandary, the same problems have been repeatedly identified and remedies offered by so many having Jamaica's best interest, and yet the leadership continues not even to attempt to apply the proffered solutions, although the leadership comprises people I believe are capable, and do acknowledge and speak to the problems.

Take, as examples, the lack of increased production and productivity towards wealth building and stemming rampant crime and other social maladies; the call for prioritising agriculture and agro-processing as cornerstones in the country's development; and the importance of access to affordable capital for the farming and productive sectors in Jamaica.

For the past seven years I have been offering to the Jamaica government, both ruling parties, suggestions that address these fundamentals for nation building. And the government refused to act on them, but instead talk around the proposed initiative and attempts to introduce bits and pieces of it.

A most recent evidence to this is Prime Minister Golding's announcement of the government seeking partners to establish a new lending institution to address the access to capital for small and medium-sized companies. Unbelievable.

In several articles: 'Can Jamaica realise its true potential?' 'The role of the state in development,' 'Access to finance capital - the missing element to Jamaica's development', 'For a better Jamaica,' 'The develop Jamaicainitiative for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller,' 'Towards increased production and productivity,' 'Jamaica at a crossroads,' along with several private letters to the political and economic decision makers of Jamaica, I have attempted to highlight the problems of Jamaica's socio-economic development, with access to affordable capital as the root cause stymieing development in the country. I have been particularly critical of the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), and the Export Import Bank of Jamaica (Ex-IM), not solely from intellectual observation, but mostly from actual interfacing with them as an entrepreneur operating business in Jamaica.

The country doesn't need setting up a new entity for lending for development. They already exist. The PC banks should be unshackled from the DBJ and given the autonomy and human resources required to serve the small and medium productive sectors. The credit unions should also be given the required resources to address lending to these productive sectors.

What must be done is for the political leadership to force the change of the mindset of the directors and managers of the already existing institutions to accommodate and facilitate small and medium-sized enterprises, and replace those who are incapable of adapting to the necessary change. Less emphasis on bureaucratic form and more on the substance to be gained from increased production and productivity.

Lacking zealous leadership

What is lacking is passionate, firm and zealous leadership, and as I outlined in my proposal, with a national call for production: Increase production and productivity or die poor. Jamaica needs a production and development czar with the vision and drive of the likes of Robert Lightbourne, Wills O. Isaacs, Carlton Alexander, Mable Tenn, Gloria Knight, and Ray Hadeed.

My proposal calls for the Jamaican government accessing, through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other multilateral and private financing sources, US$200 million to be made available at low interest rate loans and grants exclusively for developmental projects geared to increase export, reduce imports, and build wealth that would be applied to social programmes; better education, increase employment, good health care, developing more economical and efficient energy sources, sustaining good ecological practices. Emphasis should also be placed on the development of entertainment and sports as economic growth engines.

The proposal speaks to the important role of the Jamaican diaspora in nation building. Especially now with unemployment at a high in the United States, hundreds of skilled professionals are available to provide their services in marketing, management, and technology to Jamaica. The project would be private-public sector driven, under the management of a special team, guided by policies from representatives of all the relevant stake- holders, and with final oversight in the Jamaica parliament.

Us stimulus package

The US government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama and his stimulus package, has moved in the direction I have suggested to the Jamaica government for the past seven years. I had hoped that when Prime Minister Golding attended the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, it would have been with a stimulus package that would have warranted the US government and the European Union to stand and take note that Jamaica and the Caribbean are about development.

The inability of the leadership to take advantage of the country's potential continues to amaze me. As I have written, the country has not realised more than 15 per cent of its potential from agriculture and agro-industry. Case in point: Several years ago I wrote at least two articles published in The Gleaner on the revenue the country could be earning from export of mangoes to the US and European markets, but for the Mediterranean fruit fly disease which prevented the fruit from entering these markets. The answer to this was to apply 'the hot water treatment'. Mexico and Brazil had done so, and at the time Haiti was doing so.

I interviewed the then agriculture minister, Desmond Leaky, and was told that the treatment was being considered. It must be at least 15 years, and ask where is that hot water treatment, and what is the country's earning from exporting mangoes to the US? Multiply this by the value added from processing mangoes in all its forms for these markets. Haiti continues to be the leading mango-exporting country in the Caribbean, earning over US$10 million per annum.

The Rastafari movement has for at least 60 years, and the Maroons for at least four centuries, and the Seventh-day Adventists have established Jamaica as a 'natural living' place, with its emphasis on eating 'natural' foods, using herbal remedies, little or no use of salt, eating lots of vegetable. Jamaica has thousands of acres of idle land, and very high unemployment. One would have hoped that the country's leadership would have sought assistance in joining the Rastas, the Maroons with their lands, young, unemployed Jamaicans with the idle land to plant natural and organic foods for export to the growing markets for these foods in Europe and the US.

The natural foods and organic markets in the US alone generate over $40 billion dollars per annum. I will again cite listening to the Today show on NBC-TV, the most-watched morning programme in the US, and seeing Produce Pete, who I have met with at his place in the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, extol Jamaican oranges and ugli fruit as the sweetest he has tasted, but could not get near the quantities required. That was about eight years ago. I brought this to the attention of the Jamaica government, hoping that plans would have been implemented to promote the production and marketing of Jamaica's citrus to the US market. Ask how much the country earns today from these exports.

Technical relations

If the Government and ruling class in Jamaica were serious about the development of Jamaica, then it would be expected that closer trade and technical relations would be pursued with India, where affordable modern equipment and technology are available to advance Jamaica's productive sectors; with Malaysia, Brazil, Thailand that have advanced agricultural and agro-processing technology that would assist Jamaica in producing canned rose apple, tamarind, jackfruit, soursop, for American and European markets.

It is cruel, unjust and counterproductive for Jamaican financial institutions to boast of billions of dollars of profit each year, some of it expatriated, while entrepreneurs are unable to attract financing for production and thousands of unemployed youths sit on street corners, many contemplating their next nefarious move to feed their children and babymothers, and too many of the thousands of unemployed girls live by selling sexual services. Wake up, Jamaica!

Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds is an entrepreneur, writer and filmmaker operating in the United States and Jamaica. Feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com