Robert Buddan, Contributor
THE PNP has been on the road saying there is another way, a better way to go about managing the country's problems. There is a shocking revelation why they are right. The Government has admitted, and the IMF too, that it did not think sufficiently about the consequences of the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) for pension funds and pensioners. Yet, they rushed to declare the programme a success.
The party's spokesperson on the public service, Natalie Neita-Headley, revealed that most of the $150 billion in pension funds invested in Government securities comes from the National Insurance Fund (NIF). The government and IMF forgot about 90,000 pensioners and the losses they'll take on these funds. This comes on top of the losses the NIF has been taking on the stock market since 2008.
The minister of finance was not even negotiating with the IMF. He failed the pensioners though he is also minister of the public service. The IMF can't be asked to take responsibility. That's the problem. It is not accountable, though it is far from being infallible. It is sloppy. We have been sloppy, too, or worse, bungling.
There is another way. If we have to deal with the IMF, we must make the process more consultative. Had pensioners known about the JDX, they would have asked questions about their funds. The JDX planners would have had to consider protecting these vulnerable people. This is what democracy is about. Feedback allows correction before negligence hurts large numbers of people.
Only the banks were consulted and they protected themselves. But they too failed to ask about their customers' exposure. Their shareholders, including pensioners, must storm their next shareholder's meetings and make sure to hold boards accountable. Public governance and corporate governance have failed the people. But, worse, there is now IMF governance on top of that.
GOVERNANCE FOR PRODUCTION
The JDX is not the answer. It merely postpones the problem. Neita-Headley, a young parliamentarian, has taken up the fight for public servants, present and past. It has taken another young parliamentarian, Lisa Hanna, to expose the old way of macroeconomic management, the IMF's way, which the Government has embraced, saying there is no other way.
Hanna has listed the elements of another way in a parliamentary address as - a national strategic production plan that identifies foreign-exchange industries to drive the economy; a united commitment to provide education and training to eradicate illiteracy and create a more productive work force; low energy costs and energy incentives for industries that are targeted for national economic growth; a low crime rate; push for technologically driven industries; access to appropriate financing to drive demand in the marketplace; and good governance.
Let me invert this order and start with governance. We need a governance structure for production and development. We have been here before. In January 1977, Michael Manley's government launched an Economic Reconstruction Programme in the face of the then world economic crisis. What did it do? It set up a Ministry of National Mobilisation (MNM) to make sure people participated in economic planning. Out of this an Emergency Production Plan was launched in 1978. This benefited from mass consultations, technical scrutiny by planners, sectoral presentations to cabinet, and further in-depth sectoral studies. It was presented as the People's Production Plan.
At the start of 1978, the PNP also looked at how government structures could more effectively implement plans for production and development. The previous Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs was replaced by a Ministry of Parliamentary and Regional Affairs to monitor government's implementation at central and regional levels. The new ministry was to identify bottlenecks, track missed targets, monitor failures of production and report to cabinet so that it could remedy implementation problems.
Regional Production Commissions were set up in every parish capital under the MNM to report on all factors affecting production. They were to mobilise the production of food and other basic necessities like clothing and housing through production brigades. It is worth repeating Manley's belief: "There is no plan that can be devised by any economist in Jamaica that has the faintest chance of success if the broad masses of the Jamaican people do not believe that they are involved in processes of change". The IMF, banking elite and cabinet should take heed.
Manley charged his generation, saying, "I challenge all those in this House who call themselves political leaders to begin to mobilise their constituencies so that each person sees the working provisions in the Budget as an opportunity for patriotic contribution to the progress of the community and the nation."
What mobilisation did he mean? He meant self-reliant production practiced in spirit on Labour Day and through 'morning sport'. Community Enterprise Organisations, land programmes and the Land Utilisation Act, the Literacy Programme, Worker Participation and its production councils were developed or modified for emergency production. It was in this spirit that the National Housing Trust innovated the 'build on your own land' and 'home improvement' programmes. The Social Development Commission was reorganised with a Special Production Development Unit to promote the craft industry in which thousands were employed.
Thousands of planting materials were distributed to farmers on many acres of land under Project Land Lease. Pioneer farms were started for young people and 24,000 acres of idle land was identified in 12 parishes for immediate development. The 4-H clubs began training young people for the Community Enterprise Organisations and pioneer farms. Thousands of farmers benefited under the Crop Loan Programme. The Jamaica Development Bank helped the Self-Supporting Farmers Development Scheme. This period saw the modern beginnings of the rice industry and we were told to grow what we eat and eat what we grow. These are the areas our economic stimulus money should have gone to last year.
The experiment was short-lived for political reasons. Political violence, elections and the IMF way interceded. Still, those three years, 1977 to 1980, were the most self-conscious years devoted to developing a government structure for production ever attempted in Jamaica. It remains one of the greatest ironies that Manley's government was the government most viciously opposed by the private sector, the self-styled productive sector. It makes you wonder if the private sector knows its true interest.
We can actually do more and better this time around. We have better information and communications systems, improved road and transportation, costly but more widely available utilities, a larger management class with better trained and educated state technocrats, young parliamentarians insisting on production not fighting against it, a wider network of sympathetic trading partners, better land, sea and airports, an airline that needs work badly, a large diaspora market and source of investments, and the hard earned experience of the past to learn from.
Swapping debt around between borrowers and investors is not the ultimate answer. Natalie Neita-Headley wants to preserve the technical competence of the state for a productive society. Lisa Hanna wants a governance system that drives production. Andrew Holness must preserve our investments in education and Christopher Tufton is trying some of the 1970s experiments in agriculture. The Planning Institute of Jamaica says the economy continues to decline, so more of our younger parliamentarians must find another and better way where their senior colleagues have lost theirs.
Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Email: Robert.Buddan@uwimona.edu.jm