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EDITORIAL - Jamaica Employ needs explaining

Published:Friday | January 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

This newspaper, as would have many thousands of Jamaicans, has noted Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's challenge to private firms to hire at least one additional person as part of a job-creation initiative that would help to kick-start the economy.

It is a matter to which, we presume, Mrs Simpson Miller has given some thought. For not only did she mention it twice in one day, in speeches at separate groundbreaking ceremonies on Wednesday, she even coined a name for the initiative - Jamaica Employ.

Additionally, she calculated that her suggestion, if taken up, would lead to the creation of around 40,000 jobs, which would be nearly half the amount shed by the economy during the country's long recession.

Indeed, the prime minister's call is in the context of her new Government's aim of creating partnerships with the private sector to accelerate economic recovery and achieve sustainable growth.

Commendable partnerships

"I firmly believe that we can overcome the economic challenges we face if Government and private sector work constructively together," said Mrs Simpson Miller at a ceremony for the symbolic start of a J$1-billion construction of an automobile showroom and related facilities by Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's ATL Group.

These remarks echoed those made earlier at the start of construction of a J$2.1-billion factory by Lascelles Chin's LASCO Manufacturing.

This newspaper, as we often make clear in these columns, supports the kinds of partnerships espoused by Mrs Simpson Miller. We understand, too, that job creation is part of a virtuous circle that embraces economic growth and development.

It is for this reason, and given the importance Mrs Simpson Miller and her administration place on job-creation programmes, that we are surprised at the meagreness of the policy outlines she offered in her speeches on Wednesday.

The prime minister knows, and appreciates, that asking firms to act purely out of altruism is not enough. Many, in the current environment of low aggregate demand, merely limp along.

The prime minister will, no doubt, point to the statement that if firms increase their employment, "the Government commits to reward efforts when you do business with us".

More specifics needed

That, though, is nebulous. It cries out for further and better particulars, including how whatever Mrs Simpson Miller has in mind falls within broader macropolicies. It also has to take into account the just-started negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility to replace the previous government's derailed standby agreement.

The latter point is particularly important, for it appears from this distance that Mrs Simpson Miller's latest call for private-sector job creation is more than tangentially related to her party's Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), which was a centrepiece of its campaign for last month's general election.

One element of JEEP is, or was to have been, tax credits/incentives to firms for new hires, which, on the face of it, would not be market distorting: there would be no discrimination in its application. However, this part of JEEP, like Jamaica Employ, is still to be fleshed out. And we suppose, too, that whatever is on offer has to pass muster with the IMF.

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