Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
As Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller takes the podium at the public session of the People's National Party's (PNP) 74th annual conference today, sector leaders are urging her to use the platform to outline a plan to resuscitate the country's flatlining economy.
With an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme still in limbo, four of eight sector group heads canvassed by The Sunday Gleaner argued that Simpson Miller must address the state of the stagnant economy and provide specifics on her administration's rescue plans, including the tough decisions that must be taken and the resultant short-term pain.
Bruce Bowen, president of the Jamaica Bankers' Association (JBA), said the financial services industry will grow in the long run only if the wider economy expands and the financial well-being of the average Jamaican improves.
"Most will agree that over the past 20 years we have not been as successful as we could have been in either of these goals," said Bowen.
The JBA, therefore, believes that the Government must lay out a realistic medium-term economic plan that will place the country on a path to long-term sustainable growth," added Bowen.
He warned that "this will require tough decisions and some pain over the short term, but there is no other way that, as a country, we can improve the welfare of the average Jamaican in the long term".
Address the tough issues
Christopher Zacca, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, advanced that the prime minister should use today's speech to address the tough issues of national import that confront the country.
"The prime minister, who has the highest level of accountability, could give the country some direction and assurances as to how these matters are being handled and prioritised, and thereby use the opportunity to outline to the nation her overall strategy to unite the entire society in partnership in order to achieve strong economic growth with equity for all, and sustainable job creation, driven by the private sector," said Zacca.
Dr Damien King, head of the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, joined the calls for the prime minister to sing an economic growth song.
"The prime minister must tell the country how she is going to balance the Budget so the country can be put on a path to economic growth," said King.
"The fiscal deficit - the inadequacy of tax revenue to cover the Government's expenditure - is now the biggest obstacle constraining the economy. No country can prosper if its government continuously runs deficits," King reasoned.
He noted that the revenue shortfall leaves inadequate funds for upgrading infrastructure, necessitates borrowing and results in the wasting of resources on servicing the resultant debt.
Dr Meredith Derby, president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ), said her association wants to hear the prime minister give "a comprehensive plan to transform the nation into an economic machinery".
According to Derby, the prime minister must outline a plan for the restructuring of the economy over the long term.
The SBAJ president said she also wants Simpson Miller to unveil the performance appraisal apparatus she uses to determine the productivity of each member of the Cabinet.
"The SBAJ totally agrees with the prime minister when she said that she has placed ministers to manage their different portfolio responsibilities and the SBAJ expects that the prime minister will present the performance mechanism that she is using to measure the output of the different ministries."
Professor Rosalea Hamilton, president of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Alliance, argued that improved governance arrangements are particularly essential for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that are negatively affected by corruption and partisan decisions.
"MSMEs want to hear about people-empowerment mechanisms that will give them a voice in decision-making and draw on their knowledge and commitment to development and nation-building," said Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Reverend Dr Lenworth Anglin, chairman of the Umbrella Groups of Churches, wants to hear the prime minister talk about the status of the national partnership for transformation because of its impact on values and attitudes.
Anglin also said that the partnership for transformation was apolitical in its origin, endorsed by previous governments and designed to systematically address national issues.
At the same time, Wayne Chen, president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation, said his organisation is very concerned about the low levels of productivity and the high rate of unemployment, especially among young people.
He suggested that an apprenticeship programme be implemented to stimulate employment and improve the pool of skilled workers.
"Enterprises could have the wages of trainees subsidised in the form of a tax credit or a grant from the HEART/Trust NTA. The longer-term issue of making the educational system more aligned with the projected demands of the jobs market should also be addressed," stated Chen.
Clayton Hall, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), said when the prime minister stands at the lectern today to address the party faithful and nation at large, he would like to hear a ringing endorsement of the education programme being implemented by East Rural St Andrew Member of Parliament Damion Crawford.
Hall said Simpson Miller should even "encourage the other members of parliament on both sides of the house to do likewise".
" This is the kind of dedication to education that shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are serious about achieving the 2030 vision of making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business," said the JTA president.
For her part, political analyst Dr Hume Johnson argued that Simpson Miller has several issues which she must address today.
"Since the PNP took office in January 2012, the IMF agreement and the economy have been the hot-button issues on which the Government has been judged," noted Johnson.
"The party will surely want to inform the nation of its progress on these issues. With the start of the new school year, the economic problems facing parents and the reform of the education system are pressing issues which require attention," added Johnson.