Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
The People's National Party (PNP) goes into the public session of its annual conference today with a failing grade from many Jamaicans over its performance in Government over the past nine months.
Political analysts suggest that a variety of challenges are bedevilling the Portia Simpson Miller administration that appears to be clueless at worst and distracted at best.
Many PNP supporters share the sentiment of political analyst Richard 'Dickie' Crawford that "the PNP appears jaded, lacking impetus and losing direction".
According to Crawford, the PNP appears to be "a party that is clearly divided over issues of great importance and perhaps methodology and philosophy as well".
Crawford further opined that there is a growing perception that crime and corruption are not being handled properly, as well as a perceived inability of the Government to shore up Jamaica's fragile economy, plus the need for visible dispensation of justice.
Crime and corruption
Like Crawford, professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Anthony Clayton has twinned crime and corruption as the most pressing issues depressing the Simpson Miller regime.
Clayton backed up his arguments with a recently conducted study on the issue.
He told The Sunday Gleaner that he calculated the cost of crime and corruption to Jamaica.
According to Clayton, if 1972 is taken as the baseline year, the accumulated cost of crime from 1972 to 2010 at 7.1 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) amounts to US$16.7 billion.
"For comparison, Jamaica's public debt at December 2011 was US$18.7 billion, so the accumulated losses due to crime (at 7.1 per cent of GDP) would equal 89 per cent of that debt," he pointed out.
"However, it is also necessary to estimate the cumulative impact of lost growth.
"Primarily, as a result of violence, crime and corruption, the economy has stagnated for four decades, with low growth and declining productivity, while other countries have transformed their productive potential, economic growth rates and development prospects," he argued.
Crawford agreed. "Apart from the enormous financial costs calculated by Professor Clayton, there is a growing mistrust, apprehension and diminishing public confidence in the ability of the Government and the leadership of the police to deal with the problem," Crawford argued.
He suggested that crime and corruption continue to affect the psyche of Jamaicans negatively even as the issue of injustice or selective justice remains a big concern.
Crawford argued that the ministry of justice's reform programme, to speed up legal procedures and facilitate business and investment, is yet to make a difference, as the unnecessary controversy with and threats against the Office of the Contractor General constitutes another contributory factor.
Jamaica vs Barbados
According to Clayton, one way to estimate this loss is to compare Jamaica with Barbados, a smaller country with few natural resources.
"If Jamaica's rate of productivity growth had kept pace with that of Barbados, then Jamaica today would be almost three times more productive and wealthier than it is now, and the quality of life would have been correspondingly transformed," he proffered.
"Another way to estimate this loss is to project forward from the rate of growth before Jamaica's descent into violence, when Jamaica's economic growth rate collapsed from nearly five per cent to just over one per cent.
"If Jamaica had not lapsed into violence in the early 1970s, and the growth rate of the 1960s had continued, then today the economy would be almost 10 times larger than it is now," argued Clayton.
Crawford and financial analyst Ralston Hyman share the view that Simpson Miller needs to address the issue of the ailing economy that is pressured by an overwhelming debt burden.
"The (economic) situation is becoming more acute each day as the proposed conditions of the Government/IMF programme seem incapable of remedying the enormous difficulties in the economy," argued Crawford.
"The PNP must address the deterioration in the economy, characterised by the increase in unemployment to 14.3 per cent," said Hyman.
He contended that the deterioration in the external accounts, manifested in the increasing trade and current account deficits of US$4.3 billion and US$2.1 billion, respectively, last year.
Hyman stressed that Simpson Miller must also speak to the decline in the net international reserves to US$1.48 billion as at the end of August this year, from US$2.6 billion in July of last year.
The protracted delay in securing an IMF agreement and a devaluing dollar are also sources of concern for Hyman.
He added, "the PNP must also address the loss of confidence caused by the delays in securing an IMF agreement and the continuous slide in the value of the Jamaican currency".
Hyman wants the Simpson Miller administration to outline a strategy, including exporting more and importing less in order to drive sustainable growth and employment, as well as to reduce the rising levels of poverty.