By Winston Dear, Guest Columnist
I listened to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's speech at the People's National Party's (PNP) annual conference on Sunday afternoon and could not believe that it was the same address I read about on Monday morning in both our newspapers. The PM failed to tell the nation of the serious economic state Jamaica is in and how she and her Government are going to address the problems.
I believe that Jamaica is a failed state! My opinion is based on the following reasons:
The national debt is $1.7 trillion; this figure represents 140 per cent GDP. The current Budget has $334.7 billion allocated for debt repayment. If this was paid, only 18 per cent of the public-sector wage bill could be funded, and this does not include pension obligations.
The Government has sold itself to the people on the basis of a social intervention package led by JEEP. This has turned out to be nothing more than a crash programme employment opportunity to give money to political supporters without any long-term benefits to the country.
The prime minister and her Government do not appear to have the guts to make the massive cuts in the public sector and, therefore, will not be able to obtain a meaningful International Monetary Fund agreement.
The PNP Government is the only hope the country has for promoting a meaningful austerity programme. A Jamaica Labour Party administration could not do it and survive, as it does not have some key elements in the public sector on its side.
The politics of the pork barrel is still with us, as demonstrated by MP Damion Crawford's handling of his Constituency Development Fund, where he is trying allocate most of it for education rather than doling it out to his supporters.
The prime minister is proposing some major infrastructure developments, some of which are unnecessary, such as the highway from Mandeville to Montego Bay. If the existing main road is fixed between Montego Bay and Savanna-la-Mar, that will satisfy the traffic demand for now. Where are the funds to be found to support education, security and health care? The prime minister did not address these key issues.
The unemployment rate continues to rise as the private sector contracts. Our local banks are liquid with funds because the private sector is not borrowing - a worrisome sign.
The country has reached its tax limit, with little opportunity to expand the net.
The high cost of energy has dampened any hope of restoring the manufacturing sector. The mining sector is also in trouble, as our aluminium industry is running at a loss and is subject to closure if a solution is not found for our energy requirements. There are currently massive stockpiles of this product worldwide; therefore, there is no hope of getting a price increase anytime soon.
The prolonged worldwide recession shows no signs of coming to an end. The tourism industry could also be in trouble, as the high cost of energy will make it difficult for hotels to maintain current high discounted rates.
The agriculture sector is suffering from a high incidence of theft, the instability of our climate because of global warming, and the diseases of our major crops of coconut, citrus and coffee.
Our people have become a violent society, where there is no respect for law and order, no respect for life, and we drive without any respect for other users of the road. We violate the right of the individual to a peaceful life free from excessive sound systems. What Mugabe said about our men may not be liked, but there is some truth to it:
i. The drug culture driven by men is accepted by the masses.
ii. Many reggae and dancehall stars have been tarnished by drugs.
iii. Tertiary education is dominated by women.
iv. The imbalance of women vs men is a negative for the country's economy.
To save our country, the Government will have to bite the bullet and implement a balanced Budget, with a major component being a downsized civil service.
Parliament will have to implement laws and tax breaks that will encourage the private sector to reduce energy dependence on the Jamaica Public Service Company, while finding cheaper sources of energy. The Government has to pick winners and support those industries that have the potential to prosper in our environment.
We all will have to work together on finding ways of creating a gentler, law-abiding and productive society. Let us not throw up our hands and allow the current situation to continue.
Winston Dear is a Montego Bay-based businessman. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.