Joan Grant Cummings, Guest Columnist
On October 2, members of civil society, invited by the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, took a forward-looking step and met with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). I was pleased to be invited and anxious to participate.
Like most Jamaicans, I have a growing unease from the current lack of real information from the Government of Jamaica as to what is transpiring with the IMF negotiations.
As I took my seat, the familiar distrust, anger and fear of the IMF gripped me. Having lived through the '70s, '80s and '90s, I had no pleasant frame of reference for the IMF in my psyche.
Memories surfaced of walls sprayed with 'Is Manley Fault' or is 'Is Michael Fault'. Of austerity, mass migrations and social discord. Later, as an international feminist activist, I remembered meetings with the IMF and its brother, the World Bank (WB), at which women from Africa, in particular, lambasted the two entities, giving evidence as to how their policies and disregard for social development had undermined women's equality, especially women's ability to have sustainable livelihoods.
At one of these meetings, we renamed the IMF the 'International Mobster Fraternity', which acted as an 'Insiduous Malignant Force' - robbing countries of their ability to achieve equality and development and injecting its poison into countries like a malignant cancer.
These may have seemed like harsh words. Yet, they reflect the pain that whole countries of people felt. While the IMF called us 'economies', we insisted were 'people'!
I broke out of my foray into memory lane when I heard the IMF man mention words such as 'ownership', 'shared partnership' and 'social cohesion' as being key to any agreement! While the IMF had fundamentally not shifted from its neoliberal economic philosophy, it seemed to be admitting that other variables, besides economic indicators, were necessary for a successful country programme! What a ting!
A number of participants challenged the IMF to 'level' with us - drop the IMF-ese and diplomatic lingo and speak to us as if they were Jamaicans. How bad was the situation? What should we expect?
What is clear to me coming out of that meeting is that our Government and state agencies need to level with us. These negotiations cannot continue on any substantial level without the input of the wider civil society. That includes the higgler, the underemployed and unemployed, public-sector workers, etc.
We are in the struggle of our lives to grow ourselves out of debt and poverty. Government, state agencies, unions, a private sector without full recognition of, or inclusion of, micro, small and medium enterprises, and the political parties cannot decide our fate.
We cannot surrender our democratic right to participation through our votes or other forms of support.
The meaningful inclusion of the wider civil society in the substantive negotiations, goal setting, solution-making and implementation of any agreement is a prerequisite for success of said agreement.
After all, it is the ingenuity and innovation of the man and woman in the street that is going to slay the proverbial dragon - our debt, poverty and backward-leaning development.
It is ordinary Jamaicans who developed survival models and mechanisms in the '70s and '80s, especially. We know there will be job loss, possibly increased poverty, and other not-nice changes. However, we reject any notion that we should be shielded from this knowledge. All affected citizens have the right to contribute ideas and recommendations as to how these changes can be effected to the betterment of themselves and their country.
We expect strong leadership from our Government in enabling our full and meaningful participation, which includes telling us the truth. We expect the same from our unions - we know it isn't and can't be business as usual. We also know there are models deployed by other countries in our situation that resulted in eventual success.
We are not parties, unions, big business or 'an economy'. We are not objects and subjects - we are development partners. After all, we are 50! Patronage, colonialism, neocolonialism and enslavement are what we have fought to get to this point.
We are the land of the '9:58' and 'no problem'! We are can-do people! We are Jamaicans.
Joan Grant Cummings is a gender and environment development specialist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.