Lambert Brown, Contributor
On Wednesday, October 10, 2012, The Gleaner's Letter of the Day challenged me to "put up or shut up". I have no intention of shutting up, and I will never resile from putting forth the truth, no matter how angry or rude any respondent might become.
The letter was in response to comments I made in the Senate two Fridays ago during the debate on the amendment to the Income Tax Act. The act was designed to promote foreign companies to set up their headquarters in Jamaica and to benefit from PAYE exemption for their overseas staff. This is conditional on at least 30 per cent of the staff employed by the company being resident Jamaicans. This is a move that will bring jobs for more Jamaicans and opportunities for Jamaican businesses, thereby contributing to growing our economy.
During the debate, I noted a call made by the prime minister to local business people to seize the many opportunities that exist here and of which many foreign firms are taking advantage. I supported the call from the prime minister, and I can see no reason for rational Jamaicans not to also support the patriotic and prudent appeal of Portia Simpson Miller.
I went further and noted that SOME, yes, I said some, of our private-sector members are not bold enough in grasping the opportunities that exist. I added that SOME were indeed lazy.
This was accurately reported in The Gleaner on Monday last. The Gleaner reported that my comments related to "some elements" and "sections" of the private sector. Nowhere did The Gleaner once mention me criticising all members of the private sector. I stand by that position today because it is the truth.
NOT THE TRUTH
What is not the truth, however, is the allegation by the writer of Wednesday's Letter of the Day is I am "reported to have labelled the private sector as a lazy bunch of people who have failed to take advantage of business opportunities locally". I know of no report anywhere which the letter writer could honestly claim as his source of allegation against me. Nor did I make such a statement.
The writer of the Letter of the Day was either too lazy to have read the Gleaner story properly, or had a problem comprehending what he read. Then again, he may just have an overactive imagination which allowed him to liberally make sandcastles so he could pretend to be destroying real castles.
That some people get joy from doing so is a freedom I will defend for those who think that a lie is a truth. They are simply deluded, but I will never deny them the happiness they get from lying. The readers of this paper are wise enough to, as they say, pick sense out of nonsense.
As a trade unionist and public commentator, I see daily around me the successful efforts of Jamaican business people in maintaining existing businesses as well as creating new ones. On Tuesday, on my radio programme, I interviewed and praised the activities of the president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association. His vision of creating 50,000 additional jobs in the manufacturing sector over the next five years was lauded by me. His concerns about obstacles faced by his members and others were noted, and I pledged my support to his campaign for a more business-friendly environment in Jamaica.
Let us be clear: Every country in the world is trying to improve its degree of competitiveness to attract investment. Jamaica is, therefore, not unique in this respect. I said this during the debate in the Senate, too.
Sadly, the letter writer's myopic view has limited him to seeing only obstacles where others are seeing opportunities. For example, he cited "those who have been FINSAC'd, or came close to it". The Gleaner's report on my presentation spoke of my comments about our local private sector failing to take advantage of the one-way free-trade agreement negotiated by Edward Seaga during the 1980s with the United States. It was called the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Then, there was no financial-sector meltdown. Nor was there any problem of high interest rates. No duties would be charged on the specific goods from Jamaica entering the USA. The excuses now being advanced by the letter writer did not exist, but we failed to take advantage of the opportunities just as we are failing now to take advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiated with the European Union by the Bruce Golding administration.
Jamaica needs answers as to why these governmental initiatives discussed with, and demanded by, sections of our private sector failed despite the obvious opportunities they represented for business expansion. Excuses clothed in political propaganda cannot truthfully explain what, in my view, amounts to laziness on the part of some with money in our society. They refuse, or fail, to invest in taking our country, even though the possibilities of making reasonable profit exist.
No one can honestly deny that Chinese nationals have come to Jamaica and invested in businesses such as retail outlets all over downtown Kingston. They are making money. They are now expanding into every town in all the nooks and crannies of Jamaica. They are making money that enterprising Jamaican business people could be making. What is it about them that makes them successful in spite of all the economic challenges faced by Jamaica?
Yet, some of our business people shun the opportunities that these foreign business people so readily grasp. Make no doubt about it, the Lascos, e-Services and the numerous other big and small businesses which have done well, despite all the complaints of the letter writer, are living proof of my point that "some" of our private-sector members are, as I said, lazy.
These successful Jamaican businesses refuse to be myopic. They know that businesses everywhere in the world struggle with making payrolls, confronting bureaucracy, facing problems with banks, experiencing financial challenges; but like Digicel, the Spanish hotels, and now a Mexican hotel chain saw, and still sees, business opportunities in Jamaica.
As I said in the Senate, the message to the local and foreign businesses is that "Jamaica is open for business". I refuse to shut up or be intimidated. The truth may be an offence, but I will forever keep putting up.
Lambert Brown is president of the University and Allied Workers' Union. Email feedback to email@example.com and Labpoyh@yahoo.com.