Before Gilbert in 1988, it was nearly 40 years since Jamaica had received a direct hit from a hurricane, and almost a decade after it had been sideswiped by one.
In a sense, therefore, Jamaica might have been forgiven if there was a lapse in its institutional memory of tropical storms and hurricanes as weather phenomena that might damage infrastructure that cost dearly to repair.
There can be no cause for such forgetfulness at this time, given what has happened in the last decade. Jamaica has been hit hard by three hurricanes, Ivan in 2004, Dean in 2007, and Sandy, which slammed into the island this week.
Amid those three, we have been doused with flood rains by at least six other storms: Iris (2001), Lili (2003), Charley (2004), Dennis (2005), Gustav (2008) and Nicole (2010).
The point is, policymakers, given the evidence, and our Government's embrace of the science of global warming, ought not to be surprised by the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes.
Budgeting for hurricanes, in that regard, can hardly be considered a contingency, but a hazard of the country's economic life, for which the finance ministry has to be constantly prepared.
PM's surprising remark
It is against this backdrop that we are more than a little surprised by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's remark about the effect she hopes the passage of Sandy will have on the Government's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an economic-support agreement.
"I hope that the international agencies, as well as the International Monetary Fund, will recognise the problem that we have as a result of the storm," she told a television interviewer.
It is a fact either that a hurricane hitting Jamaica was a matter of surprise for the Government, or that preparing for one was an afterthought for the Simpson Miller administration. So, there is, it would seem, no planning for such contingencies in the national Budget or the programme that the administration has placed before the Fund.
That, to put it delicately, would be beyond silly. Indeed, the Planning Institute of Jamaica estimated that in the decade up to 2010, the country had suffered losses from natural disasters of around $100 billion.
This newspaper would not be surprised if an insistence by the IMF that the Government build in a fiscal cushion for the effects for events such as Ivan, Dean or Sandy was not a matter of some dispute with the Fund. It is not, we would suspect, that our Government does not appreciate the logic of such action, but rather a fear of doing what is required for this to happen.
Ensuring there is a contingency fund with which to respond to disasters would require spending less elsewhere, such as on wages, or ensuring that the Treasury pulls in more from taxes, and/or the Government wastes less in doing its business. These are tough calls that the Simpson Miller Government already finds difficult to make on policies that it already agrees are necessary: public-sector reform, pension reform, tax reform, for example.
Jamaica, however, cannot whinge its way out of its problems, expecting an easy ride on other people's savings. Fixing our problems will require perceptive and focused leadership, willing and ready to make the tough calls.
Where is our Government?
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