2012 Year In Review - Gov't must stop playing blame game

Published: Sunday | December 30, 2012 Comments 0

We are stubbornly refusing to ask and to answer the tough question whether education investment is translating into economic performance output. Clearly education in and of itself will not drive economic performance. Some 80 per cent or more of tertiary graduates migrate.

ON APRIL 10, 1962, voters elected the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and its leader, Alexander Bustamante to lead the country into independence. Premier Norman Manley felt that the country should be given the opportunity to decide at the polls which party and leader should take it into independence.

On December 29, 2011, a now far less hopeful and optimistic country decisively decided to ask the People's National Party (PNP) and its president, Portia Simpson Miller to lead it into its Golden Jubilee. In the 50 years between 1962 and 2012, the JLP has led the country for a total of 22 years, the PNP for 27.

A favourite, but counter-productive pastime of these two political parties - which have alternately governed us since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944 - when in Opposition is to gripe about how badly the Government is doing, and when in Government to gripe how the other had damaged the country while in office. The governed too, driven by escalating expectations, and often unrealistic expectations, and coached by their vote-seeking political leaders and trouble-oriented media mostly see the country as a disaster zone.

The development indices paint a picture of a solidly middle-of-the-road country which may have failed to distinguish itself but is far from being any kind of basket case. In my series of July/August columns for Jamaica 50 I pleaded for a comprehensive and objective assessment of the country's out-turn in its first 50 years of Independence using critical axes of analysis. That plea still stands.

We owe it to the citizens of the state, particularly to our children, some 80 per cent of the population for whom segments of the 50 years were not lived experience, to write the history without fluff and bluff, without partisanship and selective memory. The same sort of frank assessment should be applied to the first year in office of this Jubilee Government.

Jamaica entered its Golden Jubilee Year standing at number 79 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index (HDI) and in the "high human development category". Our index number (the index is expressed as a fraction of 1) has risen from 0.607 in 1980 to 0.727 in 2011. The index for the whole world has been rising, but trained for the negative, many citizens will not believe that our own country has been outpacing the world average. But, as I observed in the August 5 column, "The rising tide lifts all ships. There has been a long upward swing in human development since at least the 1960s. Much of Jamaica's 'development' in Independence can simply be attributed to this rising tide, which would have lifted anyway and, perhaps, lift even better without the political dead weight which our own peculiar brand of politics has imposed."

LIFE EXPECTANCY

The HDI is a composite index "measuring average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development - a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living." On this score, a number of Caribbean states outrank Jamaica. Let's work with Trinidad and Tobago (No. 62), which became independent three weeks after Jamaica on August 31, 1962, and with Barbados (No. 47), which gained independence four years later on November 30, 1966:

Life expectancy: T&T, 70.1; B, 76.8; JA, 73.1.

Mean years of schooling: T&T, 9.2; B, 9.3; JA, 9.6.

Expected years of schooling: T&T, 12.3; B, 13.4; JA, 13.8.

Gross National Income Per Capita (constant 2005 PPP US$): T&T, 24,433; B, 17,966; JA, 6,487.

I am particularly struck by the non-correlation between education input and GNI per capita output. Education has been one of the major 'developments' of independence for both access and duration. But we are stubbornly refusing to ask and to answer the tough question whether education investment is translating into economic performance output. Clearly education in and of itself will not drive economic performance. Some 80 per cent or more of tertiary graduates migrate.

But Jamaica is a land of stark paradoxes. We have managed to build one of the world's most stable and functional parliamentary democracies, not a small achievement in the post-colonial world. But this has not been without the blot of garrisons, political tribalism, and political violence which has cost the lives of tens of thousands of citizens, directly or indirectly, and which has internally displaced multiple thousands more and hampered development.

The country has a First World life expectancy, world-class primary health care including the containment and elimination of infectious tropical diseases (malaria was declared eradicated within the first year of Independence in 1963) but one of the highest murder rates in the world. The murder rate has moved from about four per 100,000 in 1962 to a peak of 62 per 100,000 in 2009.

This Government in its first year has promised to pull this horrendous rate down to 12 per 100,000 by 2017, a promise repeated by Police Commissioner Owen Ellington last week. Despite a most welcome decline over last year, this year is closing out with over 1,000 people murdered. All of 60 persons were murdered in 1960.

In Independence, Jamaica has built a major tourism industry and a major bauxite industry (despite its ups and downs) which since the 1970s has paid a levy to the Government to constitute a development fund. The country has some of the world's finest natural products, has strategic assets of language and location for global services but has managed to dig itself into a deep debt hole with the debt burden in the Golden Jubilee standing at 140 per cent of gross domestic product (a measurement of economic performance) and the whole year spent trying to hammer out a new lending deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Government has been accused of silence on the IMF stalemate. What is pushing through the veil of silence is that the fund will not ink a deal without a firm commitment on the part of the Government to the necessary and overdue reform agenda and a robust action plan for it put in place. This will, of course, cut against the populism and love of the poor which returned the PNP to power last December. In my January 8 column, "Mandate from the poor", published right after the swearing in of the prime minister and her Cabinet, I wrote: "Portia Simpson Miller, Mama P, to the masses, has come back to power on a wave of popular demand for a government of benefits to relieve the pressure on the poor."

The poor will disproportionately benefit from structural changes which benefit all Jamaicans and more so than they will benefit from special programmes. A low-inflation environment and a stable currency will benefit the poor more. One of the most telling indices of the failure of the Jamaican economy to perform is the 93-fold loss of value measured against its United States counterpart since currency conversion in 1969 on parity with the US dollar. One of the critical failures of the Government this year is the six per cent fall in the value of the currency despite depleting the net international reserves to defend it.

A low-crime environment will benefit the poor more both in terms of personal security and economic opportunities. And the general defence of constitutionally guaranteed human rights, including the dismantling of garrisons, will disproportionately benefit the poor.

A reformed tax system, with a universal net and lower rates, will benefit the poor more as consumers, as savers and investors, and as small-business operators. Debt management and a reduction of the debt burden will benefit the poor more in freeing up more revenue for social services and a social safety net. And so will a reform of the public-sector pension scheme transferring more of the burden to workers themselves and away from the public purse.

more opportunities

An education system which works better will provide more opportunities for the advancement of the children of the poor.

Lower energy costs will disproportionately benefit the poor as domestic consumers, commuters, and small-business operators. The Government's move this year to remove GCT from a handful of electricity bills was pure tokenism. Not much progress has been made in a year of talk to diversify fuel sources.

A reduction of corruption and an increase of cost-benefit efficiency in the public service will benefit the poor more.

Jamaica has achieved a number of very modern economic activities, but unemployment remains stubbornly high and over the 50 years has bounced around where it was at Independence, officially around 12-15 per cent of the labour force. The majority of the 'working' population remains hustlers, marginally employed, or underemployed.

In the land of wood and water, in one of the finest environments in the world, a water crisis looms for want of investment in storage and distribution. Alongside modern highways, low ways have been allowed to deteriorate into deplorable conditions in one of the most dense road networks in the world.

Alongside our magnificent achievements in sports and music which have made this little country large on the map of the world - and what a year this has been for sports - Jamaica is renowned as an exporter of crime and drugs and a major importer of small arms for domestic criminal enterprise.

The business of this plodding-along Government over its remaining four years, to apply the strategy of business to Government, is to assess the considerable strengths of the country and to build on them, to offset its weaknesses, to capitalise on opportunities instead of playing the blame game, and to diffuse the significant threats, external and internal, facing this sovereign state by taking bold strategic action against them - SWOT.

Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com




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