By Gordon Robinson
Prime Minister Simpson Miller delivered a national broadcast on January 6 of monumental irrelevance and obfuscation.
Jamaicans have one priority concern right now: It's the economy, stupid! Yet the prime minister focused on crash-programme jobs and cash grants to hurricane victims. Oblivious that this is how we've "achieved" eternal economic crisis, she blithely promised $6 billion more to JEEP, among other goodies.
In her fateful, fretful speech, she mentioned the economy in passing:
"My Government is ... cognisant ... that social protection has to be anchored on a foundation of macroeconomic stability and economic growth."
So, she acknowledges all promised goodies must be paid for.
"That is why we're moving apace with tax reform, public-sector reform, and pension reform."
Moving apace? Doing what exactly? There hasn't been a single change to the tax code, despite the Matalon Report gathering cobwebs somewhere. The public sector is as bloated; as inefficient; as lazily bureaucratic; and as non-productive as ever.
"That's why we're making determined efforts to reduce our debt burden."
I love politicians. They never say, "I did that." It's always, "We're moving apace ..." or "We're making determined efforts." Puh-leeeeze!
The above table shows Jamaica's debt as a percentage of GDP since 2004 (source: CIA World Factbook). By May 2012, it was 138.8 per cent. Where are the "determined efforts"?
"We're committed to pursuing sound macroeconomic policies ...
"We know that economic growth requires economic discipline, and we're prepared to exercise that discipline in the [people's] interest."
so many failings
This Government spells economic discipline J-E-E-P. Its sound macroeconomic policies have increased the debt/GDP from 125.5 per cent to about 140 per cent; reduced net international reserves from US$1.967 billion in December 2011 to US$1.125 billion (42.8 per cent decrease); and devalued the Jamaican dollar from 86:1 to 93:1 (8.1 per cent in one year).
Congratulations. Now I understand why Portia says, "I want to remain positive. I don't deal with the negatives. So I don't hear them. When they come on TV, I'm told 'don't watch TV' ... because I have somebody that monitors it. My husband is very good at that." With such a record of economic success, why should she listen to citizens' criticism?
So, our prime minister doesn't watch television unless it's "positive" about her. She depends on her husband to monitor and inform. She proudly asserts she only listens to "positive" criticism. I wonder if she reads newspapers (like The Chicago Tribune) or magazines (like The Economist) which might promote a world view or perspective other than her husband's.
It doesn't appear so. Why bother? When asked about Trafigura, she answered, "Ask the PNP." When asked about Dudus' extradition request, she told reporters, "Ask the prime minister." If asked her views on the Tribune's assessment of Jamaica's economy as worse than Greece's, she'll probably answer, "Ask my husband."
In 50 years of JLP/PNP political leadership, GDP grew at 0.7 per cent per annum. We've recorded negative growth in four of the last five years and 16 of the last 40. Accordingly, no political leader who contributed to that disgraceful record should have the effrontery to call critics underachievers. Responding recently in St Ann to the torrent of criticism, she had this to say about her critics: "... Their only achievement is about talking and criticising others ... ." When Robert Mugabe labelled Jamaican men underachievers, Portia called him "disrespectful and misguided".
Among the "underachievers" she may have misguidedly disrespected is PSOJ President Christopher Zacca, who had the temerity to critique the IMF agreement delay and call for a new-style politics. No doubt, Prime Minister Portia, on her husband's advice, calls this "negative criticism". Christopher Zacca's résumé includes "underachievements" as Appliance Traders Ltd deputy chairman and CEO; an Air Jamaica CEO; and a director at Sandals Resorts.
The PSOJ was supported by another "underachiever", Brian Pengelley, of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association. Underachiever Pengelley's "negative" criticism postulated that Government's inaction meant the poor getting poorer, investor confidence shaken, businesses on edge, and the country becoming worse off.
Pengelley's "underachievements" include 14 years as sales director of Diageo, a British multinational alcoholic-beverages company that's the world's largest producer of spirits and a major producer of beer and wine.
In my opinion, the prime minister owes Jamaica an apology. She has no right to abuse citizens of Jamaica and the world for speaking their mind. She has no right to ignore criticism. As a public servant, she should listen to ALL the people ALL the time. If she continues to expect nothing but idolatry while gratuitously insulting hard-working citizens for daring to disagree, soon enough she'll be in for a rude awakening.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jamaica's debt as a percentage of GDP