By Garth A. Rattray
Last week, my opinions regarding the use of the National Housing Trust (NHT) funds and our need for international assistance to secure manufacturing for export jobs drew unusual flak.
I welcome diverse opinions. However, the direct and indirect feedback that I received from several sources indicated to me that there is a lot of insular and dissociative thoughts and ideas when it comes to finding (here and now) solutions to our (here and now) problems.
For instance, although NHT funds are designed to be used to satisfy the needs of NHT contributors, in the past funds from the Trust have been used to stave off economic ruin. Once again, in order to bolster the Consolidated Fund, the government intends to access the Trust to the tune of $11 billion annually for four years. And we are also told that the NHT can accommodate this - legally and functionally - without any detriment to the contributors.
It seems to me that, since siphoning off $44 billion - for utilisation other than by contributors or any projects associated with housing - is permissible, and since said siphoning will not hurt, any government should have sought to use some of those obviously available funds to help the less fortunate, including people who live in precarious places. But several people opined that NHT funds are strictly for contributors (even though history says otherwise) and that squatters chose their locations and deserve the consequences.
SUFFERING THE CONSEQUENCES
It's true that, over many years, indiscipline, politics, an endemic lack of accountability, severely lax monitoring, spurious, opportunistic, dangerous and illegal squatting has led to many communities being located on the edges of many major gullies and near the banks of many rivers. This is our current reality regardless of whom or what is to blame. The critics are forgetting that we are ALL suffering the consequences - pollution, crime, continuing poverty. Therefore, the untenable circumstances of many squatter communities must be rectified.
I also explained that we need more than just stringent fiscal measures and loans to fix our economy. We must manufacture and export. We have become a consumerist society. Therefore, the vast majority of our entrepreneurs make their fortunes by using precious foreign exchange to purchase items abroad (including motor vehicles that perpetuate our need for foreign exchange for road repair, fuel and parts) and retail them here. Very rarely do any of the imported items contribute to the earning of foreign exchange.
NEW STRATEGIES NEEDED
We need entrepreneurs willing to manufacture and export. But our dollar was held at an unnatural level for years (good for importing, bad for exporting) and, because of a paucity of administrative initiatives and for whatever other reasons, we lost much of the manufacturing enterprises and never found new opportunities, so we continue to import far more than we export (spend more than we earn). We need to find ways to produce.
Finger pointing and declaring that we are an independent and sovereign nation won't help now. In reality, we need help if we are to turn things around and export. I don't envision anyone in this democracy so influenced by North America, including the critics, sacrificing their consumerist lifestyle. If it were so easy to produce and/or assemble and export, we would have done so years ago and we would not be in this awful bind now.
If the IMF is serious about helping borrowers to achieve and maintain their economic independence, it should not only be a lending institution that calls on borrowing nations - flailing and failing economies - to impose severe financial constraints and hardships in order to repay their debt. It ought to become holistic - facilitate recovery by assisting borrowers to secure investors and markets to manufacture and export to turn economies around.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com