The average working consumer in Jamaica is under stress. This kind of stress comes as a direct result of there being no shared sense of sacrifice. The leaders all bleat about how we are all in this together, yet there is no sharing the burden.
One cannot help but think of the long-ago term 'rapacious capitalist'. This is sadly the most appropriate label for the actions of the banks. One bank boasts of giving you double the interest - all the way up to four per cent on the savings deposited with them. Try to get a loan at under 15 per cent interest. This is truly reflective of a big gesture. In all other local conditions, you are likely to get two per cent interest earned on fixed deposit, on the second day of the month, yet if you, the consumer, as owners of the fixed deposit, seek to withdraw that interest you are penalised if you do two weeks after it was credited.
This matter of bank fees and charges is outrageous and disgraceful. Fourteen dollars for a cheque leaf and varying sums, dependent on the bank, are charged to deposit your own funds into the bank. It becomes even more disdainful. You must pay to withdraw, pay if you access the ATM beyond a fixed number of times in a month. The bank reports billions in profit and fine staff to cut expenses even more while you, the consumer, must stand in the banking hall wanting to pay the bank for a transaction related to your money.
As to the conversion of foreign currency, and the purchase of manager's cheques, God help you. Banks are not about service any more. They are rapacious, life sapping, fearsome organisations. Did they ever hear of shared sacrifice?
A venture capital is a pool of funds designated for investment in new businesses, in it for equity or ownership participation, rather than loan or debt.
New ventures seek this money on the exchange of risk, let the venture grow, the share value increases over time, the risk factor at a future date sells the shares for a big profit. Funding such a fund is next to impossible in Jamaica. The consumer is always hearing that the economy is built by small and medium-sized businesses bringing innovation to the marketplace. The consumer is being told you will benefit from better, more efficient products, jobs and economic growth. Here is a prime example of lip service, as there is very little funding beyond loans to facilitate new companies.
It is not as if there is no money available in Jamaica. Just review the number of financial instruments offered in recent days and those that have fixed rates of interest returns. They are offered at 8.5 per cent per year return and 9 per cent per year return. All were offered more money than they announced that they sought. Consider the case of the investment in a major corporation to fund their proposed expansion ventures. They sought J$1 billion and they got offer to participate up to J$1.5 billion. Now consider we have that much money chasing an investment in a regime where the Jamaican dollar has devalued by some 14 per cent since January 2013. What rate of return is to be expected? Certainly, the consumer must pay prices for the expansion that would allow a greater return than the required 14 per cent just to maintain the currency value. Shared sacrifice for whom? Not the consumer.
WE HAVE TO PAY
Oil is the lubricant of commerce. It is necessary for energy, fuel, chemicals, plastic, and a host of other consumables. Today, the benchmark price for a dollar of crude oil is the lowest it has been for many months, yet Petrojam just announced price increases (effective Thursday, October 24, 2013) on diesel fuel. Commercial vehicles transporting goods use diesel fuel, so up goes the transportation cost to the detriment of the Jamaican consumer. We have to pay. We always have to pay - and pay more.
The Jamaica Public Service announces a four per cent-plus increase in the energy bills on top of an already US.42 cents per kilowatt charge. Load shedding is with us. Power surges are ever present. But the consumer must pay and pay more. Food. Irish potatoes are going up in price. Chicken back shortage, bus fares, taxi fares, bank charges. All increases to be borne by the consumer. The poor can't take any more.
This country is sitting on a powder keg. It is difficult to continue to ask the poor consumer to bear all the sacrifices for the sake of an economy that only allows them marginal participation. The slogans must reflect the reality. If people have good educational opportunities and decent health care, the struggle is tolerable. We continue to burden the consumer to satisfy a 7.5 per cent primacy surplus. We pass all the laws, as dictated by the IMF. This is excessively high in the time period allowed. Who loves the poor consumer enough to save them from extinction?
Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney, mediator and talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org