We need not be poor

Published: Sunday | December 8, 2013 Comments 0

Ronald Mason

Jamaica desperately needs economic growth. The level of unemployment and the stark reality of youth joblessness give an indication of the urgent need for growth and opportunity to achieve personal goals.

The pathway to growth is challenging. We know the refrain - fiscal constraints, or no money. However, there is a glimmer of hope. We need to explore some of these most ready opportunities. Some of these opportunities are more advanced and could yield favourable results in a relatively short time frame.

The new collateral law passed in the Parliament last week is potentially a significant facilitator for economic growth. Let us illustrate with a hypothetical story.

Farmer Brown has laboured long on 'family land' and built a house. The house is also on the family land for which there is a title. In addition, many family members have a legitimate claim to a share of the land. It has never been surveyed and its boundaries are found in the oral memoirs of the elders.

However, Farmer Brown has more land available to him for planting more crops. The problem is, he needs J$100,000 to kick-start cultivation. He does not have the money, or raw cash, as he is likely to say. However, in his home is the mahogany furniture lovingly made by his craftsman nephew. His one daughter overseas visited last Christmas and bought him a big flat-screen TV valued at J$100,000.

The furniture has a useful lifespan of 50 years and the TV another five years. Farmer Brown has collateral. He pledges these as collateral, borrows J$100,000, plants an expanded 'field', and he has a market from which he receives sales to the value of J$250,000. The country grows. More jobs, more food, more value-added products. Now just think of the impact of this story multiplied 100 times.

The maritime industry has been identified as a growth prospect. The Port Authority of Jamaica is on its way with dredging the Kingston Harbour. The Goat Islands project will happen, resulting in a US$1.5-billion injection over three years. The creation of 10,000 jobs and the capability to earn hard currency.

PREPARE FOR OPPORTUNITIES

The educational institutions have joined the push for advertising training, laying the foundation for the certification of the needed workforce. We need to be aware of what took place in Dubai. Their unpreparedness led to the importation of labour. We can - and must - be ready for the opportunities.

Tourism is the industry most ready to grow. A lot of the infrastructure is in place. Falmouth pier; Ocho Rios pier, now under repair; hotels being refurbished and expanded. New properties coming on stream in Kingston and elsewhere. It is claimed that for each additional bedroom created, two new jobs are added. The incentives are now equalised.

The major markets of USA, Canada and UK are coming to life again. For us, it must be ready, set, and off we go. The hard currency and jobs are the main expectation. In addition, we have untapped potential in this industry. There's the Port Royal project to bring cruise ship passengers back to the city of Kingston. The creation of a theme park at Port Royal is back on the drawing board.

Please, Government, do not try to make it your project. Whether by licence, lease or joint venture, the private sector must forge partnerships. Float the financing needs on the stock market. Please, Government, get out of the way. Let development happen, driven by the profit motive. No more Harmony Cove-type deals. Create the environment for success and recognise your lack of capacity to make development happen.

There are other potential vehicles for growth that are not yet ready for implementation, such as the nutraceutical industry. Here the technology is tested, the demand is identified, and the imput readily available. Again, Government just needs to set the stage, and provide the regulation and legislation to make this happen.

MONEY AVAILABLE

Make it a condition of government approval that the stock market in Jamaica is to be utilised to acquire the capital needs. I find it amazing that offerings for companies not very well known can be oversubscribed in three minutes. Money is available. If properly structured, researched and led by capable management, expansion plans can be funded locally.

Please, Government, get out of the way. Government works best when it is at the minimum.

The 360MW energy project needs to be accelerated again with the barest government regulation. I wonder if the Office of Utilities Regulation and the Ministry of Energy have ever heard of fast-tracking a project.

It is in the same breath that I note that the head of National Environment and Planning Agency has been selected to lead a review of the construction development process. I have heard similar sentiments before, but I have greater hope and expectation that the night will lead to a greater dawn. We the people should expect no less. While at this task, let us just have the new building code at the same time. Multitask!

We have the skills, aptitude, and financing capability to make Jamaica a vibrant, growing place of choice. What we sadly lack is leadership with a passion for implementation. We have politicians who believe opening a new bridge is a big deal. Opening a new industry is a big deal!

Allowing sectors of the economy to grow is a big deal. Allowing the profit motive to drive investment decisions is a proven method of achieving growth. Regulate, legislate, but free up the economy. We need not be poor.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney, mediator and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com


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