Given that great events are usually marked in decades, or such other rounded periods, it may seem odd that the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) chose to honour its founders in its 37th year of existence. But for this newspaper, this time is as good as any, and is, perhaps, better than most.
The Jamaican economy may be going through its most fundamental transformation than at any time since the PSOJ was established. The focus on its early principals, therefore, provides an opportunity to reflect on the reasons for its launch, how it has evolved over nearly four decades, its relevance to today's environment, and what is likely to be its future.
If the PSOJ's chiefs did not perceive of the event in this fashion, we commend it to them that they be thorough and honest in any review.
Broadly, the PSOJ was born out of an ideological conflict that manifested itself, in part, in different views on how the Jamaican economy should be organised.
In the late 1970s, the People's National Party (PNP), under the leadership of the late Michael Manley, had reasserted its philosophy of democratic socialism. Mr Manley had also emerged as an important figure on the world stage, making the case for a rebalancing of global economic affairs to give greater weight to the concerns of developing countries.
The PNP's policies, bolstered by the political rhetoric of the time, were conflated with communism. The private sector was, understandably, frightened. It is in that context that corporate leaders, and others, felt that the private sector needed to speak with a united voice, under a single organisation, to stunt, and turn back, the perceived threat to enterprise.
Nearly four decades on, there is no dispute over Jamaica's fundamental economic direction. Indeed, a series of policies being energetically implemented by the current PNP administration has been designed to give the private sector more heft in the economy than at any time in the past. In that sense, the PSOJ can declare itself to have won the argument.
The organisation, however, is unlikely to declare, "Mission accomplished." A few things, from this perspective, are worth noting.
Whereas the efforts of the PSOJ are, in this regard, to be commended, it can hardly be said that it has matured into the strong, deeply researched, unified voice for the private sector that its founders hoped it to be.
There may be good reasons why things developed this way. But the existence of myriad organisations of commerce means that none, up to now, is able to mobilise the resources for an unimpeachable protection of the interests of capital and its efforts to create jobs and generate economic growth. Jamaica, in this respect, lags behind mature market economies.
While there is often the case that the private sector speaks in a variegated voice, other segments of civil society, such as environmental and human-rights groups, have managed greater coherence. Human-rights groups, fewer in numbers but higher in decibel, have, for instance, slowed the proposal for a multibillion-dollar logistics hub at Goat Islands.
Maybe it makes sense that there is no consolidation of private-sector organisations. But the issue should be revisited and robustly, and transparently, debated.
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