Orville Taylor, Contributor
The year 2014 is going to be the greatest in Jamaican history; we shall see; a major reduction in violent crime, economic growth, an explosion of employment possibilities for youth, an increase in honesty among politicians, a reduction in the number of police killings, zero attacks on the constabulary, Asafa Powell will run his personal best, and Sherone Simpson will, too.
Our trade deficit will decline and Trinidad and Tobago will open its economy and labour market so wide that the Uriah Butler Highway will have black, gold and green on the railings. Finally, we will see the economy following the economic theorists and our overall exports will rapidly overshadow our imports and the Jamaican dollar will halt its slide before it reaches J$110= US $1.00, and return to J$100.00=US$1.00. And by the way, since we are on a fantasy ride, let me add that St George's College will win Champs.
Optimism is the one thing that keeps humanity from absolute despair and I sincerely hope that in 2014 Jamaica will be on the path of progress. Yet, being the Garveyist that I am, it is indispensable to look back at the last year to see if there is any basis.
The year saw a re-preaching of the Gospel according to the devaluationists and the pariahs, like me in the wilderness, shouting that the sky is falling and earning the ire of some economists for daring to cross lines and speak on a subject more reserved for them. Ending the year 2012 at J$88.99= US$1.00, the exchange rate at writing was around J$106=US$1.00, and the Government is not telling us the logical reason why. Was the Bustamante Dollar truly overvalued as the IMF said, and the Government is sneakily allowing it to drop like the parliamentarian's beltless trousers during his swearing-in ceremony? And how did we benefit?
OUR SLIDING DOLLAR
Our economy slipped by a fraction of a per cent in 2013, as it did in 2012. This means that in real terms, unless the economists have linked with the magician Kriss Angel, the amount of goods and services available to the average consumer shrank like linen underwear. Never mind the mathematical gymnastics; even if we had economic growth, it would have had to be at least the opposite of the 2012 figure for it to be meaningful. All we have seen is a slowing of the contraction.
And what of the balance of trade boost that the economy would have experienced with devaluation? The gap between export and import was US$3.02 billion in August 2013. Doubtless, this is an improvement from 2012 when it was US$3.32 billion. However, our exports earnings were 2.8 per cent less, at US$1.09 billion. Devaluation did not lead to increased export earnings. Moreover, rounding out around just under US$1.125 billion in 2012, the net international reserves (NIR) are as lean as a smoker on crack. When we last dipped the stick into the sump, the NIR was a dangerously low US$835 million in November 2013.
Maybe we need my regular call-in apologist to spin the data or fast-track the debate, but the unemployment picture is as bleak as an English summer day. Starting the year around 13 per cent, it is at 16 and possibly climbing. And the largest jobless group is same; the youth that Police Commissioner Owen Ellington must trap as they enter their rampage, attacking themselves, mostly, but having enough malice left over to kill the occasional person who doesn't fit their victimology, as well as policemen and women, mostly off duty. Last year, 1087 persons were murdered, the majority by the gun. We still have another three days to go, but the last count projected a 20 per cent increase over 2012.
Our saving grace has in recent years been sport, and in particular track and field. Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce have dominated in 2013 as they did in 2012, winning all the races and titles that mattered. We were even left speechless by the sub-45-second anchor-leg run by schoolboy Javon Francis and the hurdles world youth 'record' for Holmwood schoolgirl Yanique Thompson.
Nevertheless, the positive drug tests by Powell and Simpson, second most-decorated female sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown, and several others, put a red mark on our new status as the doyens of global athletics. It also didn't help that the chairman of the JADCO seemed to have erased the paper trail of his credentials, and the fat lady smoked after being fired and sang like a bird. But thankfully, despite her singing, it was not over, and the president of the IAAF stepped forward and defended us as if we were media-shy politicians. In all that, no one seemed to notice that Bolt ran slower in 2013 in both the 100 and 200 metres, and the Jamaican sprint relay teams were more sluggish too. His 9.77 is a far cry from his 9.63 in 2012, and his ordinary 19.66 is nothing compared to his 19.32 last year. At 37.36 our 4x100 metres relay would have lost to the American team led by Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, last year.
THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
Then, of course, the biggest disappointment must be the failure of the Reggae Boyz to win a single qualifying game, and were such experts at drawing, they belong in the Edna Manley College of the Arts. But Tessanne Chin's victory in The Voice compensates briefly for it.
Our panacea for the future seems to be the logistics hub. However, we ended 2013 will less knowledge about it than we would like, and the secrecy surrounding the role of the Goat Islands has widened the trust deficit. Furthermore, we have selected a bidder for the provision of low-cost electricity, who was slid into the pool after the cut-off date; reinstated a member of parliament who broke rules, but no criminal law, although his colleague mayor has to answer charges in the same matter. Add to that, the steady corruption perceptions index of 38 and a prime minister who appears afraid of anything that looks like a mic, and there is basis for nervousness.
Yet, despite all these challenges, Jamaica is still one of the best places for black people to live. With the freest press in the Americas and entrenched democracy, there is hope. For all the criticisms over our human rights and our malignment by the gay activists, this is one country where the mechanisms for complaint and redress for state misconduct are firmly in place.
It could be much worse and I hold my breath expecting better in 2014. Thank you, readers, for reading my rantings each week. Hopefully, I will also be better as well.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.