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Editorial - Needed: champion to fight red tape

Published:Monday | September 15, 2014 | 9:00 AM

This newspaper notes with optimism Jamaica's eight-place gain on this year's Global Competitiveness Index, but warns against overstating the achievement and a premature turning of cartwheels, which appears to be the wont of Investment Minister Anthony Hylton.

Obviously, any gain is good. So, Jamaica's rank of 86, among 144 countries in the latest index, is better than the 107, among 142 countries, at which we were four years ago. So, too, our overall score of 4.0 this year, of a possible 7.0, is better than last year's 3.9, when we ranked 98th of 148.

The point is that the Jamaican economy is becoming more competitive and, ultimately, we hope, more productive, which, as the Global Competitiveness Report observed, are the "fundamental drivers" of growth. In other words, failure to get the fundamentals right will make almost meaningless another factor raised in this year's report: the creation of inclusive growth.

DISTRIBUTION OF POVERTY

Or, put another way, there is little to be inclusive with if there is no growth. In which case, the greater likelihood is the distribution of poverty, a phenomenon of which Jamaicans should be well aware from a time when we allowed good intent and rhetoric to trump economics.

Indeed, it is against this backdrop that we return to this year's report and Jamaica's gain, which, we believe, was influenced, in no small measure, by the overhaul of the economy being undertaken as part of our agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the impetus that this has given for tackling non-economic factors that impact national output.

Unsurprisingly, Jamaica is in a better place than in the past, with regard to the rating of its macroeconomic environment, improving overall by five places. It did better in the rankings, with regard to its debt ratio, credit rating and, outstandingly, the Government's achievement in balancing its budget, jumping, in the latter, 75 places, to 21.

PUBLIC TRUST FOR POLITICIANS

We also moved up the ranks in other areas, even in public trust for politicians: from 113 to 95, although the score here is 2.4 of a possible 7.0. And herein lies a danger: that improved ranking might be misconstrued as a signal that we have overcome internal problems, or are near to doing so. That would be a misreading of the report, harbouring the risk of giving too much weight to the presumed achievement of something called the national competitive council and spin-offs with nice-sounding acronyms like Ananda.

The bottom line, as the low-value scores on too many of the competitiveness indicators underline, there is much work to do to make Jamaica's economy competitive, capable of outperforming its peers in attracting foreign direct investment and enticing domestic capital into growth-inducing projects, ranging from improving the physical infrastructure, to reforming the labour market and aggressively tackling crime and corruption and untangling government bureaucracy.

Indeed, crime and pilferage, an inefficient bureaucracy and corruption, combined, are perceived among 49 per cent of people surveyed as the most problematic factors for doing business in Jamaica. We are satisfied with the efforts being made to fix the macroeconomy; there are signs that we may be beginning to rev the engine against crime and corruption. We do need a real champion against red tape.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.