Tue | Oct 4, 2022

Wehby: Don’t borrow to get out of this crisis

Published:Saturday | June 26, 2021 | 3:05 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Senator Don Wehby.
Senator Don Wehby.
Senator Janice Allen.
Senator Janice Allen.

Following a stern warning that Jamaica must not consider borrowing to get out of the economic decline caused by the pandemic, businessman and Government Senator Don Wehby has pointed to several sectors, including agriculture, which have the potential to get the wheels of the economy turning again.

During his opening remarks for the State of the Nation Debate, Wehby said that despite a significant fall-off in revenues, Jamaica is one of the few countries that were able to maintain debt sustainability throughout the pandemic. He pointed out that two debt-restructuring exercises over the years have curtailed spending on social services such as health, education and crime prevention.

“We can never go back there. We cannot borrow our way out of our problems. We must grow our way out,” he said.

This will involve investing heavily in agro-processing, manufacturing, and agriculture so that the food import bill, which in 2019 valued $1.025 billion, can be cut in half by 2030, he said, adding that farmers should have access to good crop insurance and technical training to mass-produce certain crops.

Wehby, who is the group chief executive officer for conglomerate GraceKennedy Group, said the micro, small and medium enterprises sector is a key driver for economic growth as it typically accounts for more than 90 per cent of all firms, 60 per cent of employment and between 40 and 60 per cent of output in most global economies. The registration of 12,809 business names and 3,935 companies in 2020 is proof, for him, that the entrepreneurial spirit was ignited during the pandemic.

Another key sector, Wehby noted, is the global services sector – more commonly referred to as the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, which has rebounded to pre-COVID-19 levels, creating some 43,000 jobs for Jamaicans. He is hoping that positive changes being witnessed in the tourism sector will also lead to positive growth this quarter as well.

Wehby had concerns, however, that key legislation like the Police Service Act was not announced as part of the legislative agenda for 2021-2022. He lamented the fact that criminals have caused “too much pain, too much hurt, and too many tears”.

Crime elephant

Describing crime as the “white elephant in the room”, Opposition Senator Janice Allen said it has had a negative effect on the travel and tourism industry. She said Jamaicans were at their collective wits’ end in their efforts to control the number of murders which take place on a weekly basis across the island.

“For a large portion of its administrative life, the Government has utilised the state of emergency as a major crime-fighting tool, which, from all indications, has outlived its usefulness as the criminals no longer fear the soldiers,” she asserted during her opening State of the Nation address for the Opposition.

Aside from the financial impact, she said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vast inequities and levels of unfairness in different spheres of life in Jamaica. She believes the lessons of the past 18 months have shown the importance of ensuring that the nation being built for 2021 and beyond must be fair and balanced.

“It is my dream that Jamaica becomes the country where all Jamaicans feel they can access the basic necessities of education, health, safety and security,” she said.