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Persistent drought ... of ideas

Published:Monday | April 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Garth A. Rattray,

Garth A. Rattray, Contributor

The rain clouds that broke the drought a little over a week ago made everyone elated when they drifted in and released the deluge that cooled, quenched and restored our parched land. However, it occurred to me that the drought of ideas from our leaders has persisted for many years now.

Non-productive politicking and a lack of workable ideas on the way forward is destroying our nation. We've been in panic mode, treading water and trying to keep from drowning in debt, crime, indiscipline and corruption for so long that we've forgotten how to swim. Consequently, we are getting nowhere. We are constantly in some sort of economic crisis - playing catch-up by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and delaying this payment and that. It's all just palliation (the alleviation of a situation, not a cure). And, by the way, palliation is something that's done when someone or something is dying ... it will not effect any recovery whatsoever.

Most of our politicians employ extremely exciting and creative ways to campaign, 'rally the troops' and revel in controlling hundreds of thousands of voters, but they quickly and stolidly relinquish their responsibi-lities when it comes to controlling the criminality within their constituencies. All of a sudden, they have no knowledge of anything sordid, no control over their diehard supporters and no control over the poverty and social degradation that produce crime. They have no practical ideas about securing a peaceful society and, instead, heap the mountain of responsibility on the security forces, even though it was politics that created deep divisions and introduced the gun to our society.

Our country seems to be blinded by crime, violence and the threat of economic collapse. We have no vision. I wonder why we haven't made ourselves competitive in the electronic assembly industry. With the United States dollar being so strong here - salaries are comparatively cheap - how come we don't have other products like clothing and machinery assembled here also? Why are we anchored to traditional foreign-exchange earners? Where is our innovation?

Investor-friendly nation

True, Jamaica has made itself an investor-friendly nation (when it comes to enacting laws that allow for partial or total foreign ownership in businesses here, along with the attendant preferential treatment, duty and tax delay/relief incentives); however, there is a downside. One particular question haunts me: in the long run, are foreign investors depleting our resources?

Although this 'fire sale' and open-door policy may bring injections of foreign capital, provide employment and (sometimes) encourage competition - the foreign shareholders require significant returns on their investment. Therefore, a (perhaps significantly large) percentage of the profits earned here in Jamaica must be converted into United States dollars and sent overseas.

That brings me to another question - why are we selling off obviously profitable enterprises (like the Kingston Container Terminal) to foreign entrepreneurs (like China) that intend to purchase it and turn a handsome profit for themselves? Our port won the coveted and prestigious 2008 Caribbean Shipping Association port of the year award. We boast many cranes especially the new, state-of-the-art Super Post Panamax cranes that can work vessels 22 container-row wide (the average vessel has 19 rows, only Maersk Line has one 21-row wide).

The port has two mobile (vehicle and cargo inspection system) VACIS scanning machines and an Advanced Research and Application Corporation Eagle, non-intrusive scanning device that can see through 300 millimetres (14 inches) of steel. Our port is geographically well-placed, efficient, safe, secure and has the seventh-deepest natural harbour in the world. Are we being penny wise and pound foolish yet again?

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Feedback may be sent to or