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Gov't senator takes aim at private sector

Published:Saturday | December 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

FOR THE second time in less than three months, Government Senator Lambert Brown has focused the searchlight on the country's private sector, this time accusing it of not doing enough to generate economic growth.

Contributing to the debate on the Debt Management Bill in the Senate yesterday, Brown said that if the private sector had been more diligent, the economy would have recorded higher rates of growth.

"The role of the private sector becomes critical in that growth, and we have to examine over the 50 years their role and their contribution," Brown said.

He continued: "Has it really been up to scratch, and hasn't one of the reasons why so much debt has been borrowed by the public sector is because of the failure of the private sector to do much more than they have done so far?"

As if attempting to debunk the argument that Government has crowded out the private sector in the markets and forced interest rates to raise, Brown said, "Interest rates went down recently and I haven't seen a rushing in of the private sector to take up this slot."

The government senator, who supported the bill, said the real answer to Jamaica's problem was not fiscal responsibility legislation.

"That is useful, that is helpful, the real answer comes with growing our economy," Brown argued.

He added: "The bigger the economy then the question of the debt, even if it remains in absolute dollar, will shrink."

more to say

Brown has signalled that he will have more to say on the role of the private sector in Jamaica's development when he speaks in the State of the Nation debate.

In the meantime, Brown's questioning of the role of the private sector in Jamaica's failure to have lower debt-to-GDP ratio was greeted with dismay from the opposition benches. Dr Christopher Tufton said the issue raised by Brown is "absolute rubbish".

"The JLP and the private sector caused Jamaica to have debt? Oh, my God, what have we come to?" Tufton muttered from his seat.

In October, while contributing to the debate on the Income Tax (amendment) Act 2012, Brown described some members of the private sector as lazy.

"They need to be bold, they need to see the opportunities," Senator Brown declared.

According to the senator, sections of the private sector have failed to take advantage of the trade opportunities under the Caribbean Basin Initiative with the USA, and are also failing to exploit the potential of the Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe.

Friday's debate on the Debt Management Bill was in parts contentious, as opposition senators Marlene Malahoo Forte and Tufton raised objections and made statements which did not sit well with government members.

Justice Minister Mark Golding, who piloted the bill through the Senate, said some of the presentations were heated because they "go to the very heart of the politics of the country and the issues of our time".

The bill, which has already been passed in the House of Representatives, seeks to provide a single statutory source for the minister of finance's authority to borrow money on behalf of the country.