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Jamaica Vision 2030 needs vigour ... and maybe a touch of flamboyance

Published:Friday | May 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Wilberne Persaud

One means
of figuring out where a country is going is obviously to pay attention to the speeches and common exhortations of its leaders. Another, look at the data: what's the time path of imports and exports; private investment distributed by economic sector; population dynamics as established by decennial censuses and sample surveys; educational achievement of the population, and a host of other indicators normally tracked by statistical services.

Use of either or both techniques together, it seems, leads to confusion. It's frustrating because, for close upon four decades, Jamaica has been buffeted from pillar to post by bouts of austerity measures occasioned by recourse to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) resulting from balance-of-payments disequilibrium and attendant fiscal underperformance.

Admittedly, these two conditions derive from decisions and processes, themselves the result of government policy and private entrepreneurial decisions - these are not unconnected! Any attempt, therefore, to try to figure out where we're headed turns out to be a bit more complex than one might anticipate.

What's the solution? It seems ready-made. Vision 2030 Jamaica - our road to sustainable prosperity, is "our country's first long-term national development plan which aims to put Jamaica in a position to achieve developed country status by 2030".

The plan envisages Jamaica as"the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business". This is a comprehensive, well-thought-out and articulated plan, the objectives of which appear to be beyond dispute.

Broad to-do list

The question that arises is: how to implement these plans that encompass such a broad range of sectors and activities in its 'to do' list? Cabinet maintains ultimate responsibility with the Planning Institute of Jamaica assuming the role of technical secretariat.

Given current economic conditions and short-run policy measures, laser-focused - to the credit of Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips - on achieving fiscal targets agreed with the IMF, one naturally wonders how Vision 2030 is progressing. Your columnist is currently unable to make a comprehensive, evidence-based assessment. But we might suggest a few things.

Much as I hate to use clichés so rapidly losing true meaning and impact, I do have to say the 'challenges' are so great, that a 'champion' seems an ultimate requirement. What do we mean by this? Cabinet is large, its membership buffeted - perhaps plagued is a more apt description - by competing and often conflicting demands upon individual ministries.

Add to this the fact that the Planning Institute and its chief technical director can lay claim to having neither the power, nor authority of Zubin Mehta or Pat Bishop. Mehta is music director for life of the Israel Philharmonic and the main conductor for Valencia's opera house.The late Pat Bishop conducted Trinidad and Tobago's Desperadoes Steel Orchestra.

Conductor and conductress command attention from all sections of the orchestra. The players have a musical score; they take their cues from, and respond to what we may perceive as mere nuances of the conductor, although Mehta's conducting is described as "flamboyant, vigorous and forceful".

The point is, achieving the desired end requires timing, coordination and, of course, what's taken for granted, skilful interpretation and dexterity in execution by all the players. Is it that Prime Minister Simpson Miller plays, or should play the conductress' role? Last week's column ended thus: Immediate short-run policy implementation, absolutely necessary as it is, should not, must not drown efforts aimed at long-term sustained growth.

It appears to me that achieving Vision 2030 requires a powerful conductor or conductress - "flamboyant, vigorous and forceful". Perhaps we might delete flamboyant. Vigorous and forceful should be enough!

Wilberne Persaud is an economist.wilbe65@yahoo