Working together for a better Jamaica
The following is an excerpt of a speech given by chief executive officer of GraceKennedy, Don Wehby at the Junior Achievements Champions for Youth awards banquet held on Thursday, May 29 at The Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston:
I'm glad to be able to share the importance of public-private collaboration in promoting sustainable development of Jamaica through investment in our youth.
When we speak of public-private partnerships, we are talking about a government service or private business venture which is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private-sector companies. Over time it has been proven that government alone cannot do it all, especially in countries where economic challenges exist. But it has also been proven that collaboration between the public, private and civil sectors has resulted in a win-win for all. It's a model I have always strongly supported.
Through public-private partnerships (or ppps), we can give you the support to be able to empower the future. But before we look into the future, we have to understand where we are coming from. Jamaica is a great nation, but we haven't lived up to expectations in terms of economic performance and the standard of living of our people. This is true, despite our unparalleled achievements on the world stage, in sports and music.
In the last 40 years, Jamaica has been growing at an average rate of a little more than one per cent per year. Our public debt has surpassed 145 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and our debt burden remains consistently high.
But I don't believe in playing the blame game. I think we need to stop externalising and using the IMF as an excuse and get on with the business of the nation and the growth of our country. We need to address issues that can help us do that, and I believe very strongly that governments must do their job and ensure that we have:
- A low cost of energy;
- Proper infrastructure;
- Incentives - where applicable;
- A simple and competitive tax economy;
- Simplified, friendly bureaucracy;
- A productive and educated workforce;
- Law and order, and
- Disciplined, strong financial management of the Jamaican economy.
If we get these things right, we can, as the PSOJ (Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica) says, 'watch Jamaica grow'. So while the Government continues to work on economic reform, the private sector and other groups also need to lend a hand, playing our part in moving the nation forward. I believe that the change can come through empowering the young people, and we all have a part to play in giving them the opportunity to do that.
We can get it done if we work together. My mantra has always been that the word 'team' means - together, everyone achieves more.
Last year's signing of Jamaica's first social partnership agreement between the Government, private sector, trade unions and civil society acknowledged that we all have to agree on what Jamaica's challenges are and collectively work together to address them. We have seen examples that ppps are the way forward.
There is the Grants Pen Community Police and Service facility built by AMCHAM and the USAID. After that initiative was completed, businesses returned to the area and crime trended downward. The debt exchange is yet another example, brought about with the collaboration of the Bank of Jamaica, the Ministry of Finance, the Jamaica Securities Dealers' Association and the Jamaica Bankers' Association.
Engine of growth
Small and medium-size businesses are a major engine of growth. Many of our young people have become successful entrepreneurs out of sheer necessity to earn a living. And here's the beauty about starting your business in this day and age. It doesn't have to be expensive!
Access to a computer literally gives you access to the world as your marketplace. This is the reality of a world without borders, or the global village, as we currently refer to it. This is where ppps become especially important. We are different stakeholders, but we all have one common goal: A better jamaica. We, therefore, need to create for you, through pps, an environment where it is conducive for you to start your business and for that business to thrive.
Right now techonology is the ticket to successful businesses for many of our youth. The world has changed. I want to encourage you to dare to dream. That's what Mark Zuckerberg did when he started Facebook. I wonder if even he dreamt that 10 years later, Facebook would have upwards of 1.2 billion users. Technology is the way forward, and our young people in Jamaica have proven how tech-savvy they are.
Jamaica is a knowledge-based-led economy. We need to ensure that the bureaucracy and the necessary laws and regulations are put in place for us to take advantage of this changing world. Usain says 'to the world', because he is the best in the world. Our entrepreneurs should be able to say this too. Let us also not forget that there is great potential in the sector of agriculture. It may not seem as glamorous as technology, but many young farmers are realising that it is a lucrative option, especially where it concerns products that can be exported. Again, let's remove all the red tape and roll out the red carpet for our young entrepreneurs to get into the field of exporting.
The private sector has more of a role to play than just cash support. We can also make a meaningful contribution through mentorship of those who need our guidance. Whatever advice we can offer, we are obligated to do so.
The public-private partnership model has proven its worth, so my call is for more of these partnerships to be effected.