Forget the politics and do what needs to be done

Thursday, January 10, 2013

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MR Delano Franklyn may well be right. Perhaps the Chicago Tribune was unfair in its adverse characterisation of the Jamaican economy, using Greece as a sort of measuring stick.

What is not in question, though, is that our economy is in an awful state — badly in need of restructuring. This, as a result of a downward spiral of goods production, in per capita terms, matched by an insatiable appetite for a lifestyle well above our means, over many, many years.

To service that lifestyle Jamaica has, over those years, resorted to borrowing to the extent where, as the Chicago Tribune says, we are in a debt trap — needing more than half our earnings to service debt, and unable to adequately pay for essential social programmes and the maintenance of infrastructure.

Of course, the debt trap is old news. We've been caught in the web for decades. It's the reason we first went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support three-and-a-half decades ago.

We became experts at covering over the cracks. But the comfort zone was always too small. It disappeared with the global recession and the subsequent slide of crucial sectors of the Jamaican economy, including bauxite/alumina.

Now, as Mr Horace Dalley so colourfully put it, the Government is broke with virtually no room to manoeuvre. It must take the tough decisions to cut spending and raise revenues; not only to satisfy hard-nosed IMF negotiators, but to ensure that once and for all the country's economy is placed on a sustainable path. The aim must be to take the country to a place where it is reliant on self and not on interest-greedy lenders.

The trouble is that, in our system of democracy, politicians always have an eye on the next election. The unavoidable truth is that the decisions that must be taken could very likely cost the incumbents when next Jamaicans go to the polls.

However, Mrs Portia Simpson Miller and her team knew what they were getting into when they so triumphantly took power a year ago. If they didn't know, it means they have no right to be there.

As they enter their retreat, Mrs Simpson Miller and her Cabinet must forget about that next election and do what must be done.

Crucially, as it prepares the population for the challenges and sacrifices ahead, the Government must seek to ensure that all of us shoulder the burden.

It can't be that public sector workers who cannot escape the tax man are asked to accept another wage freeze, even as elsewhere, artful tax avoidance — so rampant in business and private professional sectors — continues unabated.

Also, there has to be decisive action to cut waste and extravagance in all areas — not least the top echelons of Government. As one person pointed out in response to Mr Dally's affirmation of the Government's impoverishment, "a bruk Government can't afford high-end vehicles".




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