The social agenda and hard truths

Monday, February 18, 2013

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IT hasn't attracted the media attention it deserved. However, an important element of the release issued by Mr Jan Kees Martijn, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to Jamaica, focused on the need to protect the poorest and most vulnerable.

In addition to seeking to achieve sustainable debt reduction, economic and financial stability and private sector-led growth, the IMF said its programme must "promote social stability through enhanced social protection for the most vulnerable".

The release spoke of the promotion of "economic self-reliance, including through the establishment of a floor on social spending, maintaining the real value of PATH (Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education) benefits, and expanding re-certification and the Steps-to-Work programme".

To many of us, a strong social cushion may seem an obvious corollary to any austerity programme. In fact, it is an aspect too often ignored by overly bookish, accountancy-style economists and analysts.

Simply put, the desired economic stability and growth will not be achieved in an atmosphere of social instability. In that respect, we would all be kidding ourselves should we not recognise that extreme hardship, particularly over the last four years, has kindled considerable anger and resentment, simmering just below the surface. Far too many Jamaicans, even among the employed, feel boxed into a corner with no where to turn.

As we pointed out in this space a week ago, even in these hard times, the mass of the population must not be allowed to lose hope.

In that respect, reports last week of violent resistance to attempts by electricity provider JPS to disconnect illegal connections in economically depressed Kingston communities should not be treated as isolated. We obviously don't condone any form of illegality, but national wisdom suggests we treat this as a warning signal which we ignore at our own peril.

So it can't be just talk. The Government, working with its multilateral partners, the private sector, the private voluntary organisations, community organisations, church, et al must ensure that the social agenda is rapidly reinforced and expanded as recommended.

But then, of course, there is also the issue of personal responsibility. That was an essential point being made by Seventh-day Adventist preacher Mr Roberto Herrera as he urged church members to pay their taxes.

Also, it seems to this newspaper, from the pulpit, political platforms, et al, people — including the very poor and most vulnerable — need to be told other hard truths, such as that it makes no sense to have multiple children when there is not even enough to support one child. Our people must be told that parental irresponsibility is among the reasons we are in the pickle we now find ourselves.

This is not a time for the customary sugar coating. Jamaicans must be told the truth in simple, straightforward terms: That all of us must take responsibility.




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