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In the shade of the tree planted by others?

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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He who burns down his house knows why ashes cost a fortune. — Ethiopian proverb

The People's National Party (PNP) burned down the shop in the 1970s, 1990s, and the early 2000s. Now, with an apparent absence of fresh ideas or personnel to drag it out of its present political doldrums, 89 Old Hope Road is drowning its sorrows on a cheap moonshine nicknamed 'credit binge'.

Last Tuesday, Mark Golding bowled his first over as the Opposition spokesperson on finance in the budget debate. He started with a no-ball. The PNP continues to maintain a fatuous line that credit for the achievements of the Andrew Holness-led Administration properly belong to the Portia Simpson Miller Administration that was booted from office on February 25, 2016. Golding 'quoted' business tycoon Warren Buffett as having said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted the tree.” What Buffett actually said was, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long time ago.”

That aside, the PNP just does not get it! There is a new and more discerning type of voter who is no longer concerned with who planted the tree. That is immaterial to them. They just want to know the tree is there. Their focus is who can maintain the shade and fertilise the tree to continually bear edible and 'pickable' fruit. This group of pragmatic voters is expanding fast.

Nelson Mandela was famous for illustrations of pragmatism. In 1990 Mandela attended a town hall meeting in New York, chaired by Ted Koppel of ABC Networks. It was Mandela's first trip to the USA following his release after 27 years in prison. Some in the meeting tried their best to hijack Mandela. Red herrings of different shapes and sizes were introduced in an assembly line manner. He was chided for advocating sanctions against Apartheid South Africa, his support for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, as well as his close friendship with Yasser Arafat (of Palestine) and Fidel Castro (of Cuba). Mandela listened. Then he eased into his chair, and quietly, but firmly said: “We do not care whether the cat is black or white, as long as it can catch mice!”

Mandela was quoting Deng Xiaoping, Chinese revolutionary and politician. Deng Xiaoping, was many things, but he was also supremely pragmatic. When the now defunct Soviet Union would not play political ball with him, he responded by strengthening China's alliance with the United States and then US President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This was done in part to speed up technology transfers and numerous others level of investments, cooperation and capitalise on the foundation work that was set in place by Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong. The rest, as they say, is history.

Chequered past

But back to Mark Golding. Not surprisingly, he is very selective in his flora scheme. The PNP refuses to take responsibility for the damage it brought to the economy in the 70s, 90s and 2000s. Recall that, according to figures by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, in 1971 the Jamaican economy grew by almost 12 per cent in that one single year. This is equivalent to the cumulative growth under Dr Omar Davies' entire 14 years as minister of finance between 1993 and 2007. Davies' high interest rate policy crippled local entrepreneurship in the 1990s. The evidence speaks for itself. These companies capsized under the P J Patterson/Dr Omar Davies time at bat: (This is an abbreviated list) Mutual Life, a company that operated locally for over 100 years; Goodyear Tyre Company; West Indies Glass; Homelectrix; Workers' Bank; Raymar's Furniture; Charley's Windsor House; Thermo Plastics; Berec Batteries; Century National Bank; Crown Eagle Insurance; Crown Eagle Insurance Commercial Bank; Island Life Insurance Company; American Life Insurance Company; Eagle Merchant Bank; Ecotrends; Times Store; Things Jamaican, which had its location turned into a detention centre by the PNP. Add to those 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses that went under during the 1990s. Thousands of honest businessmen and women were ruined. Many have migrated. The association that represents Finsac'd entrepreneurs says 20 committed suicide. Thousands today are like dead men and women walking; shattered human shells who cannot bring themselves to pick up the pieces.

Does Mark Golding remember that while the world economy and most Caribbean countries grew by an average of between three per cent and five per cent in the 90s, Jamaica's economy floundered under the deadweight of a Government which presided over major money scandals that damaged the country's reputation and set back the economy for decades. Again the evidence speaks for itself: Recall the major money scandals that were highlighted on the front page of The Gleaner of February 9, 2002:

1. Shell waiver (1991) — $29.5 million; approximately $560 million in today's terms

2. Zinc (1989) — $500 million; approx $22 billion today

3. Furniture (1991) — $10.6 million; approx $200 million today

4. Public sector salaries (1998) — $60 million; approx $287 million today

5. NetServ (2001) — $220 million; approx $856 million today

6. Operation Pride/NHDC (1997-present) — $5.5 billion projected; approx $20 billion today.

TOTAL: $6.320 billion; approx $44 billion today.

Who can forget the various cock-ups of the last Portia Simpson Administration, which cost our country billions in losses. Does Mr Golding recall when Phillip Paulwell, ex-minister of science, technology, energy, and mining, bungled and botched the 381-megawatt energy project? Does Golding recall when Dr Fenton Ferguson, former minister of health, made inadequate preparation for the arrival of chikungunya on our shores? Under Ferguson's watch there was country-wide suffering, which cost the economy, conservatively, $7 billion and 13 million lost man-hours of production time, according to data from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica. Recall the Krauck and Anchor $5-billion hoax. Former Chairman of the National Housing Trust, Dr Carlton Davis, told us, “The NHT now spends some $900,000 per month to maintain the property, which it bought from Orange Valley Holdings Limited in 2012. The purchase has been steeped in controversy since news of the deal became public in 2013.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 17, 2015). Up to December 17, 2017, The Gleaner carried a headline that said, 'Outameni back on the market'. Mr Golding might want to tell the poor people of this country who might never get an NHT benefit, how much this “buyout of bad debt” [ Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2015] has cost the taxpayers to date. I could list several other sour fruits from trees which the PNP planted during their last turn at bat.

Economic relay

Mark Golding's and the PNP's line that the trees which are today bearing 100-fold were planted by them, but those which produced ten-fold or are barren were planted by the Jamaica Labour Party two years ago is pedestrian at best and juvenile at worst. The incontrovertible evidence does not support his wild imaginings.

To be accurate, Golding, the most recent rebuilding of the Jamaican economy started under the Bruce Golding Administration with Audley Shaw as minister of finance. It continued under Portia Simpson Miller with Dr Peter Phillips as finance minister, and has continued with this Andrew Holness-led Administration with Audley Shaw as finance minister. The reality is there is enough credit to go around, no need to hog it. In that spirit, I suggest that the PNP and Mark Golding revisit this editorial entitled, 'Stop whingeing, PNP'. It said, among other things:

“We understand the chagrin of Mark Golding and Peter Phillips, justice and finance minister, respectively, in the previous Administration, regarding their party having lost the government before the green shoots of their economic reform project turned into full-fledged economic growth. That's one of the uncertainties of democratic politics.

“But part of the art of good government and good governance is appreciating which of your opponent's/predecessor's policies are worth keeping. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government, since it came to office in March, has been mostly good at this. It has kept firmly on the economic course of the past five years and even walked back on its pre-election promise by raising a billion dollars in indirect taxes to offset a give-back on personal income tax.

“After years of stagnation and anaemic growth, the economy is expected to expand by around two per cent this fiscal year and be on a sharper upward trajectory in the coming years.

“In that regard, the Holness Administration should be commended, rather than mocked, for supposedly 'reaping what it did not sow', as was done by Mr Golding and, to a lesser extent, Dr Phillips.

“For while it may be true that the new Administration 'inherited a platform' built by the previous one, they could have made a mess of it. That they haven't is good for Jamaica. Further, we welcome this continuity in government rather than the old habit of ripping up what was laid down by your predecessor, even if it is good.” ( The Gleaner, December 26, 2016)

The occasion of this poignant editorial followed on the heels of 'bad mind' pronouncements in a Gleaner article on December 23, 2016, 'JLP reaping what it did not sow, says PNP'. The story said, among other things: “The Opposition has accused the Andrew Holness-led Administration of 'reaping what it did not sow', and has charged that the months-old Administration cannot take credit for the levels of growth that are being recorded in the economy.

“ 'They have inherited a platform which was built by several years of sacrifice by the Jamaican people and careful economic management of the People's National Party which turned the ship around and moved all of our macroeconomic indicators in the right direction,' Golding said, pointing out that, 'credit to Holness's Jamaica Labour Party Government, they have been able to continue'.

“Golding said he could not point out any specifics that the JLP Administration has done to date that could directly influence growth in the economy.

“Dr Peter Phillips, PNP presidential hopeful and former finance minister, is of a similar view.

“Phillips has declared that all the investments and projects that have so far materialised this year were birthed under the PNP.

“ 'It is not that they have done anything spectacular since they took up office. All of what is happening is a continuation of what we had started in our Administration and that is the truth,' Phillips argued.”

Golding needs to understand that good governments across the world have ceased the foolish practice of throwing out all the plans and programmes of their predecessors. Sensible continuity, in the interest of national development is the new common sense in governance, Golding. Someone needs to enlighten the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Dr Peter Phillips on this shift also.

The facts don't change

No matter how the PNP and Golding try to torture the facts, they simply won't confess to what they want. Here, I take liberties with the words of Nobel laureate Ronald H Coase.

I suspect the good tidings from the International Monetary Fund report last week will be hogged by the PNP. The report said, among other things:

• employment at historic highs;

• inflation and current account deficit, modest;

• net international reserves, comfortable; and

• external borrowings cost at historic lows

These are all quantitative performance criteria and structural benchmarks for December 2017 which were met (non-borrowed reserves well exceeded target; tax revenues for 17/18 were above target).

Recently, the minister of finance reported that for the first time in 14 years no new taxes would be placed upon the heads of the taxpayers. The PNP says the credit for this belongs to them. Edmund Bartlett, our tourism minister, was interviewed on CNN last week. Jamaica welcomed a record 4.3 million visitors last year earned revenue of just over US$3 billion. He was recognised as World Tourism Minister of the Year in Berlin, Germany. The facts are louder than PNP's opinions. And there is no shortage of praise for those who rightly deserve it.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

No great thing is created suddenly. — Epictetus

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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