Jamaica cannot return to the start-and-stop mode

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, August 05, 2018

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A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground. — Igbo proverb

Economic growth and development in this country has started and stopped, stopped and started, for as long as a decade at a time. There are some among us who obviously want that stunted reality to continue simply because it suits their agenda of power, personal power, and personal aggrandisement. I believe they will not get their rotten wish.

From golden economic era to the fall

The Jamaican economy in the 1960s was like a 'stepping razor', here I am borrowing the words of the legendary Peter Tosh. Sir Alexander Bustamante, prime minister from April 29, 1962 until February 23, 1967; Sir Donald Sangster, prime minister from February 23, 1967 to April 11, 1967; and Hugh Shearer, prime minister from April 11, 1967 to March 2, 1972; played well at the economic batting crease. These growth figures from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) serve as evidence: 1962 (1.7 per cent); 1963 (3.3 per cent); 1964 (7.8 per cent); 1965 (10.0 per cent); 1966 (2.5 per cent); 1967 (2.7 per cent); 1968 (4.8 per cent); 1969 (5.4 per cent); 1970 (11.9 per cent); 1971 (3.0 per cent); 1972 (9.1 per cent).

Jamaica was the envy of the region and beyond. Then we were regarded as the economic pearl of the Caribbean. However, admittedly, not enough attention was devoted to many aspects of the country's social development. In 1972 came Michael Manley and democratic socialism. He promised a better Jamaica for all Jamaicans. Sounds familiar?

It should; that is what Dr Peter Phillips is promising were the People's National Party (PNP) to form the Government in the future. Democratic socialism, as perpetrated by Manley and his wrecking-ball crew, was merely a cruel brand of Fabianism hatched in Britain. These statistics from the PIOJ speak to how Manley turned Jamaica into an economic wasteland: 1973 (1.3 per cent); 1974 (-3.9 per cent); 1975 (-0.3 per cent); 1976 (-6.5 per cent); 1977 (-2.4 per cent); 1978 (0.6 per cent); 1979 (-1.8 per cent); 1980 (-5.7 per cent).

While the oil crisis in the 1970s and the downturn in bauxite sales were important negatives to Jamaica's balance of payment problems, the weight of the redistribution policies was the death knell to economic growth. The Manley regime was obsessed with the redistribution of income, not the creation of income. Manley's social policies and programmes, though well-intentioned, were not cost-effective and/or sustainable without a thriving economy. Those who did not agree with Manley and his attempts to take control of 'the commanding heights of the economy' were instructed to take one of the five flights a day to Miami. Over 20,000 professionals left Jamaica. Between 1974 and 1979, Jamaica experienced negative growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Our economy came to a halt during the Manley years.

Dr Peter Phillips says were the PNP to form the Government again it would embark on a massive redistribution of land to the landless. Dr Phillips asserted in The Gleaner of January 29, 2018: “Land distribution is at the heart of Jamaica's problems...There is no doubt in the collective view of the shadow Cabinet that this problem of the unequal distribution of land, which has existed from 1838 till now, 180 years, has been at the heart of much of the social and economic inequality in the country.” Sounds familiar? It should, remember the infamous Land Lease and Nyerere Farms fiascos of the 70s?

The PNP formed the Government in 22 1/2 of the last 29 years, why did they not solve what Phillips says is Jamaica's number one problem? Dr Phillips joined the PNP in 1989 and became a Member of Parliament in 1994 ( Jamaica Observer, March 6, 2017). Since 1989 he has held a series of high-level posts in the PNP. Between 1995 and 1997 Phillips was the minister of health. He was transport and works minister from 1998 to October 2001. And from 2011 to February 25, 2016 he was minister of finance and de facto prime minister. Why did he not prevail upon his colleagues to solve what he says is “at the heart of Jamaica's problems”?

Six months after Phillips's 'Damascus' moment regarding the distribution of land, which is a finite resource, and his establishment of a land commission, the country is yet to hear any detail on the proposed scheme. Will Phillips's land plan be patterned on the proposal announced last week by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to expropriate land without compensation ( Newsweek, August 1, 2018). Or will Phillips's grand land plan be modelled on the land confiscation programme of former Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe? The country needs to know. Jamaica cannot return to the start-and-stop mode.

Economic redemption

Edward Seaga delivered Jamaica from economic catastrophe on October 30, 1980. These numbers on growth speak to that fact: 1981 (2.5 per cent); 1982 (1.2 per cent); 1983 (2.3 per cent); 1984 (-0.9 per cent); 1985 (-4.6 per cent); 1986 (1.8 per cent); 1987 (8.0 per cent); 1988 (2.2 per cent); 1989 (7.0 per cent).

Then came Hurricane Gilbert — one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit our country. Gilbert ravaged Jamaica on September 12, 1988. I remember hearing reports on the radio which said that some places looked like a bomb had hit them. Those reports in a sense were premonitions of the severe damage caused by the PNP's 18 1/2 years in power between 1989 and 2007. The country is still recovering from that extremely traumatic period. Again, these statistics speak volumes: 1989 (7.0 per cent); 1990 (6.3 per cent); 1991 (0.5 per cent); 1992 (2.7 per cent); 1993 (2.2 per cent); 1994 (1.9 per cent); 1995 (2.5 per cent); 1996 (-0.2 per cent); 1997 (-1.6 per cent); 1998 (-1.0 per cent); 1999 (1.0 per cent); 2000 (0.9 per cent); 2001 (1.3 per cent); 2002 (1.0 per cent); 2003 (3.5 per cent); 2004 (1.4 per cent); 2005 (1.1 per cent); 2006 (3.0 per cent); 2007 (1.4 per cent). [NB: The years 1972 and 1990 were momentum years of the Jamaica Labour Party administrations of former prime ministers Hugh Lawson Shearer and Edward Seaga.]

I recall Professor Wolfgang Grassl, who did a teaching stint at The University of the West Indies, Mona, saying on the now-defunct news magazine radio programme, Breakfast Club, many years ago, that the 90s was a period of boom in the world economy. He noted that economies in the Caribbean grew on average three per cent to five per cent during the 90s. Our economy came to a halt during the P J Patterson/Omar Davies years. Recall that, according to figures by the PIOJ, 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. Some 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses 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 people committed suicide. Jamaica cannot return to the start-and-stop mode.

Peter Phillips's run as finance minister was not much better. The growth figures for 2011 to 2015 tell the miserable tale of how Phillips choked the economy almost to death: 2012 (-0.5 per cent); 2013 (0.2 per cent); 2014 (1.1 per cent); and 2015 (1.4 per cent). Phillips also imposed $58 billion in new taxes during his time as finance minister.

In contrast, the JLP left the economy growing at 1.6 per cent in 2011. This was achieved during the worst global economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929-1939.

Events in recent weeks should serve as the most recent reminders that Jamaica cannot return to the start-and-stop mode. Those who spread fake news about mass destruction of buildings in central Kingston, the constituency of Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites, are interested only in holding back Jamaica. Recall Thwaites told the country some time ago that: “The PNP has presided over the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich since slavery.” Happily, some residents, as we say in the street, “spot the rake” [figure/understand the real motives] of those who would prefer to see hundreds of poor Jamaicans continue to live in shantytowns and squatter enclaves while they insulate themselves “far from the madding crowd” (Thomas Hardy), and are protected by their Praetorian Guard.

These comments from a Gleaner story of July 26, 2018 were instructive: “Hubert Henry, a resident of Allman Town in central Kingston, charged that politicians and their surrogates were not keen on supporting the development, fearing that they would lose votes if the area were to be developed.

“ 'All [you si ] happening here, most of it is politics. They don't really want to see the people live a better life and be independent. They want to see the youth living in slum all the days of their lives, and that's why they are fighting it so much.

“ 'We must can see better one day. I don't think we did mek fi live so, Sah. You have five, six generations of people [who have lived] here, and they [have] never [seen] better yet,' said Henry. 'Dem poor and hungry. So they must see it [the development] and say, 'yes, we can live in a better community and a better area that can smell clean like other places,' Henry said.”

I agree that more communication needs to be had with our people as regards the planned developments for Heroes' Circle and its environs. I see no need, however, to throw out the baby with the bath water.

While various garbage dumps around the country were set on fire in recent days by arsonists, some whose political antecedents are well known laughed and cheered on social media. The rot of unenlightened self-interest is a clear and present danger to Jamaica.

There are those who laugh vociferously when an old lady slips on a ripe banana peel and seriously injures herself. There are those who use their smartphones to capture the lowest points of human misfortune with a single perverse objective: I must post it in on social media first. There are some among us who implicitly and explicitly support mayhem and murder. There are those who use stones and other projectiles to smash the windscreens and side glasses of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses, which cost hundreds of thousands of hard currency to replace.

The ultimate objective of some of these fringe elements is to turn Jamaica into a pigsty, where life exists in a state of nature that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described as “nasty, brutish and short”. They will not win. They will ultimately get their comeuppance.

Virgil said, “Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance.” I agree! I believe a critical mass is determined that Jamaica cannot return to the start-and-stop mode.

Tomorrow we will celebrate 56 years of political independence. Unlike some, I believe we made the right decision to row our own boat.

Moving in the right direction

This good news from Economic Programme Oversight Committee last week was a heart-warmer: “Through the end of June 2018, Jamaica has met 100 per cent of all structural benchmarks, including seven macro-fiscal benchmarks and 14 benchmarks for public sector reform.”

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

Happy Independence, Jamaica!

Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave. — Frederick Douglass

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

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