Friday, November 28, 2014

Jamaica’s fundamental challenges

ONE of the things I pointed out early in my second book is that before we can solve a problem we need to understand what the fundamental issues are. I say that because over the years I find that we tend to address the symptoms of our problems rather than the underlying issues.

This is also true when we engage in debate about what solutions are to be applied. I guess that’s because some of us are not able to really understand the issues.

I do find that this is not only a national problem, but also manifests itself on a personal level. So, as an example, many people who are uncomfortable with their weight tend to try to cover it with clothes or undergo cosmetic surgery, or apply other solutions, when the real problem is getting proper nutrition and exercise.

However, humans tend to always seek the easier way out, and so the cosmetic solution is often preferred. This reflects the approach to our economic challenges where, for a very long time, we have delayed having to take the necessary decisions to ensure a better future.

The result is that the delay in acting causes tougher decisions later, both nationally and personally. In other words, it is better to maintain good health than to get it back.

So recently, more than ever I have been giving serious thought to what Jamaica’s fundamental challenges are, and why we have not been able to make any real progress in over 50 years of Independence. Maybe because I am getting older, I am even more distraught at the suffering that many Jamaicans have to endure, especially the children who are abused, and after so many years we are still unable to fix these ills of society.

Instead, what we have done is focus on many macro issues while ignoring the plight of individuals in general.

One thing I have learned is that no matter how much you try to address the macro environment, unless we deal effectively with the smaller issues we will never sustainably solve the bigger problems. This is very true for organisations, as many people try to implement policies and systems without giving due consideration to the environment that the staff has to work in.

In both an organisation and a country, the most valuable resource you will have is the people, as without people there is no organisation or country. This is an important concept to understand as the main reason behind every activity on earth is life, or people.

The other thing that many of us fail to understand is that economics is all about human behaviour. So too is social studies. And whether you have a successful economy or society depends on how people behave. In other words, the vibrancy of an economy is not fundamentally about the policies implemented, but rather how people react to the policies. Do they encourage people to consume or produce?

It would stand to reason then that if we are to truly achieve success, or to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030, then any policies that we formulate must put people at the centre.

After all, policies and laws mean nothing if people don’t support them and act positively towards them. In fact, one of the main reasons why we have failed to achieve prosperity as a country, relative to other countries, is that we have failed to consider the importance attached to the welfare of our people.

I know that we have enacted many laws and that various structures have been put in place. However, for me, the success of policies and actions is not based on announcements and implementation only, as we have become accustomed to, but rather on outcomes. In other words, with all that we have done, and all the investments made, have we seen the desired improvement in income levels and quality of life generally? At the economic level, after all the debt that has burdened us over the years, have we seen the desired economic growth?

If the answer to that is no, then it means that no matter how much effort has been made, we have not achieved what we desired. And it must mean that we have been doing something terribly wrong, and of necessity must relook at what we are doing.

This is why we had to make a seismic shift in how we approached our economic and fiscal challenges. Based on the past two years, it seems as if we have come to grips with what needs to be done in that area. However, this is just a part of the bigger problem, as a country’s development, in the final analysis, is about improving the standard of living generally and providing greater opportunities to people, not just meeting economic targets.

So even after we have successfully achieved the economic targets we still have work to do.

We have to accept that we have not done a good job as a country in this regard, and it is not only because of poor governance, but very importantly a lack of our own personal responsibility, and how we understand our roles as citizens.

I think that the basic problem we face is the lack of proper parenting, and that we live in a time when roles are confused, as children want to act like adults and adults want to act like children. Just like the mosquito infestation, which has contributed to the CHIKV spread, if we were to all address the actions of our own surroundings then we would have better citizens contributing to development.

This problem crystallises itself in social issues that, I think, are at the root of our problems. These include child abuse, poor parenting, unethical values and attitudes, general indiscipline and lack of enforcement of order by the people responsible, and the list goes on. The point is that if we have a society that does not produce good and productive citizens, then we will have economies and societies that are far from optimal, if we accept that economies and societies are nothing more than the interaction of people.

There is a lot more I could say on the subject, but suffice it to say that Jamaica’s fundamental challenges lie in how we build and maintain improved standards of living for our people.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The main lesson I learnt from visiting Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba — Jorge Perez, the head of Cuba’s top tropical medicine institute, points to a map, showing the location of the field hospital set up to train doctors in the fight against Ebola, in Havana on Friday, October 17, 2014. Cuba has sent 165 doctors to Sierra Leone and plans to send 296 more to Liberia and Guinea, the largest commitment of medical personnel so far. Perez says Cuba is ready to send more doctors as long as there is enough funding and infrastructure to support them.

LAST month I was a member of the delegation that visited Cuba with Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson to look at that country's preparation for Ebola, and thus take back some lessons for implementation in Jamaica.

There is no doubt that even though Ebola is unlikely to penetrate the Caribbean region, the fact is that the consequences of it doing so are so harmful that it is important for us to do everything to prevent it. In the unlikely event that it does enter the region, it is imperative that we contain it quickly.

This was my first visit to Cuba, and I was very impressed with how organised they are, and their approach to confronting challenges. The team did learn a lot from the visit, and the hospitality of the Cubans was outstanding.

One could argue that the system of government, and the resulting effect on the standard of living leave much to be desired. However, that is not what I want to focus on, as I think there are some very important lessons for us to learn from them.

We did learn a lot about the Ebola virus and how to prepare for it, including the systems to use. However, the main lesson for me went far beyond Ebola. It was the fact that there exists a well-ordered and disciplined society, and that the people seemed to take a lot of pride in what they do and strive for perfection. This, of course, can only come through years of instilling this culture.

The truth is that this type of order exists in countries like the US also, and this is primarily because they ensure the enforcement of law and order, not unlike in Cuba, although in a more democratic way. The level of order and discipline in both societies can only come through the authorities ensuring that they enforce laws.

It seemed to me that it does not matter how many conferences we go to or how many laws we have on the books, if we do not ensure that there is order, which is enforced in a fair and swift manner, then we will never be able to realise our full potential as a country.

The first thing is that, even though we were on an official visit -- where you are usually ushered through immigration quickly -- the Cuban immigration authorities spent time with each member of the delegation quizzing us about our travels and whether we had visited West Africa.

I am sure that they had some indication of whether we had or not, as they went through our passports thoroughly, but may have used the questions as a way of confirming our honesty. The fact, though, is that they ensured that the system of screening applied to everyone, as border control seemed extremely important. They later advised that this level of scrutiny was applied to anyone entering Cuba.

I was also impressed by the fact that for them, 8:30 am did not mean 8:31 am. In other words, there was a lot of respect for time, and everyone with whom we spoke was very knowledgeable and very comprehensive in their analysis.

So they thought about everything that could possibly go wrong, so that every system they had in place was there for a reason, down to how they put on and took off the hazmat suits. They also had a true centralised system of operations and included a wide cross section of people in their deliberations.

The health system is also very well organised, so that each region has a hospital and each hospital has around 25 doctors, who live in the communities where they work, and each deals with about 1,200 patients, so they know each patient very well. This may not work in our system of competition and a broken health care system. However, it shows that health care is a national priority and must be seen as critical for development.

I was also very impressed with the fact that they don't allow the deterioration of the infrastructure, which is also very well organised. There are many parks for communities and the roads are organised for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. Quite a contrast to Jamaica where it's every man for himself.

I noticed, also, that the Cubans are very active in restoring the buildings in Old Havana to their original architectural design, as they recognise the value of this as a tourist attraction. I often wonder when I see the historical pictures of downtown Kingston why we never did that, not to mention Port Royal and the value that would have had as a tourist attraction.

It is this lack of discipline and order in Jamaica that, in my view, has been the primary reason for our economic and social decay. For example, we love to speak about major crimes like murder, but we never seem to realise the link between murder and general lack of discipline and law and order. In other words, how can we solve crime if everyone is allowed to do what they want when driving, throw garbage anywhere they want, or play music at whatever level they want or whenever they want?

Or how can we solve crime when it takes years to get a case through the courts, or there is no equity in justice, as in case of Mario Deane and others held in prisons for long periods without a trial.

How do we talk about economic development when there is no proper monitoring of the zoning laws by the parish councils, leading to improper competition? Or how can we see an increase in productivity when the bureaucracy of the public sector takes hours to deal with one transaction, or it takes each of us 368 hours per year to pay taxes?

The truth is that, unless we can address the problem of a dysfunctional society, in terms of law, order, and values, and unless there is accountability for actions, then we will not realise the potential we need for sustainable economic and social development.

Each citizen, of course, has a big role to play, and I am reminded of this when I see how much garbage gets into the gullies and onto the beaches. It is just plain lack of any respect for self why we as a people throw garbage on the roads, but maybe this is a reflection of the pride some of us have in ourselves.

So while the trip to Cuba did produce valuable lessons about the Ebola situation, more importantly it showed me that if we are to move forward, then we must develop a society that embraces law and order, and citizens who accept their own responsibility.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The risk of inadequate health management

MONROVIA, Liberia — A man walks past a billboard warning people of the deadly Ebola virus in Monrovia on Friday. The number of people killed in the Ebola outbreak has risen above 4,000, the World Health Organisation has said. The latest figures show there have been 8,376 cases and 4,024 deaths in the worst-affected West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. (PHOTO: AP)

THE world has, in recent weeks, been very concerned with the Ebola virus and more importantly, containing it. Here in Jamaica, we have been dealing with the effects of the chikungunya virus, more commonly referred to as ChikV, while also keeping our eye on what is happening with Ebola, as this can be very devastating for Jamaica and the global economy.

I have seen many comments on social media, and I have posted a few as well, debating what measures should be put in place, and where responsibility lies. Some of these discussions have been constructive, some have been irrational, and some have been political. Many can only qualify as the rantings of ignorant people who don't have the ability to understand what the temperature is beyond the tip of their noses.

What is very clear to me is that proper health management in these circumstances is not something that we should seek opinions and consensus on, as the consequence of failure and delay is too horrendous. Sure, we want to consult with various stakeholders, but that consultation must take place with stakeholders who can make a difference to the fight, and not just consult for consulting's sake.

You also want to constantly review all processes, and be critical of what is not going right, but that should be constructively done in order to improve the situation, not seek one-upmanship.

This means that the management of the health care system generally requires astute and objective leadership which must be free of both ego and sensitivity, and must be able to communicate.

We must also understand that leadership is not just government and other officials, but must be leadership within our businesses, households, and wider communities. In other words, as the prime minister said, health management is more about personal responsibility than anything that can be done at a policy level, as health is really a personal issue. Whether it be ChikV, Ebola, or lifestyle diseases, it is all about how we manage our surroundings that affects us and those around us.

With that said though, leadership is responsible for communication and education, and we can all agree that this CHIKV outbreak was not managed properly. This should be accepted as such by the authorities. But once that is done, then let's put it down to a practice run for the real threat of Ebola, and other infectious diseases that are not here as yet.

So the press conference on Thursday with the prime minister and Sandrea Falconer is a good start to a much better approach after ChikV.

The Medical Association of Jamaica, as reported, also seems more confident in the current approach to the preparation for Ebola, and all of us need to be involved in the fight to keep it away. Which, by the way, means ensuring that we observe safety procedures when we travel, and when we return to Jamaica we are honest about where we went and any possible exposure. Again, the role of personal responsibility.

I say all of this because there is a huge risk

to improper health management, which includes inadequate communication and education. A recent report says that (i) approximately US$32.7 billion will be needed to fight Ebola in West Africa; (ii) failure to contain the epidemic could compromise the future of not only West Africa, but the entire continent.

In other words, this could be much worse than the 2008 financial crisis if it is not dealt with quickly. Any hint of an outbreak in Europe, Asia, North, or South America (largest global markets) could plummet financial markets and cause significant reduction in earning power and consumption. Also, unlike the slowdown in global markets caused by bad mortgages in 2008, this could lead to much more devastating and long-term consequences, as we would see global brands and physical markets disappearing.

This is why all the major developed countries are treating this as a major potential crisis and are pledging billions of US dollars in the fight, because if this is not controlled it could be the end of the world as we know it. In other words, a health crisis resulting from a disease like this is worse than any financial market crash or world war. In fact, it could lead to a global financial meltdown and war.

This is why personal responsibility is very critical, and why Jamaica needs to do everything to protect its borders and residents. This is not about giving some people a "bly", as we are used to doing.

The reality is that we are a tourist destination and we are just trying to cope with an IMF agreement which seems to be bearing some fruit, but we still remain very fragile. We also have a poor health infrastructure, a significant percentage of unemployment and people living below the poverty line, relative to other parts of the region and the world.

Therefore, the best line of defence for us is to ensure that our borders are well protected, and that proper and effective monitoring of anyone suspected is in place. Anyone who believes they have symptoms or have been exposed and do not report it to the authorities should face criminal penalties.

And anyone in authority who is negligent in their duties to act or report should also face penalties. This is how seriously we should approach this situation, as the possible economic and social fallout from this is like a final event.

It is going to require all of us in Government, Opposition, private sector, public sector, and civil society to work together. We need to support each other with action and criticisms. Anyone who is going to take a leadership role has to be big enough to rise above criticism, accept it where relevant and just get the job done.

I say all this, fully aware that there are no cases here, but also understanding that the time to act is not when something happens, but before. As they say, 'prevention is better than cure', and that is definitely so in this case.

I am heartened by last Thursday's press conference by the prime minister, and the comments by the MAJ. The education and communication must be very consistent and transparent as we move forward. Too much information is better than too little.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What is Jamaica's growth potential?

Planning Institute of Jamaica Director General Colin Bullock. The PIOJ is targeting three per cent growth for next fiscal year.

THE Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is targeting real GDP growth of three per cent in the fiscal year 2015/16. This is against the previously targeted 1.5 to two per cent, under the current IMF agreement. I have long indicated that Jamaica has the capacity to grow at rates of between three to five per cent, in the short to medium term, and also that if we are really to see meaningful growth that will impact the man on the street, then growth must be upwards of three per cent.

I am sure that many will wonder if the PIOJ is being objective in targeting three per cent growth, when for the past 42 years Jamaica has averaged less than one per cent per annum. In fact, the only time that we saw growth over three per cent consecutively was in the 1980s. We have, however, seen one or two years of three per cent growth since then, but the problem we have had is it has not been consistent.

Another question to ask, therefore is: Even if we can achieve growth of three per cent in 2015/16, how sustainable is it, because one year of three per cent growth is not good enough for us to show any significant improvement in the standard of living for the average citizen.

It is also very true that even if we were to achieve a sustained period of growth of three per cent, many persons could still be disillusioned, as they could end up not being impacted positively. This is because macroeconomic growth does not guarantee growth for an individual or organisation, if that individual or organisation is not equipped to take advantage of the growth. Therefore, even in times when there is no growth many persons and businesses will still do well, because they have prepared individually.

In order for us to achieve growth of three per cent and above consistently, we must first understand if we have the capacity to do so, and secondly, what would prevent us from achieving that growth. It should be noted that the PIOJ targeted 2015/16, and did not address the years beyond, based on their expectation of certain projects coming on stream. Therefore, it is very possible that, based on the projects, there could be three per cent growth in 2015/16, but then we return to one per cent in 2016/17. I believe, however, that as a country we have the capacity to grow at three per cent, even beyond the 2015/16 year.

I say this because I don't think that Jamaica has fully exploited our comparative advantages, and there are just a few tweaks that need to be done for us to do so. Many of these changes are being made under the legislative and economic programme by the Government, at which Phillips and Golding are leading the charge. However, there are still some other adjustments to be made, if we are to sustainably achieve three per cent and above GDP growth. In other words, while the economic and legislative programme provides a platform for growth, there are some other things that must be done.

These include addressing the law and order problem, and I don't mean serious crimes like murder alone, but general indiscipline in the society. I am heartened by the position taken by the new police commissioner, and supported by the statement by Minister Bunting, who, I think, has been making the right strategic moves, and in fact, his policy initiatives and work of the former commissioner did have a positive impact on crime in general, and homicides in particular. So this has given the present commissioner an easier wicket to play on. One thing I find, though, that has changed for the worse, is that since Radcliffe Lewis retired from the Traffic department, I have noticed that the indiscipline by the taxis and buses (including JUTC) has got worse. I don't see the same presence by the police on the roads as when he was there. I also continue to notice the blatant disregard that people have for the night noise laws.

If we cannot maintain discipline in a society, then we are going to continue to negatively affect our growth prospects. No one wants to invest, and live, long-term in a society where there is so much indiscipline. A lot of this is personal responsibility by our citizens, who seem to thrive on indiscipline, but still the authorities must enforce the rules. I wouldn't even bother to mention the way we discard our garbage, which is most disgraceful.

This indiscipline extends to the parish councils, who over the years have been some of the biggest let-downs. I think that recently there has been some effort from some parish councils, but we must maintain the discipline of zoning laws and ensure property tax collection. How difficult can these be to enforce?

I have discussed bureaucracy on numerous occasions, and this continues to be the number one challenge that most business persons (large, medium, and small) face. All I will say on this is that I support the call by Minister Phillips for the Public Sector Transformation project to be fast-tracked. When the unit was being set up, I think in 2008/9, I indicated at the time that nothing would come of it, as the way it was set up and the implementation model made it impotent. We must ensure that bureaucracy is addressed, however, as failure to do so will stunt the growth of businesses, particularly at the much needed MSME level.

Energy is another obvious area, which I have discussed a lot also, and nothing more needs to be said as this is an obvious stumbling block to the much-needed value-added exports, which of course means more foreign exchange earnings.

There are two areas which are going to be critical if we are to see sustainable growth of above three per cent. The first is the education system. I believe that Minister Thwaites has been taking the right approach to the challenges the system faces, and I also believe that the stakeholders are coming around to seeing the best way forward. What I will say is that economic growth depends on growing income levels of consumers, and the only way for us to have a growing middle class is for the workforce to become more knowledgeable/educated and hence more productive. This cannot happen in an education system with over 50 per cent of our secondary school leavers graduating without one pass at CXC level.

Finally, there needs to be greater linkages between areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. Minister Wykeham McNeill has a Tourism Linkages council, which has successfully been making a lot of this happen, and I am optimistic that the direction it is heading in will bear fruit. So he has been quietly making some positive impact there. This is an important aspect of our growth journey.

My answer to the question, therefore, would be that Jamaica does have the potential to grow sustainably above three per cent, as we have the areas of comparative advantage that will attract investments. However, real sustainable growth will only come when we see the environment changing to become a place where people want to do business, live, and raise families, not just for the large investor, but more importantly, for the small and medium size business.

Friday, September 05, 2014

What is the role of personal responsibility in development?

The persons responsible for Mario Deane’s death must be held accountable.

THE recent Global Competitiveness Re-port has shown that Jamaica is seeing some international competi-tiveness return from the current set of policies being instituted. It has been a while since our competitiveness has improved, and this is indeed welcome news. We still need to bear in mind, though, that the report shows that both GDP and GDP per capita, in US dollars, has declined from the previous year, but that is to be expected if we are making adjustments in an economy with low productivity. After all, exchange rates are primarily a reflection of a country's relative productivity.

Even though we have seen some improvement in the competitiveness index, the economy still remains very fragile, and there is still a lot of work to do, so we must not become complacent. I know it is very difficult for the average man on the street, and the temptation will be there for persons to take advantage of the hardship and call for greater welfare, which will just put us back where we were. We have had over 50 years of welfare government, since independence, and it has not worked. So if we continue to do the same thing we cannot expect different results.

We also have seen improvement in the homicide rate, reducing by 40 per cent year on year; education seems to be making some improvement; agricultural production is up; the unemployment rate has decreased; and there seems to be a greater awareness in the public sector of the need to improve customer service. Also although I am hurt by incidents such as Mario Deane, as any well-thinking Jamaican should be, and the responsible persons must be held accountable, I am encouraged by the response from INDECOM, the security minister, police high command, and civil society. I also welcome the US pathologist and his remarks, as it brings a very objective view.

There is, however, one consideration that we must all be mindful of as persons who want to see Jamaica move forward, and that is understanding what is our personal responsibility to development. It was John F Kennedy who said to the American people in the 1960s, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Although I don't believe that we are still at the same levels of nationalism as in the 1960s, because the world is now like a global village, the message is one of personal responsibility.

In my interaction with persons over the years, on social media and other methods of communication, I have found that many of us don't understand the role of personal responsibility. For example, I have always said, and it is still true today, that many of the political party supporters are much more tribalistic in their views and utterances than the politicians. In fact I find most politicians fairly objective in their reasoning, but not so with many supporters.

I also sadly find that many Jamaicans are very pessimistic about Jamaica to the point where even when something good happens they are cynical about it. So if the homicide rate is reported as going down, then it is because World Cup was going on, or there is underreporting. Similarly when the unemployment numbers are reported as going down. I just can't imagine living with that sort of pessimism, as one must lead a very miserable life doing so.

The fact is that while we should hold our leaders, and those in authority, responsible and accountable for things that go wrong (such as Mario Deane), we must also commend them when they do good, or else they won't be encouraged to do so next time. This is why I have taken the stance to commend the efforts of TAJ, Phillips, Thwaites, Ellington, INDECOM, civil society groups, etc. Because we must encourage what we want to see happen rather than be cynical when there is no evidence to the contrary.

In mature democracies also, the reason why they develop is that citizens understand their responsibility to speak against things that are done incorrectly or unfairly. So look at the outcry about the Mario Deane case, and the results we are seeing. It is not enough to just criticise privately, as the voices of the people in democracies are extremely important for progress.

One other disturbing thing I have always noted is the need of the environmentalists to clean up after Jamaicans. I mean, why do we need an annual beach clean-up day, and each year there seems to be more garbage than the year before? I have seen situations where people are driving and just wind down their windows and throw the garbage on the street. Even as we speak about things like beach erosion and tourist harassment, we must understand that these things are not caused by government policy, but rather individual actions.

When I look at countries like the US, I recognise that these countries were built by citizens understanding their individual responsibilities to act in a way that promotes development. So I read an article in the news only this week that parents were protesting the price of lunch at the school, instead of them maybe preparing a less expensive, more nutritious lunch for their child to carry to school. Or the article that speaks to teachers and book stores working together to unnecessarily place books on the booklist.

We also have the situation where schools are strapped for cash, and unable to provide adequate education, and when they ask for a mere $20,000 per annum ($400 per week) for a child to attend school, they are told by parents with $20,000 hairstyle and hair, or while they are protesting they are on the phone the whole time, using phone credit, that they can't afford it.

One of the reasons why I have to be objective, and applaud effort and good works, is because I want to live in Jamaica and nowhere else. And if that is something we all want to do, then we have to ensure that we are objective in our analysis, to ensure the best action for the country at all times. The generations before us have failed to take this country to prosperity, and it is time for those who are currently in leadership positions to make sure that we don't mess it up further and leave our children in a further mess. If we are to do so then we must be cognisant of the role our individual actions play in economic and social development, and act and talk accordingly.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jamaica’s growing crisis

Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) radiographer Donnett Hyman (left) demonstrates the functions of the organisation's newly acquired mammography machine to JCS Executive Director Yulit Gordon (second left), Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second right) and JCS Chairman Earl Jarrett. Gordon estimates that being stricken by cancer can cost someone over $4.5 million

WHILE we debate the economic challenges facing Jamaica, there is an emerging crisis that many are not speaking of, but which we must address as a country. This is the health of our population, and as a result the cost it currently has and its continued impact as it worsens. If, of course, we do nothing about it.

Anyone who knows me understands how important health management is to me. In fact, my passion for lifestyle management led me to write a book (Achieving Life's Equilibrium) and one aspect of that is health management, which I also have done a few presentations on.

The data on Jamaica shows that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 56 per cent of all deaths, 20 per cent of which are caused by cancer, and cost approximately US$170 million ($19.2 billion) annually. Much of this cost is avoidable just by changing some aspects of our lifestyle, such as healthier food choices and exercise. What this means is that our failure to make the right lifestyle choices is causing us to spend up to $19 billion per annum on health costs, much of which could be going towards welfare, education, or some other growth inducement spending.

The Lancet Medical Journal recently reported that high body-mass index increases the risk of developing the 10 most common cancers, according to a study conducted on over five million people. Researchers estimate that over 12,000 cases of these 10 cancers each year is attributable to being overweight, or obesity, and estimates that if average BMI continues to increase there could be an extra 3,500 cancer cases annually.

Yulit Gordon, the Executive Director of the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS), estimates that being stricken by cancer can cost someone over $4.5 million (assuming four chemotherapy treatments) in addition to the costs to visit the doctor and hospital stay and tests. So an individual could easily spend over $6 million in the initial fight against cancer. And I say initial because many times it recurs. The JCS is doing a very good job in the fight against cancer but is in need of greater support to be able to be even more effective.

There are, of course, other significant costs for an individual to deal with NCDs, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. These NCDs are the main reasons for many of us starting to show our age, and all because we make incorrect lifestyle choices; if the proper decisions are made many of these NCDs and associated costs are totally avoidable.

In addition to the cost on the health care system, and ultimately the fiscal accounts and taxes, the fact is that many of the drugs and products used in the treatment of NCDs are imported. So if we assume that 70 per cent of the US$170 million annually is imported, then it means that NCDs are adding US$119 million ($13.4 billion) to our trade deficit annually, which is just under 10 per cent of the current account deficit.

This cost to our fiscal and balance of payments accounts does not include the cost to GDP from productive hours lost due to sick leave or death. If we assume that 40 per cent of our workforce takes their entitled seven days' sick leave per year, then on average this could negatively impact GDP by over $10 billion annually.

Even at the lower estimates, the computations show that the cost of NCDs to Jamaica is an ever growing threat, is totally avoidable, and is a cost that I don't think we emphasise enough. Certainly if you are trying to improve the cost structure (profitability) of a company, one of the first things that you do is to look at the "low-hanging fruit". In other words it is easiest to minimise avoidable costs as a means of improving the financial situation. So while we focus on new taxes, earnings, or wages and salaries, the fact is that if we look carefully at the fiscal accounts there are significant costs that can be avoided by just doing things differently. This is something I remember Ronnie Thwaites stressing when he was on Power 106 for a very long time.

But are we ready to take responsibility and make the necessary lifestyle changes? The truth is that even many of us who promote the idea of lifestyle changes are guilty of poor choices ourselves, and the most effective way to influence people is to ensure that you are a good example. I am always amazed at the way adults, for example, tell children about certain ways they should behave but at the same time do the same things they tell them not to do. So they tell them, "Do not drink and drive, do not text while driving, make sure you eat properly," etc. However, I see many adults setting a bad example for children to follow even in front of the same children that they instruct.

I also notice that many children today are living a lifestyle that will ensure they have health issues earlier, rather than later. Certainly in my teenage days when there was one television station that signed on at 5:00 pm, and there were no video games, we had no option but to go outside and engage in some physical activity like football, cricket, and so on. I also have noticed that when one speaks about the quality of a school we refer to academics and not emphasise the importance of physical education, the result being that many of the children leave school today academically brilliant but without the physical foundation that will ensure that they are healthy enough to enjoy the money they earn from the academic achievements. So many of our children are just ticking time bombs for NCDs.

There is no doubt that if we continue to ignore the necessary lifestyle choices that will improve our health, then we can safely say that Jamaica will face a health crisis in NCDs, similar to developed countries like the US, and this will impact even more on our fiscal accounts and balance of payments.

So while we try to solve our economic circumstances, we should recognise the role that behavioural choices play in our economic challenges, and the significant cost it has, both nationally and individually. In fact, I have heard many people say they cannot afford to eat properly, as proper nutrition costs more. While this may be true in relation to the direct cost of nutrition, they haven't considered the current and future medical expenses from poor nutrition choices, which ends up being significantly more and the negative impact on quality of life.

Apart from the cost, though, we should be encouraging our children to make healthier choices for their own benefit, and my own view is that this has more to do with lack of exercise and consumption of many of the imported processed foods, as our own local brands and produce are a lot healthier. Yet another reason to support Jamaican products.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Social justice and economic development

EVERYONE should know by now that I believe the economic programme is being managed properly, as the fiscal and legislative adjustments being made are definitely the right option for creating a positive environment for economic development. And certainly, more importantly, is that the leadership of the programme, headed by Peter Phillips, has shown the willingness to see it through to a successful end.

Even with this, though, the economy is still in a very fragile state, with unemployment still too high, and despite improvements in the fiscal and other macroeconomic indicators, we still have a very far way to go. Importantly, any letup on the implementation of the programme, or even a natural disaster, could cause us to be back in dire economic circumstances. So it is important for us to stick to it.

On the other hand, we also need to realise that sustainable economic and social development cannot be achieved merely by implementing this programme, or getting in significant foreign investments, as has happened in the past. The only way for us to truly see sustained development is for any such development to be inclusive of the masses of people. In other words, any path that we are on must of necessity provide opportunities for the ordinary Jamaican to excel, and very importantly Government's primary role must be to ensure that the vulnerable are not only protected, through social programmes, but also have equal access to the opportunities for elevation available.

So everyone should have access to the best education, justice, and social welfare protection where needed.

It is with this in mind that it really hurt me when I heard about the Mario Deane situation. Not because it hasn't happened before, and similarly I was outraged, but because he died on the day we were celebrating our 52nd anniversary of independence as a nation. And my perspective is that independence not only means the right to govern your own affairs, but of necessity independence comes with the responsibility to ensure that we treat others right, as well as manage our own affairs properly.

So a child who attains adulthood is not just independent because he/she earns money. Those allowed independence must practise good citizenship and must manage their affairs properly. Any mismanagement of that independence results in it being taken away. So if you are reckless with your finances and have to rely on others to support you, then you are once again dependent, and similarly, if you break the law your independence can be taken away from you.

Similarly, a country that cannot manage the responsibility of Independence will also become dependent. This is our case with the dependence on the international lending agencies, and other countries that we rely on for aid. Even though we attained Independence in 1962, the way we have managed our affairs has resulted in us losing much of that independence. So, to be independent implies being responsible.

One of the responsibilities of Independence is being fair to all; even those you think may offend you. Because it is when we can truly forgive the indiscretions of others that we have really matured as independent people, and a country. Remaining independent also means accepting responsibility.

The Mario Deane case showed both sides of this argument, as first it showed that the response from the police involved demonstrated that they never accepted responsibility of the power to detain persons against their will. I would have expected a statement to the effect: "We regret to inform the people of Jamaica that Mr. Mario Deane was severely beaten by other detained persons. We accept the responsibility for persons in our care, and will be vigorously investigating this matter to see who is directly responsible and will make our findings known in the shortest possible time." Instead the response was to first deny culpability and then charge two persons, with no apology. It took the ministers of Justice and National Security, the acting commissioner, some politicians, INDECOM, and civil society to express outrage and apologise. Still no one from Barnett Street, from what I know, has issued any statement of apology. If so then I stand corrected.

What as a country we have also failed to understand is that in order to have sustained economic development, it is necessary to also have social justice. Whenever there is no social justice, it results in lost opportunities and wasted talent. It also results in wasted productive hours, as instead of cleaning up the mess caused by some functionaries of the state, we could be planning how to increase agricultural and other production. If we were to do an analysis on the amount of time and resources wasted trying to correct social ills I am sure that it could significantly add to GDP.

This means of course ensuring that law and order exists in the country. And this does not only apply to the citizens who should be abiding by the laws of the land, but it also applies to those with the responsibility for creating and enforcing laws.

As Peter Tosh said, everyone is crying out for peace but there can be no peace without justice. I want to go a step further and say that there can be no sustained economic development without social justice and stability. Just look at the Middle East.

As a country we have made strides. I find that the policymakers are more willing today to engage stakeholders. We see that with the response to criticisms of the recent legislative changes, which has been to engage stakeholders. I personally also see improved customer service within the public sector, and improved service delivery. This even extends to the security forces, as the police are a lot more courteous than days gone by.

However, in order to make that next step to sustainable development, and achieving Vision 2030, social justice must be at the top of the agenda.