Friday, November 20, 2015

"The law is an ass"


This phrase originated in the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, when Mr Bumble, the unhappy spouse of a domineering wife, is told in court that "...the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction".

"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is an ass -- an idiot."

On Saturday morning at around 1:00 am I arrived in the Customs Hall at the airport. On reaching the Nothing to Declare line, a customs officer looked at my form and saw that I had declared souvenirs in the amount of US$80. He asked if I had any clothes and I said that I only had the clothes I went away with, at which point he said I should declare them. I didn't think it made sense to declare the clothes I left Jamaica with as they were not acquired abroad.

He insisted that I do so. At that point I refused as it was not practical. He insisted that I was ignorant of the rules.

I still refused to write it down and another officer who was there told me that if I refused to do so then he would send me to the room to check my luggage, even before my luggage went through the x-ray machine. I told him to come and do so, but he ignored me. He did not have the decency to acknowledge. Apparently he wanted me to just stand there and wait.

On Monday I called the Customs Office, and it was verified that the officer was the one who was not aware of the rules. In fairness to the Customs Office they addressed the matter swiftly. I should also point out that every other time I have interacted with customs officers they have always been very pleasant and have never taken that attitude, so it is a matter of two bad eggs giving the department a bad rap.

Even one incident, however, is too much, and what was of greater concern was that the customs officer was trying to intimidate me even though I was telling him the right thing. It is unacceptable for anyone in authority to deal with a citizen of Jamaica, who helps to pay their salary through taxes, in that manner.

This was not a matter of the law being "an ass". Rather it was a case of someone in a position of authority "making up" rules and trying to intimidate a citizen. I shudder to think of how they deal with people who don't have a voice. Accountability demands that those people be removed from front-line duty, and I hope the Customs Office will deal with it in this way.

What this reminds us though, is that the law must be practical and must not be an inhibition to (i) democracy, (ii) market efficiency, or (iii) personal privacy. The law also must not be discriminatory to any group. And the persons charged with enforcing the law should do so fairly and with sensitivity for the rights of the citizen.

This seems to be one of the challenges we have had with the application of laws in Jamaica, where those given authority have sought to use it to abuse the rights of our citizens. Apart from this customs incident, members of the police force have also been known to use their authority to abuse the rights of Jamaicans. We also have the situation where procurement rules may be resulting in more costs to Jamaicans, rather than reducing them -- as in my view the bureaucracy caused by these rules in fact may end up facilitating the same corruption they are trying to prevent.

Law vs its application

So the law, and its application, must also play the important role of facilitating market development and competitiveness,. But also very importantly, it must make everyone feel safe and that they have the same opportunities.

So it is not only about what laws are on the books. Their application is even more important.

A similar situation has to do with what is recognised by the Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) 2015-16, as the most problematic factor for doing business in Jamaica. Inefficient government bureaucracy is seen as causing 16.4 per cent of all the problematic factors in doing business. As a result of the challenges, the GCR actually showed an effective decline for Jamaica in 2014-15 over 2013-14. Jamaica ranked 86 for both reports, but the number of countries included this year was 140 versus 144 the year before.

Contrast this with the Doing Business Report (DBR) 2016, which shows that Jamaica moved up 7 places from 71 to 64 of 189.

The reason for the difference in the reports is that while the DBR focuses on the legislative and policy framework, the GCR looks at the implementation of the laws and policies, or how it is felt on the ground. The challenge we have, therefore, is not that the policy makers (politicians) have not been putting the framework in place -- but that the operatives, at the institutional level, are not implementing the framework in a way that impacts doing business properly.

So while it is clear that we have been driving the legislative and policy framework in a positive direction, the main challenge we have is how to ensure that the implementation is also done in a way that positively impacts the social and economic components.

This is why public sector transformation is critical to moving the needle on our development. The fact is that unless we have a structure that will allow us to efficiently implement laws and policy, then "the law will be nothing but an ass".

So for me, public sector transformation is not primarily about saving money, but rather delivering efficiency. In this regard we must ensure that those in authority do not have the ability to abuse any citizen or make up rules as they go along, and there should be accountability when things go wrong.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Accountability's importance to development


The recent health sector saga has brought to the fore the real need for accountability in Jamaica. The fact is that this is not the first incident to highlight this deficiency, but another one that has been highlighted because of the sensitivity of the health sector and the election atmosphere.

What this incident has shown is that Jamaicans are demanding more and more accountability from our leaders, not only at the political level, but also those entrusted with the management of public assets. This is a good thing, as accountability is a very important ingredient for development, as without it there is usually an erosion of confidence and credibility in institutions and system.

It is no surprise, therefore, that there is little trust in our public institutions in Jamaica. It is because of the lack of accountability over the decades (as far as I can remember) that there is very little trust in politicians and public institutions like the police. As a result, there is constant suspicion of corruption and a heightened appetite for "scandal" news.

In other words, if there was a perception that people were held to account when things go wrong, then trust would be higher and not everything would be seen as corruption. My own experience, based on my public sector involvement, is that much of what people call corruption results from bureaucratic systems.

It is also because of the lack of systems for accountability that we have created very bureaucratic processes, such as procurement guidelines which take discretion and innovation out of the public sector, and which undermine the potential of many public sector workers. This is because our failure over the years to hold people to account has led us to introduce rules to make up for that accountability, but end up costing us more in the long run.

It is also because of this lack of accountability systems why we end up salivating each time a new so-called "scandal" breaks and calls for blood; because we finally get someone to account for the lack of accountability in all the past mishaps that we were not able to hold someone to account for. So we crucify the individuals in a very personal manner most times, with the objective of destroying them in the name of accountability.

The fact, however, is that when one exists in a culture of accountability, the focus is not on the person, but rather on the issue at hand. Accountability does not mean "crucifying" the person responsible, but rather holding the person (and the person holding themselves) to account for the execution of the function. So in a working accountable environment, it is seen as learning and a way to improve the person who might have made a mistake.

I remember reading an article when I was around 18, where a young manager in a very successful company in the US made a mistake that cost the company a substantial amount of money. When he went to the CEO and handed him his resignation, the CEO gave it back to him and said "Why would I fire you when I have paid so much for you learning a lesson, and then hire someone else who may make the same mistake?" In this example, the CEO realised that the young manager had taken accountability and was willing to learn from the mistake.

The problem we have in Jamaica is that no one wants to admit that they made a mistake so the natural reaction is to cover it up and not hold yourself or others accountable. So something as simple as saying to your stakeholders that I am sorry and made a mistake, is one of the problems we have. So, in the end, the problem stays like a sore that deteriorates without medical attention, and eventually threatens the whole.

Health sector saga

This is the problem with the health sector saga. The fact is that when Dr Dawes raised concerns, Minister Ferguson did the right thing and called for an audit. What went wrong, however, is that when the audit came back no one wanted to take accountability for it. So not being transparent and holding the operational people to account (which does not mean firing them as indicated above) resulted in the situation worsening and lives being lost. Lack of accountability creates a situation where credibility is not only lost in the system -- but also the people who manage it.

It is when that credibility is lost (because people have failed to hold themselves to account) that whether or not they can remain in the job comes into question. This would of course be the position the Prime Minister would have faced when she made the decision to remove the minister, and asked someone else to restore the credibility of the system. That was the right thing to do. The question that Minister Dalley must now ask is if the credibility of the system can be maintained if those who failed to hold themselves to account remain involved.

This does not only apply to health. We have also seen it in the police force, where the previous commissioner and INDECOM made accountability more prominent and we then started to see greater trust from the public.

What is certain is that a lack of accountability systems will stymie development, as companies or countries cannot move forward without trust in institutions and governance. And trust is not possible without accountability.

What is also obvious to me is that if people had held themselves to account earlier in this health situation, and said what went wrong and what was to be done to fix the system and restore credibility the loud calls for firings and resignations may not have happened. What is clear is that it is the lack of holding ourselves responsible that cause problems to escalate, and not the event itself.

So my plea to those charged with governance of our public sector is to be as transparent as possible. Share challenges with Jamaicans, as we were able to go through some significant economic transformation and we understand. And please take responsibility for when things go wrong and act. This is what Dr Phillips has done with the economic reform programme, through avenues like EPOC and his own utterances. Is it any coincidence then that the reform programme has been seen as successful?

Friday, November 06, 2015

Realising the objectives of governance?


Recently I did a presentation to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica (ICAJ) about whether the success of the economic programme would make Jamaica the place of choice to live. I posed this question: "If you were guaranteed 100% return per annum on your capital invested in Syria, would you move your family there?"

The answer to that question was obviously no, which is what you would expect from any rational person who cares about their children in particular.

This shows us that choosing a place to live does not depend solely on financial returns, but rather on safety concerns and the general surroundings in which you live. As an example, even in a country where you have very little crime, things like racial, religious, or gender biases are very important. And in Jamaica's case, one thing we have that many other countries envy is our record of press freedom.

Around the same time, I was having another conversation in which I was told of someone who did business in Jamaica for many years, but decided to uproot himself and his family to go and live in North America because he felt safe when his children jumped on their bicycles and rode down to the park to play with their friends.

These two instances bring home the important point that the primary objective of governance should be about creating an environment in which people feel safe to live, work, and raise their families. In other words, in alignment with Vision 2030.

So even as we discuss the various achievements under the economic programme, I am reminded that we still have not, as a country, started to discuss the real issues relating to the purpose of governance, in any serious way.

Sure, we speak about the crime rate, health and access to education (or I should say free access), infrastructure, and employment opportunities. The problem isn't that we do not discuss the issues, but the context within which we do so. When we discuss these issues we do so from the point of view of how relevant it is to securing a vote. And this has been consistent from as far back as I can remember, not only from the politicians.

Context is of course important because it guides the way the conversation and action are developed.

I have given this a lot of thought recently, and the truth is that if we are to achieve Vision 2030, it seems to me that the whole purpose of governance must focus on creating an environment to make the average citizen see Jamaica as the place of choice to live, work, do business, and raise families.

If we were to do this, then I think everything else would fall into place -- because the focus would be on creating opportunities and an environment for individuals and families to see Jamaica as their first choice of home.

So we would not just be focused on the high murder rate, but rather we would be focused on the outcome of creating positive values within the schools, discipline on our roads, eliminating noise and waste pollution, and rehabilitation at our prisons. But our focus on crime though, is more a reaction to the outcry about murders. The result is that the solutions we propose are: tougher punishment for criminals, neglect of our prisons because we see inmates as criminals rather than citizens in need of rehabilitation, neglect of the Noise Abatement Act, and solutions to detect weapons in schools rather than change behaviour.

In other words, because our objectives of governance relate more to satisfying and minimising the cries from society, we become reactive to issues.

Similarly, another issue is the matter of the abuse of our children. The abuse we see now has been around for a long time, and every now and again it becomes a topical issue and there are a lot of reactive comments and action. But if we really had the issue on our radar to improve the lives of our children, then we would be focused on ensuring that the laws relating to underage drinking and gambling are enforced, we would ensure that there is a good school bus system in place so that children are not at risk on the roads, and we would ensure that the justice system catches sexual predators swiftly.

What these examples show us is that firstly, governance should be primarily about improving the lives of people rather than just economics, if we intend Jamaica to be the place of choice to live and raise families.

Secondly, it also tells me that maybe one of the reasons that we have been chasing our tails about development in Jamaica since independence at least -- is we have never really defined what governance should be about. To some it is holding state power and to others it may be 'what can I get from it?' But there is not enough of a critical mass that wants governance to focus on improving the lives and opportunities for the majority of Jamaicans. Is it any wonder then, that the US has been at the top of global development for a very long time, when its Constitution seeks first and foremost to protect and advance the rights of its citizens?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

If Jamaicans are to excel...


One of the things we often forget is that development of a company or a country is primarily for the purpose of advancing the lives of people, and not just measuring numerical indicators. Although companies are developed primarily to improve their returns, they should ultimately have a positive effect on the lives of shareholders. Similarly, countries should be developed to improve the lives of their citizens.

This, I believe, explains the failure of many managers and governments, in that they tend to forget that their customers are people and not financial statements or fiscal accounts, which are merely ways of measuring development, but not the purpose of development.

So while the primary objective of a manager is to meet corporate objectives, this can only be done successfully if employees are productive, and employees can only be productive if they are happy with their environment. Further, if one is successfully providing financial returns but there is no return to shareholders through dividends or capital appreciation, then the share price will suffer.

Similarly, if a government institutes policies that are geared towards meeting numerical targets, but not towards improving the lives of its people, that government will fall out of favour.

I think that this is one of the primary failures that I have seen with many people, at a corporate level, and also fiscal policies over the years in Jamaica. They have failed to keep their eyes on the goal of human development as the ultimate objective of everything they do. This also translates to a societal problem, as over the decades we have developed so many products for profit only and have forgotten about the people in the middle. This is why today many of the foods and practices we have become accustomed to create health and other societal issues.

Excelling overseas

This lack of focus on the ultimate beneficiary of policy causes us to develop policies and systems that focus on financial returns, which ultimately hurt the progress of the people. This is why many Jamaicans, for example, go overseas and excel, when they find it difficult to do so in Jamaica. It is not because they suddenly develop new skills when they migrate, but rather the environment they are placed in allows them to exploit their full potential.

So when we talk about the need for private sector (and particularly SME) growth, we must understand that businesses will only grow if the operating environment facilitates that growth. This is the main reason why we have not seen greater SME growth in Jamaica, even though we have comparative advantages that we can develop.

One of the things that comes to mind readily is the way we have designed the procurement rules, which happens not only in Jamaica, as I have spoken to many people in the region with the same problem. Unfortunately, the way our rules are designed actually reduces the productivity of public sector workers significantly and creates costs greater than those we are trying to avoid, both directly and also in terms of social costs. The objective of the rules is supposedly to eliminate corruption and improve value, but because the rules were designed without the ultimate objective of efficiency and productivity in mind, they have actually had the opposite effect of costing more. Of course, the ultimate effect is negative on taxpayers and citizens generally in terms of the cost of living.

Another failing that comes to mind is the way we design policies, with a focus more on fiscal revenues, rather than focusing on creating an environment to make the bureaucracy and tax environment better for businesses and citizens. It is because of this focus why -- over the many years that I have been following the budget -- we have always been increasing taxes, even though over that same period the cost of living has been increasing while GDP growth and productivity have been lagging.

I believe that when we implement public sector transformation, the focus should be not simply on cutting expenditure, but on creating a more efficient public sector. In other words, the success of transformation should not be just meeting the wage target as a percentage of GDP, but rather on improving the service delivered to the public.

Why, you may ask, is it so important to focus on the human element? Simply because in today's world competitiveness is a direct result of innovation conceived in the human mind. Sadly, businesses and people spend much of their time trying to resolve bureaucracy issues or interacting with the government bureaucracy and so have less time than their competitors to spend on innovation. This explains why under the Global Competitiveness Report we are unable to transition to an Innovation Driven economy, which is when real value is added.

Of course, this means ensuring that institutions such as the police force and the court system respect human rights and are efficient.

So if we want to transform our economy it means we must focus on improving the lives of our people, and finally get the news that the world no longer exists in the industrial era where capital and land created competitive advantages. We now live in the information era where people create the competitive edge, and so if we do not create an environment where our people can develop better than in other societies, then we will forever be laggards.

Caricom dilemma

Each time I travel within this region, I realise why Caricom will never achieve the purpose intended. This is travel. It is much easier to travel to North America, or in some cases to Europe, than it is to travel within the region. Not to mention the fact that it is more expensive to travel within Caricom than to North America in some instances. As if that is not enough, it takes much longer for Caricom citizens to be processed through immigration than visitors from outside CARICOM, because we allocate fewer immigration counters to Caricom citizens, resulting in longer lines.

The fact is that unless we can better accommodate the movement of people and goods within Caricom, then it will continue to be primarily of academic rather than practical application.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Capacity restrictions to growth


In my last article, I asked the question why is growth so elusive to Jamaica and identified some of the challenges that restrict our ability to grow. These are not new and have been with us over many years without any real attempt to address the underlying issues.

There has been much rhetoric around the symptoms of the underlying challenges. So we speak about interest rates, exchange rates, inflation rates, unemployment levels, NIR, etc, and many do not understand that these are outcomes of poor policy rather than the cause of poor economic performance.

This is why I believe that a focus on the legislative changes and fiscal discipline is important, because they both encourage behaviour that addresses the underlying problem. Only, however, if they are done correctly. In other words, many times we start with the right objective but implement it in the wrong way.

This is one of the reasons why we have failed to see any consistent growth levels above one per cent. The fact is that irrespective of how many policies we implement, if they are not geared at improving capacity to grow, then despite our best efforts we will hit a growth ceiling.

As an example, this Saturday will be the annual Kingston to Negril charity ride, and many cyclists have been training for it. The training, of course, includes many long rides leading up to the big ride, which are geared towards building your capacity for enduring long rides. So then, irrespective of whether you have the best bicycle and equipment in the world, if you the rider do not have the capacity to do a 158-mile ride, then the best equipment in the world will never help you to complete it.

What the quality of the equipment does is add that competitive edge over someone else who has similar capacity as you do, and makes it easier for you to compete. So I always say to fellow cyclists that I have found the most important upgrade on a bicycle is for the rider to get fit.

Similarly, Jamaica has seen massive amounts of FDI and billions spent on projects such as SME development. Irrespective of this, however, we continue to see growth averaging less than one per cent. So from a return on investment point of view, we have done very poorly. This problem will persist as long as we fail to address the capacity issues, irrespective of who is managing a country or organisation.

I have always found that the most sustainable way to build an organisation is to first address the issues that restricts its capacity; whether this be a human resource issue, infrastructure issue (such as IT), or the business model needs tweaking. Unless this is addressed, then the organisation, just like the country, will find its growth will hit a ceiling and not be able to move to the next level.

This, I think, is what has happened to Jamaica. For too long we have been trying to grow the economy without addressing the capacity issues,which has restricted our growth to an average of less than one per cent.

So, as an example, we currently have a capacity restriction caused by our poor water infrastructure. This may not have been a capacity issue a few years ago because the rainfall patterns were more predictable. But with the effects of climate change and the increase in residential communities, our water infrastructure has now become a capacity constraint.

Similarly, inefficient bureaucracy, crime and indiscipline, uncompetitive tax rates and corruption have been identified by the Global Competitiveness Report as the four top constraining factors to competitiveness and growth. In other words, unless we address these recurring issues, we will never be able to see the growth levels that we need to drive the economy forward.

One item that was a greater constraint on capacity a few years ago, compared to today, is energy cost. It has somewhat lessened, but still remains a problem, primarily because the pump prices are constraining spending in the economy, which are windfalls for other economies. So then, even though oil prices have fallen dramatically, the price from Petrojam have not adjusted accordingly and continues to be a constraint on our capacity to grow the economy and increase disposable income.

The problem, therefore, is that despite our best efforts over the years to achieve high levels of growth, the fact is that our failure to address the factors that constrain the economy has resulted in us hitting a growth ceiling and finding it hard to break through.

What is needed, therefore, is an identification of what the capacity-constraining factors are and deliberate policies to remove these constraints to growth.

Kingston to Negril 2015

As I mentioned above, this Saturday is the annual Kingston to Negril charity bicycle ride, where the proceeds this year will go to the Epilepsy foundation — an organisation I have a special place for.

Last year 150 riders started, and most finished, with many coming from overseas to participate. Included in the ride are people who participate for special reasons, and this year a local cyclist --Mike Johnson -- will be doing the ride in honour of his brother, who recently passed from cancer.

It is a growing sport, and recently Jamaican Marloe Rodman won the Tobago Calssic, following the tradition of greats like Peter Aldridge and David Weller. This is why I can't understand the statement made a few months ago that the only cycle track at the stadium was being destroyed to create more seats in the stadium, without an alternative.

Much respect to all those who line up on Saturday, and the organisers, who both do so for health and charity.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Why has growth been so elusive for Jamaica?


SINCE the early 1970s, Jamaica has suffered from an anaemic growth rate of less than one per cent per annum. This despite many prescriptions and attempts by various governments, and promises by politicians, as to what needs to be done for growth to happen.

Once again we are in the season where many prescriptions will be made, and many discussions will take place on this elusive growth and how to achieve it. Once again there will be many recommendations, from both sides, that government should increase spending in order to boost growth in the economy. Much of this has been done in the past but really to no avail because we have not managed to achieve the elusive growth despite billions of taxpayers' money being spent

One reality that we must start to confront is that sustainable growth cannot be done by the public sector. In the past we have become used to a situation where we expect that government can drive sustainable growth. But that shows a lack of understanding of how to achieve sustainable growth.

Sure, government can put projects in place that can create a stimulus for growth, as most governments will do when a country is in recession -- as espoused by economist Maynard Keynes. But real sustainable growth comes from private sector development, especially when there is vibrant SME activity.

This is a significant philosophical problem we have had and in many respects continue to have. And this has guided policy in the wrong direction. So instead of encouraging competition and SME development, the policies implemented by various governments have caused greater public sector involvement, which effectively kills a competitive environment.


So we have created a bureaucratic structure to involve government in every aspect of business and personal life. And if that is not enough, we have created gridlock in the government processes by implementing a procurement process and culture that assumes that everyone is guilty until proven innocent -- which is in many respects perpetuated by a "gossip" culture.

The result is that businesses, and particularly SMEs, become inefficient. Bureaucracy is one of the major inhibitors to doing business in Jamaica, as reported by the Doing Business report for many years.

Also, because of the welfare politics that we have practised for as long as I can remember, we have also created an unproductive labour force. The result is that labour productivity has consistently declined in Jamaica since the 1970s.

It is this practice by our political system that has in my view resulted in the persistent poverty of our labour force as, instead of teaching people to fish, we continued to give them a fish. The irony is that our ability to give the fish has got less and less -- to the point where the state is not capable of doing so anymore. The result is a significant part of our labour force finds it difficult to fend for themselves in any meaningful way.

So the biggest risk we face to economic growth and development today is the state of our labour force. Even if the economy grows 100 per cent per annum, because many in the labour force are not equipped to be high-value producers and earners, they will not benefit.

Organisations like HEART must have a national mandate to retrain our labour force with much needed vocational skills for a successful logistics environment, for example. If we fail to retain the labour force, then we will only have growth without any real social development.

Fiscal policy has never really been engaged in facilitating a more friendly business environment, but rather has been primarily focused on raising revenues to feed the voracious appetite of government welfare programmes. The problem with this is that what we have been doing is transferring, through fiscal policy, productive funds to unproductive uses.

In fact since 2004, of all the tax measures put in place, only one has achieved the revenue targets. This has served to cause inflation because the fiscal policy effectively reduces productivity.

IMF programme

So far this year it seems as if the tax measures will be met. I am hopeful that they will be, and I remain optimistic about the positive changes from the economic and fiscal programme. I say this because the IMF programme we are under represents the first time I am aware that we have sought to tackle the legislative issues that have hampered a competitive business environment. And it is the first time I can remember where we are seeing all the macroeconomic indicators trending in the right direction.

One question though is, why have we not seen the exchange rate stop moving, even though the balance of payments is improving? The reason for that is because even though the legislative and fiscal changes made are positive, the fact is that some fundamental structural issues exist which we have not dealt with as yet. Because of this there is still a strain on productivity issues, as evidenced by falling exports.

The next step therefore must be to make the necessary structural shifts that will complement the legislative and fiscal reform process. That process must continue, but is not sufficient for growth.

In this regard we must address the issue of public sector transformation, not just from the point of view of the wage bill, but more importantly on how we can make bureaucracy more productive and supportive of businesses.

In other words, how do we change the culture?

We must also ensure that fiscal policy is not just geared towards getting more revenue for government, but rather look at the bigger picture -- of facilitating a better business environment to encourage more economic activity and to lead to a lower tax rate with increased revenues.

Until we fix these structural issues, growth will remain elusive to us, and we will forever be surviving with an average of one per cent growth.

This takes collaboration between the private and public sector, which I must say has improved significantly and is moving in the right direction -- but much more needs to be done.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Time for economic independence


ON August 6, 1962, Jamaica gained political independence, and many people watched the Jamaican flag raised while the Union Jack was lowered for the last time. This symbolised Jamaica's new-found political independence and was indeed cause for celebration.

Over the 53 years since then, Jamaica has achieved a great deal and, personally, I have seen much development in infrastructure and other areas (although I wasn't around in 1962).

However, one thing that has eluded us is economic independence.

So although we were given the right to govern ourselves, we have never truly experienced what it is really like to be a prosperous country. And so we have changed from being told how to manage our economic affairs by our colonial masters, to now being told how to do so by the holders of our debt stock.

This is similar to a young man attaining adulthood, but still having to live under his parents' roof and abide by their rules, simply because he wasted his opportunities at school.

In my view, however, today we have a great opportunity to change that path of dependence and move towards economic independence. It has taken us 53 years to get here, but I think the opportunity exists now more than any other that I have been conscious of.

And I say this because the economic and fiscal programme we are pursuing allows us to change our fortunes.

The macroeconomic indicators are all trending in the right direction, and confidence -- both local and international -- is high. In addition, all of this is happening within the context of a recovering global economy and greater opportunities for Jamaica. Importantly, for the first time since 2004 we have recorded a surplus on our current account balance.

On the other hand, we also have the grand opportunity to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as we have done so many times in our past -- which is why we are involved in our 13th IMF agreement.

Economic stagnation

We are at a point where we can either do the right things to make the economy grow, or we can watch the economy stagnate. Stagnation of course means continuing economic dependence, and I don't think there is anyone who wants that to happen.

In order for us to realise the growth needed to lead us to economic independence, we must do certain things -- especially leading up to a constitutionally due election. That will require focused and strong leadership.

Both the prime minister and the minister of finance have stated their commitment to the economic programme.

The irony is that by making the right choices we can also improve the living conditions of most Jamaicans. I say most, as there are some people who will no longer benefit from being connected -- because the market will distribute rewards instead of connections. This process has already started with the legislative and fiscal reforms we have already undertaken, and so I expect it will continue.

The prime objective of any government must be to improve the lives of all its citizens. In order to do so, however, we must establish the framework for proper governance, finances, and behaviour -- just as is done in an organisation.

Here are a few things that must happen:

First, the government must have policies that facilitate greater opportunity and growth for both individuals and businesses. Fiscal policy, especially, must be geared towards that. In many respects fiscal policy in Jamaica still has the objective of revenue collection rather than economic facilitation. There is too much emphasis on penalising businesses and people for the slightest of errors, with no attempt being made to expedite their progress.

Secondly, if we are to move this country forward (even with the best fiscal policies) we must ensure that there is law, order, and discipline. We cannot continue with the mantra of "Jamaica No Problem", which everyone interprets as "Do whatever you want". So road discipline and respect for the peace and quiet of others must be at the top of the list.

The third thing in support of a disciplined society is that any progressive society must have a properly functioning justice system, from enforcement by the security forces all the way to the court system. Without enforcement, discipline does not work as justice delayed is justice denied.

Drought of action

But before we can see any serious improvement on the fiscal and competitive sides, the culture of the public sector must be transformed to one of efficiency. This is by far the biggest complaint in doing business. This has been on the table for far too long without action, and the irony is that unless we address this, then no meaningful economic development will come any time soon. This must include accountability for inaction, such as that which has led to the effects of another drought.

Leadership is of course going to be critical. Leadership will have to do the right thing for the country irrespective of the opposition or the political expediency. The country is crying out for leadership at all levels, and without it we all will continue to suffer.

All these factors are related and must be done together if we are to achieve real economic independence. Importantly, we must change the way we think and stop looking at short-term objectives while sacrificing the long-term benefits. Only then will we be truly on a path to sustainable development and prosperity.

The question is, are we committed to doing what is necessary and right to improve the long-term prospects of the Jamaican people? This is not just a responsibility of government, but for all of us to think about after 53 years of trying.