Friday, February 05, 2016

One from ten leaves nought

In 1961, when Jamaica voted by referendum to withdraw from the West Indies Federation, Dr Eric Williams, then Premier of Trinidad and Tobago, said “one from ten leaves nought”.

This statement can be interpreted to mean that there are always key ingredients in an object or event that make it unworkable, or achieve suboptimal performance. So for example, if a car does not have fuel it will not drive, while on the other hand a car with a flat tyre may still be able to move but at a significantly slower pace.

So too if we look at our economy, there are some who from the start have lamented the hardships that have come as a result of the fiscal programme, and at the same time talk about development. The fact, however, is that development could not have happened until we were able to fix our fiscal and debt situation. As a result the necessary adjustments, which created the downturn, were an essential part of any development that was to take place.

I think that many have accepted that reality, with the exception of a few diehards who still believe that it is always going to be possible to have economic and social prosperity without sacrifice. And it is not surprising, as even at the individual level there are many who believe that sacrifice is not necessary for success, and so they will borrow to buy the most expensive cars when they are young, only to face the reality at retirement.

Now that we are at a point where the fiscal and legislative reforms have borne fruit (as we see from the confidence sentiments, low inflation and interest rates, improved capital market, relative exchange rate stability, etc), it is now necessary for us to realise what the next ingredient is to move to the next level of economic and social development.
To illustrate, growing an economy or a company is similar to riding a century (100 miles). The first 50 miles may be the easiest, but even if you can’t easily get to the first 50 miles, you can still be in condition to go the full century. As you progress, however, every additional mile is going to require more fluids, food, and physical and mental toughness.

So it is with our economic and social development. Getting to a point of fiscal and macroeconomic stability is an essential base, but to move from this base to the next 50 miles of real economic and social development is going to require more, and different strategies, than what we used to complete the first half of the journey.

This, of course, is one of the challenges we have had with implementing Vision 2030. The fact is that we have sought to make it happen without any real attempt to change the bureaucratic and social environment needed for us to realise that vision. The result is that we are pressing the gas pedal with the emergency brake still engaged. The car may move slightly with the emergency brake engaged, but the performance will be way below what is required to get anywhere soon.

New thinking needed

It is important for us to understand this as we move from fiscal and macroeconomic reform to sustained economic and social development. In short, for this to happen it will require a different and bold way of thinking, as the strategies that got us to this point cannot be the same ones to get us through the next 50 miles of the race.

For this reason I have always maintained that any strategy that focuses primarily on fiscal revenues will do so to the detriment of economic and social progress. This is because the nature of a focus on fiscal revenues is in contrast to incentivising productivity and investment. Therefore, it is important for us to find the optimal balance, where fiscal revenues are maximised and productivity and investments are optimal.

This is the mistake that we have always made with our fiscal accounts, and as a result have always put more and more taxes in place only to watch economic performance stagnate over the years.

Today, my view is that the economic reform programme of the past three years has created a very attractive base for us to now move to the next level of real economic and social development, like no other time that I can remember. Whereas in the ‘90s we were attractive for debt, today we are seen as the best place in the Caribbean to do business (Forbes andDoing Business Report) — a significant contrast.

The only way to move to the next level is to now get the ingredients necessary for it all to come together. It is going to require a new and bold way of thinking. Not the old linear way of saying that if we increase fees and taxes, then more will come to the government coffers. Or that every business person is trying to run a scam.

It is going to require even more public-private partnerships (which has been one of the reasons over the past three years for the progress we have made). It is going to require bold moves such as charting a way for more competitive tax rates by reducing rates, and even setting out a programme to gradually move from direct to indirect taxes. It is going to require an assault on indiscipline, such as road indiscipline, and clamping down on night noises. It is going to require investing significant sums in the security forces, not just for equipment but for training, and demanding even more accountability. It is going to require that we take decisions — such as was taken with the oil hedge — and realise that we won’t win every time, but that we take decisions based on risks to the stability of the country. It is going to require political maturity to rally around a common cause, and for us as individuals to be tolerant of each other’s views and to vote based on issues and to move away from welfare politics.

Unless we can make this paradigm shift in our thinking, then we will always be reminded that “one from ten leaves nought”.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

2016 must be a year for growth

As was expected, 2015 was a turning point for the economy and the fiscal accounts.

In 2015 the Jamaican economy started to see the benefits of the economic reform programme (ERP) and ended the year in a very strong position, with third-quarter growth of 1.5 per cent, the fastest-growing stock market in the world, multi-year lows in both interest and inflation rates, and improved business and consumer confidence.

All of this resulted from the perseverance of policies to maintain fiscal discipline and create the legislative framework that would bring greater competitiveness to the market. As a result Jamaica saw our debt to GDP ratio fall to 126 per cent (from 150 per cent in 2012), improving fiscal balances, and the first balance of payments surplus in 10 years, which by itself is a game changer and a significant achievement.

This performance was strengthened by the fortune of lower oil prices, the PetroCaribe debt buyback, and — up until recently — near zero US interest rates.

Without these occurrences, we would still have seen improvement in the economy — but at a much slower pace.

Also, from a regional perspective, Jamaica is poised to regain its place as the “Powerhouse of the Caribbean”, with the Trinidad and Barbados economies now in free fall, as low oil prices and policies against offshore financial havens take a toll on both economies.

Trinidad in particular is in for a rough ride, as oil prices are projected to remain low until maybe 2020, and by that time it could be further impacted by new sources of energy.

Micro level challenges

With all these macro achievements, however, Jamaica’s economy is still in a very vulnerable state, as there are still challenges at the micro level to address.

These risks include (i) an inadequately trained labour force (which resulted from periods where approximately 70 per cent of secondary school leavers left without passing one subject); (ii) crime and indiscipline, which is a major inhibitor to maximising our productivity; (iii) a still struggling SME sector, which, although conditions have improved, still struggles with capacity issues and bureaucracy in doing business; and (iv) an uncompetitive tax structure.

The fact is that unless we address these four major issues — which account for the majority of the most problematic factors in the Global Competitiveness Report — we will not successfully maximise our growth potential. This means that the benefits of growth for the economy, fiscal accounts and general standard of living will take longer to be realised.

This is important because even though we have been seeing the benefits at the macro level and specifically the fiscal and trade accounts, the fact is that the widespread micro effect has not been felt as yet. This is expected in any economic recovery. However, a failure to have widespread benefits in a timely manner will mean that economic activity and spending could be inhibited and lead to a loss of confidence.

In effect, therefore, we have done a very good job as it relates to the ERP, and the effect on the fiscal accounts and other macroeconomic indicators. Much commendation is due to those who have been charged with implementing and overseeing the ERP. However, similar to when a company is being restructured, expenditure management can only have short-term benefits. For the recovery to be sustained, you have to work on the revenue side.

As it relates to the country this means that we must now turn our focus to higher levels of GDP growth in 2016, as 1.5 or 2.0 per cent is insufficient to see the much needed impact on the middle and lower income classes.

In order for this to happen, it is going to be very important to focus on deliberate policy actions to address the issues of inefficient public sector bureaucracy, crime and indiscipline, more efficient justice system, more competitive tax rates and tax compliance, and — very important for me — labour market reform and workforce productivity.

Labour market reform and workforce productivity will be a critical success factor in 2016 if economic growth is to be above the low levels we are used to. It also is going to be a very important factor to increase the value added and compensation to labour. In other words, unless we are able to improve the productivity of the labour force, the standard of living generally will not significantly improve.

Therefore deliberate policy action geared towards education and productivity is going to be essential.

This for me will be the most critical factor for fundamental benefits of growth. That is to ensure that the average man on the street benefits from growth, as to do so they must be able to participate at the highest value added.

Some of the actions that can be taken include (i) vocational training programmes at HEART; (ii) focusing loans from the Students’ Loans Bureau on professions that will be in demand; and (iii) labour market reform.

If we are able to successfully address this and the other issues mentioned, then I have no doubt that we can achieve growth in excess of 3.0 to 4.0 per cent and Jamaica will once again be the envy of the Caribbean.

Honesty is very much alive

An incident occurred which gave me hope in our young people. Recently a friend of mine lost his phone at an event and gave up hope that it would be recovered only to receive a text from a young lady to say that she had found the phone and wanted to return it. She arranged to meet him and return it and refused to take any compensation and said she only wanted to return the phone because it was the right thing to do.

This single action certainly has bolstered my faith in the youth, and I want to say,’Well done, Lindesia’. She is a Political Science student at UWI.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Foundations for prosperity

The World Bank recently released a paper called “Jamaica Economic Update Fall 2015”, in which it gave an update on the Jamaican economy and spoke to the necessity to achieve higher levels of growth. As stated in the report, “While the government has made important progress on the structural reform agenda, Jamaica will need to accelerate its growth in order to achieve lasting debt sustainability”.

This is a very important point to note by the World Bank, as it is saying what some of us have been saying for a long time that while the fiscal adjustment is necessary, it is far from sufficient.

This is because the fiscal reform programme has been more on the expenditure management side and there is a limitation to what can be done in expenditure management, as there is a point that you can get to where everything stops.

If we are not at that point yet, we are certainly nearing that point. We should also note when the World Bank says that accelerated growth is necessary for debt sustainability. In other words, if we do not get the growth we need then we could start to compromise our debt to GDP ratio progress.

This has always been very clear, but the fact that it is mentioned in a World Bank report shows that after two years of expenditure management, it is very important to shift our focus to accelerated growth rates.

The World Bank goes further to suggest that capital investment may be a good way of doing so, which is what the US, for example, uses to emerge from economic recessions. This stimulus will usually come through the public purse in the form of roads, bridges, etc. One could think of Highway 2000 as having provided much of the stimulus for the economy because without it the economic conditions would have been much worse.

The recent decrease in the primary surplus balance will certainly allow some room for increased government spending, but even that amount will not be sufficient to create the stimulus for accelerated growth by itself, although it will help. In addition, the fact is that the government does not have the money required for the capital investments needed and so we should examine other sources to achieve that growth.

The best way to do that, without causing a strain on the fiscal accounts, require focusing on a few options.

The first is utilising Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). We have seen PPPs in the form of JPS and Sangster International Airport for example. In addition to PPPs in the pure sense, we also need to be looking at privatising some government assets, not just to take the burden off the government but also to make the assets more efficient and increase employment. Examples include Jamaica Telephone Company sold to Cable and Wireless; NCB privatisation; Air Jamaica taken over by Caribbean Airlines; and Sugar companies divested to the Chinese, among others.

These had the advantages of (i) reducing the burden on the fiscal accounts as well as (ii) increasing competition and employment as many have got larger.

In this vein I would also propose the privatisation of bodies like the National Water Commission, and looking at PPPs to manage entities like the Registrar General’s Department (RGD).

This approach will have the effect of (i) increasing capital investments; (ii) increasing employment and earnings; and (iii) reducing the fiscal burden, while increasing revenues from assets.

Poverty rate troubling

One troubling statement in the World Bank report is about the poverty level. It states: “Between 1997 and 2007 Jamaica’s poverty rate fell from 19.7 to 9.9 per cent, but by 2012 the poverty rate had rebounded to 19.9 per cent”.

This is a very worrying figure, as higher poverty rates means that purchasing power is reduced, resulting in lower economic activity. If economic activity is reduced, then it primarily affects SMEs, which are the ones that create the most new jobs. It also means that innovation which comes from the influence of SMEs will be limited. This will result in lower employment and uncompetitiveness eventually.

One of the main foundations for prosperity, therefore, must be to reduce the poverty rate to the lowest possible levels. For this to happen we need perhaps to increase employment. In order to increase employment in the past, the governments increased the number of people employed in the public sector. The only problem is that that is not a sustainable model as we are seeing now.

Therefore, increased employment can only come through increased private sector activity. Increased private sector activity can only come through people making investments with private capital. And capital will only invest where the risk-return is the best it can get, or else it goes to a safer haven.

What this means is creating an environment to facilitate capital moving into investments in Jamaica. In this global village it is easy to move capital from one market to another. This means that policies must be created to attract capital to the country, as is done in Panama where investors’ terms under which they invest are protected by law, which allows for predictability and lower risk.

The real foundation for prosperity lies in policies geared at full employment (defined at five per cent or less unemployment). But for full employment to occur it requires capital investments, as the World Bank says.

Since the government does not have the necessary fiscal space, it therefore requires private capital investments through PPPs or private investments. This in turn requires policy action deliberately aimed at inviting capital to invest.

When this occurs (increased capital investment) then we will see increased employment, which will be the road to prosperity.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Requirements for sustainable growth


The Planning Institute of Jamaica has reported good news that the economy is estimated to have grown by 1.5 per cent for the July to September 2015 quarter. Of note is that the goods sector has grown 4.4 per cent, with manufacturing up 9.7 per cent and agriculture up 3.3 per cent. At the same time the services sector grew 0.6 per cent, with all services growing with the exception of producers of government services, which declined by 0.2 per cent.

This performance is not unexpected, as the fiscal and legislative adjustments have had a positive impact on the macroeconomic environment, as well as the business environment. Certainly over the past year we have been seeing improved investor and consumer confidence, along with increased investments by large companies.

While we celebrate this return to growth, it is important that we set about ensuring that growth is not only higher, but also sustainable. It will therefore require an understanding of what the challenges are to sustainable growth and what must be done to fix them.

It is important to understand this, as in the past we have seen bouts of growth of around three per cent, only to slip back under one per cent, because of structural issues in the economy. The fact is that the fiscal and legislative reforms being undertaken have gone a far way to break down many of the structural issues. If we are going to have real and sustainable development it will be through deliberate policy actions.

Risk of uneven growth

The risk we run of course is that we will have growth, but that it will not be distributed evenly. In other words, the economy can grow but a significant part of the population cannot see any benefit. This is the situation we see in Haiti, for example, as growth in an economy does not necessarily translate into better income levels generally.

So, even as the economy grows, the gains can be restricted to a certain part of the population. This is a situation that we do not want to see, but we are at risk of seeing. This is because the main risk we face to sustainable economic and social development is the current state of our labour market. This is reflected in the low labour productivity numbers.

This means that even though we may see a decline in unemployment, it will primarily be with low paying jobs and it will be difficult (though not impossible) for the 100,000 jobs projected by the minister of finance to be realised.

If, however, we embark on a programme of training (eg through HEART) and labour market reform, then we can certainly see more than 100,000 jobs being created even before five years. The reason why this intervention is important is that a significant part of the labour market is not adequately trained for the more productive and higher paying jobs, and in many respects our labour market is still dependent on menial jobs.

Labour market reform will of course be necessary to attract even more long-term investors and also to promote labour productivity.

Shifting to SME growth

Secondly, sustainable growth will require a vibrant SME sector, and this means improving the ease of doing business on the ground and not just the legislative framework.

This is why although the Doing Business Report 2016 shows us moving up seven places, the Global Competitiveness report 2015-16 shows a slight decline effectively. What this means is that for us to develop a vibrant SME sector, deliberate policies must be aimed at reducing red tape and also providing a friendly legislative framework and customer service approach to facilitate the business environment.

Much improvement has already been done (and this is why confidence has been improving) but, to be globally competitive, much more needs to be done.

One of the very important things I mention all the time is a predictable environment for doing business. So even though many legislative improvements have been made, business people still have to consider that next year the finance minister could go to Parliament and impose a new tax, which is an additional cost to doing business. Or a bureaucrat could destroy their business by targeting them for audits or causing unnecessary costs from bureaucratic processes without any accountability.

I finally want to mention that sustainable growth is also very much about creating a safe and disciplined environment in which people will want to raise their families. In other words, the most stable environment for a person's family (in particular, children) will be where that business person's money finally comes to rest.

It is important to understand this point, as over the years we have seen where many people have made money through their business in Jamaica and shipped it out to other countries (namely North America), where they send their families to reside for fear of the crime rate or the general lack of discipline in the country.

So my message would be that, while we should celebrate the 1.5 per cent growth rate, we should be mindful that:

(1) if the proper infrastructure was in place we would be talking about growth of maybe three per cent, as the drought alone cost us one per cent of GDP;

(2) it is important to create an environment where we will have sustainable growth and not just acceptable growth for one or two quarters. My own view is that we are on the path to doing this, but we are still at a very delicate stage and any incorrect policy action can reverse these benefits;

(3) we must create a workforce that is equipped with the skills necessary to be more productive, and hence earn more income.

In other words, for sustainable growth to happen, we must reduce our reliance on large-scale projects and FDIs mainly, to instead concentrate on a vibrant SME market and internal investors.

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?