Monday, August 15, 2016

Jamaica lacking a strategic long term vision

Recently someone said to me that the reason why our politics has not been able to solve our challenges and have sunk us further into economic and social problems is because either politicians don’t understand what to do or just don’t care. After reflection, I thought to myself, that I do know many politicians who care about Jamaica and are also quite competent. And so the problem could not be explained away as simply as that.

After giving it some thought, and a recent experience, I thought to myself that the real reason why our governments have not been able to bring us to the “prosperity” being talked about now, is that the objective of politics is many times different from the objective of long term economic and social development.

In other words, because of our political system, and the needs of the supporters, the expediency of politics (and ultimately governments) have been at variance with the much needed economic and social development. So if you think of economic and social development as going to Montego Bay, the problem is that the objective of politics has been either going to St. Thomas, or at best going to Ocho Rios and stopping there. In the latter case going in the correct direction, but stopping short of the long term objective.

So in my view, politicians are very competent at achieving the objectives they set. The problem is that the objectives are different from what we as Jamaicans want for economic and social development. Maybe I shouldn’t include all Jamaicans, because many, as a result of ignorance, party colour blindness, or personal goals, also don’t mind the political objectives being different from the needed economic and social ones.

Because of this, the policy directions are geared towards the political objectives in many respects. And because we have had too many bureaucrats who are willing to accommodate political, over economic and social objectives, we end up with the political objectives being implemented in preference to long term developmental objectives. This also results in the systems and processes of government bureaucracy being set up to really do nothing but push a lot of paper.

It is for this reason why persons from the private sector will find it difficult to work in the public sector because in the private sector we are used to things happening, and the achievement of organizational growth. The problem with government bureaucracy is that it doesn’t need prosperity or effectiveness of itself to survive, as all government has to do to make up for the revenue loss from being unproductive is raise taxes on the productive persons (private citizens). The problem is that sooner or later you end up with significantly fewer productive persons to tax, and then you end up in a situation as we are in Jamaica, where debt to GDP ratio goes to 150% before we realize we have a problem.

Even our well talked about Vision 2030 is nothing but a pipe dream, because our political objectives are at variant with its objectives. The result is that the Vision 2030 objectives (which were well thought out) flies under the radar, and may be soon forgotten when 2030 finally arrives.

So while we talk about a long term developmental objective, the truth is that the preference of political objectives will always ensure that these are not met. The only way for that to happen is for the political objectives to align with our “Vision 2030” developmental objectives.

The irony is that this is easily possible, and can result in very real economic and social development in Jamaica. However, the probability of Jamaica achieving its full potential in the near future though is maybe less than 50%, primarily because the existing institutional infrastructures do not allow it. It is still early days for this administration, however, and if the desire is real prosperity then we may very well see the structural issues being addressed. Up to this point though the probability of that happening anytime soon seems to be less than 50%.

The reason I say so is because for that to happen, then political objectives would need to be sacrificed for long term development plans. The political objectives I speak of does not include remaining in office, as any government that achieves real economic and social development in Jamaica will, in my view guarantee office for years to come. The objectives I speak of include (1) short term benefits for the party and constituents; (2) power benefits; and (3) the need to make out the opposition as doing the worst things in the past 5 years when the problem is the accumulation of the past 54 years.

So we continue to put the right framework in place to address these serious structural issues like the OCG, INDECOM, Public Defender, Auditor General, and the new Corporate Governance Framework. But we also underfund or ignore their recommendations, and expect that they will work. For example, we say we are serious about solving crime, but we continue to underfund the security forces and refuse to address a very inefficient and underfunded justice system. Never mind that crime robs us of 4 to 6 percent of GDP, as the longer term benefit of solving crime never seems to get preference over the shorter term political objectives mentioned above.

One of the major problems also are the supporters, who as I said in a recent social media post, even if a political party put Hitler to represent them against Obama, they would still be voted in because many Jamaicans vote based on colour and not objective reasoning. Obviously this is the theory of the effect of crowds, as individually they will be very rational but put them in a group and the reasoning changes.

So after my many years commenting on Jamaica’s economy, and seeing events like the current rise of Donald Trump, I am convinced that the reason why the world (and Jamaica) is in economic and social decline for most persons is because of our failure to ensure that political objectives align with development objectives. We only have to look to Singapore to see the positive effect the alignment of those objectives can have on a country.