Friday, June 30, 2017
It is a well-accepted fact that crime — the number one impediment to doing business in Jamaica — is costing us between four to six per cent of GDP annually.
What this means is that, because of our inability to arrest the crime monster, Jamaica, and Jamaicans, are between $56 billion and $84 billion poorer per year because of the failure of our governments to deal with crime.
Put another way, Jamaicans are being taxed more each year to the tune of some $10 billion, when the fiscal accounts could collect additional taxes of between $16 billion and $24 billion annually, if only the Government could tame the crime monster.
As far as I am concerned, the best strategy for us to attain economic growth is to curb our rapidly increasing crime problem. This would create more economic activity, greater investment, more jobs, more tax revenue, a lower debt -to -GDP ratio, and a better living environment, among other advantages.
Think about it. Just by solving our crime problem, we would increase the standard of living for all Jamaicans. So one must ask the question: Why haven't we put the necessary resources and effort behind resolving this issue over the years? Clearly it must be a failure of governance, as the primary reason for Government is to provide security and the opportunities for prosperity for its citizens.
I repeat that this is a failure of governance, because consecutive governments have failed to do what is necessary to create an environment for crime to be reduced.
In an April 2013 article called “If we are to solve our crime problem…” I wrote the following:
“In order for us to get a handle on crime, the first thing we must do is understand that we cannot sustainably solve the problem if we do not have a disciplined and orderly society. In other words, it is difficult to create order within an environment of disorder. So if the parents in a household carry on with unethical behaviour in front of their children, then more than likely the children will act out what they see rather than what they are told.
“…it is always going to be difficult to solve crime if we do not deal with the indiscipline on the roads, the violations of the Noise Abatement Act and the zoning laws, and the littering of the roads. These are simple things to deal with, but unless we address them, it will be like expecting someone to emerge from a mud lake without any mud on them.
“…justice must be swift and low-cost. If we are serious about taming the crime monster, we cannot have a situation where the police make an arrest, take someone to court, and the case takes five years to complete. We also cannot have a situation where jurors go to court and don't even get lunch money or transportation costs reimbursed…
“The police need to treat all crimes as equal violations of the law and act speedily in all cases. So when someone reports domestic violence or praedial larceny, it is important for the police to treat all those cases as urgent. Don't wait to take action until the thief and the perpetrator of domestic violence graduate to more serious crimes …
“The law also needs to be applied equally to everyone. And in this case I am not talking just about the person with connections, but also when we give someone leeway because you think they are numbered among the less fortunate. If you give the small man a chance, soon you find a reason to give everyone a chance, and eventually corruption flourishes.
“It is also very important that before charges are brought against someone or any accusations are made public, proper investigations take place. There have been many cases of people being charged or accused of wrongdoing, but these charges either prove false or lack sufficient evidence. This negatively affects the credibility of law enforcement.
“… Enforcers of the law, such as the police, cannot be seen to disobey it. It is very important that the credibility and authority of those persons… are intact.
“So if we are to solve the crime problem, we cannot just focus on the outcome (such as murder). We must address the root causes of the problem — the main one being a lawless society.”
The irony is that I could have simply republished this article and changed the date, and it would have been just as, or even more relevant, four years later.
The fact is that all these situations seem to have grown worse. Accordingly, the crime threat has also heightened, and is now affecting our number one foreign exchange earner — tourism.
All of this is happening at a time when everyone is bullish on Jamaica, but that “bull” has been reduced to a “calf” on account of the ravages of crime.
This inability for many years to enforce law and order has reduced the attractiveness of Jamaica as a place to live and work. As stated above, it is a direct failure of governance.
Although I have a lot of respect for Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett, his latest suggestion to remove crime from the front page as a solution is ill- advised. It is like the “divine intervention” suggestion.
Crime will not be solved by refusing to highlight it, or by invoking the Lord's help at a prayer breakfast. It is going to be solved by the same methods that we used to deal with our economic problems: facing the reality of the problem and setting up a public-private partnership (EPOC or ESET) to deal with it. The sad reality is that if left to Government alone, the solution will not happen. It needs the involvement of all stakeholders.
I am certainly no crime expert, but what I know is that (1) crime is costing us the opportunity to do the best we can for Jamaica, and solving it is the most effective route to “prosperity”; and (2) crime cannot be sustainably addressed in a society that lacks law and order at the very basic levels of everyday rules.
Friday, June 09, 2017
As I reflect on how Jamaica has developed, it reminds me of some parents who, in bringing up their beloved children, try to make life as comfortable as possible for them. The parents give them the best, cater to their every need, and provide them with anything they ask for.Further, the parents protect those children from any possible missteps they may make, to the point where they become very sheltered and unable to face challenging situations. The parents will even attack anyone who tries to discipline those children if they misbehave. We have often read about this sort of thing happening in various schools.
The usual result of all this attention is that the children are unprepared for life and end up underperforming or depending on their parents or other people forever.
This is similar to what has happened in the Jamaican economy. Either because of “Love” for the people, or more than likely political expediency, policy measures have been driven by the need to “give a fish” rather than “teach Jamaicans how to fish”.
Giving the fish is more accepted, as the recipients don't have to do any work, and therefore feel that the politicians really care about them and so will give them their vote.
Teaching someone to fish will of course demand effort on both the part of the political representative and the constituent, and may result in the constituent being upset and therefore not giving the vote to the politician.
The consequence of trying to “teach people to fish” in our environment usually is that anyone who tries to provide people with the ability to fend for themselves, rather than sit back and receive gifts, will not be elected. The politician is caught between a rock and a hard place, as he is divided between doing what is right and losing the election, or doing what is unsustainable and winning the election. Normally they will go for the short-term solution and win the election, but in the end things only get worse.
We have seen this in recent elections — for example, when Holness said there would be bitter medicine, during the 2012 campaign. People were even wonderings how he could be so stupid to speak the truth, which many times we don't want to hear. Or the fact that Phillips took the bold decision to implement austerity measures to save us from economic disaster, and no doubt caused some people to vote against the government at the time.
Capitalising on the “politically naïve” remark by Holness in 2012, the PNP went on the offensive and said that Holness didn't love the poor. Learning from this in 2016, the JLP promised that things would get better, as everyone would have $18,000 per month more after the $1.5-million tax threshold.
Again, when McKenzie was mayor, he went on a campaign to rid the streets of illegal vending. The backlash was swift, with persons on social media saying that he needed to stop harassing people who were trying to make a living.
Recently when I wrote about the Hip Strip (a significant part of our main FX earner) becoming a dump, and lacking any order, the responses from social media indicated that I was fighting against people trying to make a living. No concern for the fact that when the Hip Strip gets worse it reduces the real estate value and is less attractive for the tourists, so the businesses will suffer, and maybe close down, just like many residents see their property values depreciate because of roadside garages and businesses being established in residential areas. But not to worry, if the businesses ever try to close down, or downsize and lay off anyone, the IDT will get them and make it more difficult.
But as many Jamaicans (in Jamaica and even in the diaspora, where they have to abide by the rules) would say, no problem with that, just don't fight against a trying man. Let them try that in the US or Canada though, and they would be keeping company with Bernie Madoff.
Because of this attitude, and the need for politicians to survive, we end up with policies all the time that focus on welfare rather than productivity.
Is it any wonder that Jamaica's labour productivity has been consistently falling since 1972? Is it any wonder that our GDP per capita is around US$7,000, while small Antigua's is US$18,000? Is it any wonder that we have 180,000 households reported to be stealing electricity, while the compliant pay for it? Is it any wonder that 40 per cent of our population is made up of squatters?
As long as we have this demand and supply relationship, then we will only be moved to do what is necessary when our back is against the wall, as was done in 2012 with the IMF programme. And then again, it only worked because of the public-private partnership through EPOC, or ESET. Relying on the public sector institutions alone has never worked. Not because there are not very talented people in the public sector, but systems like the procurement process severely restrict what can be done, while more and more money is thrown at replicating studies done too many times to mention.
What we will have to do is to try and break this cycle, as was done with the economic downward spiral in 2012. This means that government policy should be focused on doing what is necessary for driving long-term growth and sustainability, which will mean that short-term welfare will have to be reduced to only what is essential, and not the practice of creating policy that makes everyone poorer.
For example, why have we not been able to see the need to enforce general law and order, such as road discipline and noise pollution? After all, these create the breeding ground for graduation to more serious crimes. Why have we not been able to deal with the labour laws that create lower productivity? Why have we not been able to deal with illegal vending? Why do we push aside common sense long-term development policy for short-term resource distribution?
Because of this welfare politics, governments since the 1970s have created policies that limit productivity and create poverty throughout the economy. We have not sought to make the future of our people better, as evidenced by where we are, but have sought to cater to short-term satisfaction.
We have made some progress, however, and because of this Jamaica is in a better place than it was four years ago. But we must not get complacent. We must continue to strengthen the institutions that will create long-term development and make Jamaicans better off than they are today.
Friday, June 02, 2017
In my view, the last two weeks represent one of the worst periods for economic news in recent times for Jamaica. We saw the report coming out from the PIOJ about the effects of the $1.5-million tax package, which showed the regressive nature of the tax package and the effect on those at the lowest income levels; the non-trial of the Cash Plus/Carlos Hill case after nine years - which once again shows the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the justice system; the slowdown and slight reversal of the business and consumer confidence survey findings; and the flat first quarter GDP numbers for 2017.
All these made for a very bad period of news for Jamaica, which was only outdone by the self-inflicted nuclear-like effect caused by Donald Trump's tweets.
The truth is that I can't say that any of this is surprising though, and that really is the sad part.
If we look at them individually, we can assess them as follows:
o¨ Cash Plus “non-trial” is really just a continuation of the poor justice system we have, as over the years we have seen many instances of stalled trials, and the truth is that most of the successes we have had are really from “imported justice”, and I guess since we import everything else, why not?
o¨ Effect of the $1.5-million tax package is exactly what we at the PSOJ had indicated would happen, at the time when Mahfood was President, and in fact is exactly the thing that the 2012 Private Sector Tax Working Group report had seen happening and had recommended ways to address.
o¨ Business and consumer confidence downturn is somewhat expected, as coming off the expected euphoria of the tax package, then naturally expectations would decline. However, an even greater long-term concern is two trends I noticed as I charted the indices since 2014. First, the trend since 2014 is that the Current Business Conditions index is always higher than the Expected Business Conditions index, and the one time when they were almost the same was in 2015 when the Current index fell to meet the Expected index. This implies that businesses always have a less favourable view of the future than the current situation. Secondly, for the first time since 2014, the consumer expectation index is lower than the current condition index. Both these indices also have not considered the recent tax package. My understanding is that it features heavily in the research being conducted in the second quarter confidence findings.
o¨ The flat GDP outturn for Q1 2017, while somewhat unexpected, is not a huge surprise, as the drought conditions at the start of the year were expected to impact. The fact also is that whenever agriculture is negatively impacted, the risk to growth is always on the downside.
The challenge we face is that the second quarter may actually be worse than the first - or so it feels.
I say that for a few reasons. The tax package would have been implemented during that period, and we know the outcry surrounding the property tax. The rate of depreciation of the Jamaican dollar had increased, and although not anything to be alarmed about, the psychological impact of $130 could play here. Also I am not sure what effect the continued negative image of US politics is having (such as we see with reduced remittance flows reported in the confidence survey), and finally the costs associated with the recent flood rains, which should continue the negative effect on agriculture in addition to GDP losses.
What we must not do though - as we have done in the past — is dwell too much on our misfortune, but use this as an opportunity to refocus and redouble our efforts.
What we also must not do is excuse the performance with explanations, and not accept the fact that it is our reality.
What we must do this time is keep our eyes fixed on the ambitious target of five per cent growth by 2020, and determine what must be done to achieve this.
What I can further say is that achieving five per cent growth in three years means that we cannot do the same things we have always been doing and expect different results. It also means identifying all, and more precisely, the main impediments to achieve this target, and we must be in a hurry to fix them.
In other words, we cannot work within the same bureaucratic processes and expect to achieve the target of five per cent growth in 2020. In fact, it is this same bureaucratic process that is ranked as the number two problem to business in Jamaica, and so we cannot expect to work within that same system and achieve anything different.
Saying that, we also must realise that just following the IMF initiatives will also not give us the five per cent target. If the IMF model is based on a maximum three per cent growth, then logically it means that we must first ensure we maintain the baseline growth of the 1.5 per cent, ensure the IMF deliverables that will give us three per cent, and also we will have to implement additional initiatives to get us to five per cent.
For me this means saying to the PIOJ, put six per cent growth in 2020 in your model and tell me what I must do to achieve it, and then we have to focus on the major impact and low-hanging items to get to that five per cent. It is only by visioning this target (through the PIOJ model), establishing initiatives and timelines to get there, assigning accountabilities, and going against the system that has stymied our growth, that we will get to the target we desire.
It also means not only seriously taking steps to tackle the obvious GDP robbers of crime (approximately four per cent of GDP) and bureaucracy (maybe another two per cent of GDP), but also doing so in a hurry, which for me means not continuing to allow the procurement system, for example, to continue to keep us underperforming. But at the same time we must hold people accountable for breaches. Very importantly, it also means quickly bringing efficiency and confidence to our justice system.
The fact is that the only logical and realistic path to getting to sustainable economic growth is to chart a strategic plan, after creating a vision of that growth, and realising that to get there we must of necessity do things differently.