Sun | Apr 21, 2019

Mark Ricketts | After three years, a ‘C’ for the JLP

Published:Sunday | March 10, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Mark Ricketts
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Last month was the third anniversary of the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) control of the reins of government. I believe it is important to grade the party’s performance now that it has gone beyond the halfway mark. I give it a ‘C’.

Readers, and especially JLP party supporters, might think I am too harsh. Before you get annoyed, read what I have to say and see if my arguments are not valid.

Andrew Holness is affable, engaging, and bright. When he delivers a speech he is eloquent and has an excellent grasp of the subject matter. Anybody listening has to be duly impressed.

Adding that special gift of his to an articulation of goals and targets, and plans and ideas, leading up to the last general election, one can understand why the electorate was sufficiently enamoured to elect his party to run things for the next five years and for him to be installed as prime minister.

At a specific level, the society the PM inherited was one that had potential by virtue of its location; its growth in certain sectors; the stability and profitability of its financial and capital institutions, such as commercial banks and the stock exchange; the size, relevance, and continued interest of the diaspora; the potential of the country’s creative industries; and the caring and confidence of the people. Also of significance were the loans provided and reforms instituted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ensure macroeconomic stability.

The prime minister and his administration have been able to build on this for which kudos should be given. Today, they can boast about significant employment gains, low inflation numbers, interest rates trending down, so is crime, construction is everywhere, and tourism has continued its record-breaking performance, prompting higher levels of capital investment.

If this was a normal economy, in-between business cycles, I would have been encouraged by the administration’s achievements. But this is Jamaica with some intractable problems: corruption, squatting, where more than 25 per cent of the population occupy captured land or live in illegal settlements; the persistence of garrison with its cult, divide, and ruthless partisanship subordinating competence and rewarding loyalty; a low-performing and misdirected education system.

Not even agriculture supported by tourism’s annual arrivals – which now exceed the size of our population, where our diaspora retains its passion for things Jamaica, and where our trade deficit is depressing – have we been able to recalibrate our education, in terms of technology, science, and entrepreneurship, to drive agriculture.

While I know that Rome was not built in a day and the Government can’t solve all of Jamaica’s problems in three years, the Government, to me, has exhibited misplaced priorities, poor governance, weak management, and the absence of truly visionary leadership.

When you have garrison ingrained in the culture and there is widespread corruption in the society, then there must be urgency and there must be defined benchmarks for success. This is where Prime Minister Holness and his team have disappointed.

RIPPLE EFFECTS OF BAD DECISIONS

Let’s start with corruption.

Not only has the country declined in the global ranking on the Corruption Index but this administration seems not to take seriously the ripple effects of bad decisions. It probably banks on what it considers to be the short memories of Jamaicans, or the fact that the population is inured after decades of scandals, or individuals have a penchant for moving on and not belabouring yesterday’s happenings or worrying about things they can’t do anything about.

A deeper reason for nonchalance on the part of the administration is that the JLP, like the People’s National Party (PNP), loves to remind everyone that the other side was just as bad. But people elected the JLP to do better and not to take comfort in lowering the bar by finding excuses tied to what the previous government did or did not do.

Then there is Government’s fallback position where leaders, instead of taking very tough decisions that might involve the abridgement of rights, or introducing legislative-modifying behaviour, rely on exhortation, talking a good game, acting sincerely, being contrite, and promising to do better.

This is where the PM excels.

In speaking to his audience, he has that way of draping innocence over a furrowed brow and transmitting contrition to a people he has subdued into offering forgiveness.

Compounding the corruption debacle is the relatively high levels of income inequality in Jamaica, the irrelevance of our minimum wage, and the absence of incorporating the concept of a livable wages for so many hard-working Jamaicans.

Then there is the use of over 100 allowance categories by Government to mask payouts they deem important. Benefits are distributed unevenly and unfairly. If Government is not playing by the rules, follow fashion is easy and justification follows suit.

A crying shame of our economic evolution has been the approach fostered by government and replicated by the private sector to relegate so many workers, including professionals, to low wage earning status.

I am still struggling with how the JLP led by the prime minister could undertake such missteps with the O’Brien car scandal; could find itself in the uncomfortable position of those blistering auditor general reports highlighting cronyism, nepotism, waste; and then being caught offside with the Petrojam’s HR misfortune of big money earned, accelerated within two months, and then millions more dished out at firing.

Surely, the PM and his administration must understand the symbolism and how much it drives the narrative in the marketplace.

Dr Alfred Dawes’ brilliant article in The Sunday Gleaner, February 3, titled ‘The real state of emergency’, highlights the terrible consequences of inequality and hopelessness – “Even if these people were enticed to engender hard work and low pay, every scandal worsens their bitterness.”

Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com