My children have grown up insulated from the harsh realities of Jamaica and some of us in our more privileged domains really look at the crime and murder rates and poverty levels as statistics until it comes too close to home.
Over the Christmas holidays I decided that I wanted to expose my children to some of the realities of Jamaica. As they can easily identify with Bob Marley I took them to visit the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum and arranged with the Member of Parliament for the area (South St Andrew) Mark Golding, to make a donation to needy children of the community.
Mark asked that I give the funds to four families and four individuals that were burnt out in a fire over the Christmas. So in addition to touring Bob’s legacy we visited the affected community and made a cash contribution to families and individuals.
While I knew that poverty is a real problem in Jamaica, what my sons and I observed was abject poverty.
The hopelessness that existed was depressing to say the least.
While it is commendable that the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has been increasing resources in the past few years through social safety net programmes, poverty levels remain a challenge at 19.3 per cent.
It is overwhelmingly apparent that to reduce these levels of poverty an increased, coordinated and focused effort is required to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable in our society.
JAMAICA — NEW DECADE: VISION 2030
Jamaica in the last seven years has been emerging from a prolonged history of underperformance of our economy: Jamaica’s debt to GDP levels are at approximately 94 per cent and on the decline, macroeconomic stability fairly entrenched, all-time low interest rates, low and stable inflation rates and healthy and adequate gross international reserves of over US$3.6 billion.
Our unemployment is at historical low levels of 7.8 per cent, which is extremely positive. However there remains as at July 2019 185,400 individuals between the ages of 20-44 who have not offered themselves for work and are not included in the workforce calculation.
As we chart the course into 2020 and into the new decade despite our challenges we have a real opportunity to build on the foundation of macroeconomic stability to achieve our National Vision 2030 statement “Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business”
I believe first and foremost Jamaica needs to get our politics right. Our politics need to be more constructive and engaging. I believe a significant block of my fellow Jamaicans have grown cynical and sceptical around how our politics is practiced as it is seen as more divisive and self-serving. This we have seen demonstrated over changing administrations and my belief is that our politics needs to evolve and put the national interest first.
I will highlight areas that, in my view, Jamaica needs to gain national and bipartisan consensus, in order to achieve with a high degree of certainty and in a timely manner our national development objectives.
EMBED MACROECONIC STABILITY AND FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
As Jamaica steps out on its own without an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Programme we have to ensure that we preserve the hard-fought gains while continuing to reduce our debt levels in relationship to Jamaica’s GDP.
We must provide support to the GOJ as they look to embed the Fiscal Council and central bank autonomy to protect these gains that the country has paid for dearly.
NATIONAL CONSENSUS ON CRIME STRATEGY
As we have been able to gain national consensus on Jamaica’s economic reform programme as a priority Jamaica needs a national consensus on its crime strategy.
For decades Jamaica’s crime levels have been at crisis proportions (in top-five murder rate globally). Jamaica needs to draw the line in the sand and demand once and for all a bipartisan approach to crime which will drive the confidence and trust of our citizens and empower our national security forces and our ministries, departments, agencies and non governmental organizations to execute Jamaica’s crime strategy and social intervention programmes.
The national dialogue initiated by Minister of National Security Horace Chang around social intervention is to be welcomed as we have to review the impact that social intervention programmes have achieved over the years.
As Jamaica’s debt levels have reduced and fiscal space has been opening up, resources while limited have been significantly increased through capital expenditure in infrastructure and more recently the outlay of $21 billion in upgrading of national security assets through technology and physical infrastructure.
Jamaica needs now, with its limited resource availability, to invest in its people, and as a priority the most vulnerable communities. It’s not a surprise that they produce a disproportionate and significant level of violence and crime.
These urban and rural communities have been starved of resources for years and Jamaica is paying the price as it manifests in Jamaica’s high crime levels.
As our fiscal profile improves this has to be a national priority for the GOJ, the private sector and civil society to deploy resources, time and effort into the rehabilitation of these communities and its citizens.
While our Educators do their best to educate our children and workforce it is quite evident that we are not getting the quality outcomes that will increase our productivity, create higher paying jobs, and increase value-added services which will increase our growth levels.
Jamaica has to take a hard look and gain a national consensus on how to transform education and training as we move into the new decade.
STRENGTHEN ANTI-CORRUPTION AGENCIES
Corruption continues to undermine confidence and trust in our institutions, our leadership and by extension our society. Jamaica has made strides in building out the anti-corruption institutional capacity. We need to continue to resource and strengthen its anti-corruption agencies—the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency—the Integrity Commission and the Financial Investigations Division to ensure that perpetrators of corruption are brought to justice.
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS — NIDS
Jamaica has to get its digitised national identification done. This has to be accomplished through a bipartisan approach. This will bring significant efficiencies to the delivery of services by the public and private sectors and also assist in crime-reducing efforts.
PUBLIC SECTOR TRANSFORMATION
While we welcome the incremental improvements and recent divestments in the public sector they have been long overdue and there remains significant opportunities to gain more efficiencies and more effective delivery of services to the citizens of Jamaica.
This will certainly improve our fiscal profile and make available greater resources to invest in our health, education, infrastructure, social programmes and increase productivity levels.
DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENT
The National Spatial Plan (NSP) was last updated in 1978 and an updated draft was to have been completed in December 2019, The purpose of this is to support long-term development that promotes more sustainable land-use patterns.
The NSP will greatly improve the development application and review process, will also address the major challenges of disaster risk reduction and climate change response, while protecting the environment and enhancing the quality of the built environment.
JAMAICA CAN ACHIEVE VISION 2030
My view is that if Jamaica gains national consensus on executing on the above priorities Jamaica will have a clearer path to realise increased, sustainable and inclusive growth levels where poverty levels and inequality can be reduced and Jamaica can become a more caring and gentler society, and will take us a long way to achieving our Vision 2030 objectives.