Op-Ed: Jamaica at a Crossroads

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By Kent Gammon
Op-Ed Contributor

The Jamaican people will decide their fate on the Dec. 29 in the country’s 16th general election. They face a major crossroads: go with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) which will mean austerity measures due to International Monetary Fund (IMF) prescriptions or with the People’s National Party (PNP), which will mean a very likely return to negotiating debt with private lending agencies.

The PNP left office in September 2007 of more than $11 billion in debt, an exchange rate of approximately 70 Jamaican dollars to 1 United States dollar, an environment rife of ponzi schemes and a murder rate of over 1500 per year. The JLP had left office in February 1989 prior to the PNP taking office, with a debt of around $371 million, an exchange rate of 5.5 Jamaican dollars to 1 United States dollar and  a murder rate of over 400 per year.

After four years in office, the JLP has cauterized the Jamaican debt with lower interest rates under the IMF, sold debt-hemorrhaging entities like Air Jamaica and the Sugar Company of Jamaica, stabilized the Jamaican dollar at approximately 85 to 1 United States dollar and curbed the murder rate to just about 1000 murders per year. The Ponzi schemes are now all gone, with the chief operators in prison or facing same, and the major economic hurdles such as debt management well under control.

Pressing the people buttons

The Jamaican people have always been more moved by political rhetoric and less on economic hard talk.    The PNP are good on political rhetoric, which explains their more successful election results. The PNP’s economic score sheet, however, is atrocious. The Jamaican economy depreciated by over 25 percent when they left office in October 1980. The JLP reversed that status and increased the Jamaican economy’s growth rate by an average of 5 percent per year from 1986 to when the PNP took office in 1989. The performance of the Jamaican economy since that time in office is documented in my book, The Jamaican Story – Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward 1972 – 2007.

The political slogans for the JLP and PNP respectively are “For a Better Jamaica” and “People Power.” The platform for the JLP is better economic management, particularly debt management, reduction in crime and the setting of a better environment for investments and job creation.

That of the PNP is the creation of jobs, the “Progressive Agenda” that speaks generally to “basic rights of the Jamaican people” and that they are more credible than the JLP, citing the recent “Manatt, Phelps and Phillips” enquiry that concluded there was a mishandling of the relationship with that US law firm and the Jamaica Labour Party, the party in office over the Christopher “Dudus” Coke extradition to the United States of America.

There has been an uncompleted enquiry in the financial sector debacle in the mid-to-late 1990s over the handling of the corporate affairs of several financial institutions and insurance companies whose liabilities exceeded their assets in unsustainable ratios. A government company called the Financial Services Adjustment Company (FINSAC) was created in 1995 to take over and manage such corporate affairs.

And as it would also be to the luck of the PNP, the hearing of the Trafigura case was stayed by the Court of Appeal until next year February 2012 on a constitutional motion that the Netherlands government had no locus standi in investigating the involvement of the Jamaican government with regard to donations to the PNP by a Netherlands company.

Examining the score sheets

The main issues, in my view, that the Jamaican people must decide on are:: (1)the bloated public sector under the PNP that consumes far too much of the national income against the JLP’s proposed rational proportioning of the work force in that sector freeing up national resources to create more space for local entrepreneurship (2)an effective strategy on crime with positive results under the JLP or a return to the “lip service” of the PNP in dealing with crime with a murder rate that went unchecked and increased under their watch and (3) the implementation of corruption mechanisms, namely the Independent Commissioner of Investigations in 2009, to curb, if not eliminate, police corruption, and the passing of the Public Prosecutor Act, now well under way in parliament or the flaccid approach to eliminating corruption under the PNP.

Were I to grade the political parties in Jamaica, the JLP would be “C” and the PNP an “F.” On Thursday, Dec. 29, will the Jamaican people choose the the “F” student or the “C” student?

Kent Gammon is a former candidate for the Jamaica Labour Party and an attorney-at-law.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.



 

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