Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the official Signing Ceremony and Call to Action of Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council (EGC) at the Courtleigh Auditorium. Needless to say, it was quite the event, with most of the country’s premier business leaders in attendance. The 11-member Council, headed by business mogul Michael Lee-Chin, is an initiative of the 9-month old Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government, and has as its objective the achievement of an annual increase of five (5) per cent in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within four years, that is, by Fiscal Year (FY) 2019/2020. This objective provides the basis for the Council’s overarching mantra “five in four,” and is intended to be achieved through a package of eight priority growth initiatives and specific policy proposals, which are, broadly, as follows:
- To maintain macro-economic stability and pursue debt reduction
- To improve citizen security and public safety
- To improve access to finance
- To pursue bureaucratic reform to improve the business environment
- To stimulate greater asset utilization
- To build human capital
- To harness the power of the diaspora
- To catalyse the implementation of strategic projects
In some ways, the Council represents a transition from the four-year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is scheduled to end in 2017 and in which Jamaica has recently passed its 14th consecutive quarterly test, thus maintaining a trajectory of self-sustaining growth. According to Prime Minister, the Most Honorable Andrew Holness, the Council “will develop the initiatives that we will be held to account for, to raise public awareness and public attention on economic growth and to assist in the process of bringing to the attention of the Government where there are bottlenecks, roadblocks and obstacles to remove them from the way, and the path that the investors must travel to bring prosperity and jobs to Jamaica.”1
After the Ceremony, I caught up with the Vice Chairman of the Council and Jamaica’s Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Economic Affairs, Dr. Nigel Clarke, who not only implored me to continue to be steadfast in the pursuit of my goals, but also gave me some personal insight pertaining to the Council’s role and why it should be considered differently from all the other growth initiatives previously attempted by former administrations. In response, he said:
“The good news is that the solutions to Jamaica’s problems are not unknown. They lie in copious reports, studies, commission findings, ministry papers and executive plans that lie in the ‘filing cabinets of government’. We have reviewed many unimplemented recommendations and included the most impactful of these.”
The statement from Dr. Clarke is certainly reassuring and must be placed in the context of Jamaica’s dismal economic growth since independence, with an average of 1.6% per annum, compared with global figures of 3.1% yearly during the same period.2 Therefore, the Council cannot afford to be another layer of bureaucratic apparatus, and must seek to engage the populace in a meaningful and lasting way. Economic growth should not solely seek to ensure that all the books are balanced, but the Council must find a way to ensure that even the average person on the street knows what’s happening amidst all the fancy economic and financial jargon, and more pertinently, how it affects him or her as they go about their daily activities.
Moreover, it is well documented in Jamaica that persons of high standing are wont to engage in many a “talk shop” with little being done beyond the spouting of mere rhetoric, a notion expressed by the Chairman of the Council at the Ceremony. To this end, the Council has made a commitment to reversing this culture of severe execution deficiency by “focusing on a method of implementation that encourages the Government of Jamaica to enter into an action oriented Declaration of Intent with the EGC, private sector groups, unions and civil society….consistent with the Terms of Reference of the EGC.”3
These sentiments augur well for the country, but must be motivated by a genuine desire to ensure public participation in the consensus building and implementation processes. When civil society takes ownership of our problems, and the attendant solutions, change emerges. The seeming inability to achieve appreciable levels of economic growth now threatens the social fabric of Jamaica and requires all well-thinking Jamaicans to join together to achieve a breakthrough in this regard.
In the final analysis, this is a collective exercise, and its success will depend on the level of buy-in from all the necessary stakeholders.
- Holness, Andrew. Economic Growth Council Launch. Office of the Prime Minister, Kingston, Jamaica. 27 Apr. 2016. Speech.
- “Analysis of Jamaica’s Economic Growth 1962-2015.” STATIN. Statistical Institute of Jamaica, 2016. Web.
- Economic Growth Council. Chairman of the Economic Growth Council, 25 Sept. 2016. Web.