September–let’s remember: It’s September 28, 2009, a dark day for Guinea

On a sombre note, September 28 marks the date of massacres in Guinea, in 2009. I’d left my assignment there three years earlier, and the rumblings of civil disturbances had already begun, while President Lansana Conté was still in power. A military coup led by a group of military officers, naming themselves The National Council for and Development (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement, CNDD) seized power hours after the death on December 22, 2008, of President Conté, Guinea’s president for 24 years. The CNDD was headed by a self-proclaimed president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

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Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara

 

The horrific killings that took place at the aptly named Stade du 28 septembre, has been called ‘premeditated’ by Human Rights Watch. The infamous Presidential Guard (‘berets rouges’/red berets) were at the heart of the atrocities.  Reports indicate that the 50,000 people protesting against the government insude the stadium were peaceful. Reports also indicate that there was an ethnic element to the massacre, with mainly Christian officers targeting Peuhls (who are predominatly Muslims). Many, including a good friend, and former PM,  Cellou Dalein Diallo, the leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG), were arrested and taken away in lorries

The government tried to play down the atrocity, including by claiming the dead were just under 60 people, while other figures indicated between 150-200.

The matter went to the International Criminal CourtAn inquiry was launched in 2010, after Capt Dadis Camara was ousted and fled to Burkina Faso. Dadis Camara was indicted by a court in 2015.

 

Where are the ‘Lacey Bartleys’ in Jamaica? Are they alive and well, or dying slowly?

In the words of the lady herself: “They are here, but desperately seeking resources and avenues to make a difference. It is difficult for them as they are not given an environment in which to flourish.”

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I kept a promise to visit the workshop managed by Lacey Bartley, on my next trip to Mandeville. She recently had time with the Branson Centre of Enrepreneurship. In 2014, Lacey was named JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year, from over 215 small business owners. My blogger friend, Emma Lewis recently told Lacey’s story  on her blog, noting that Bartley’s is seeking funding. My interest was in the business itself, and to see if a few suggestions could help with business development. Lacey was kind enough to let me film her in her office, and post a live chat on Facebook and Twitter. It looks like a nice, no mess promo film, to me.🙂

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Courtesy JIS

But, let me repeat some of the essentials about the business. Bartley’s All in Wood designs, manufactures and sells 100% Jamaican handmade wooden traditional and contemporary furniture, jewellery, office and home accessories. Her main market is the tourism sector, in a broad sense. We ‘natives’ shouldn’t be shy to make her look towards us, though.

On her production strategies, Lacey has indicated that quality finishes and personalized service give products designed and tested based on the feedback and demands from its customers. As the company slogan best puts it, “Outta Many One Wood”. Bartley’s work with various wood types including: Cedar, Quango, Mahogany, Blue Mahoe, Poplar, and Pine and others. The products can be found in over eight shops and salons island-wide, and can be bought online.

One of Lacey’s important objectives is ‘social responsibility’, which covers many areas, from environmental concerns (eg. Mango wood is quick-growing, so it a sustainable variety), gender equity and equality (women farmers are helped, women are being trained to do wood finishing, young men are being trainded to do most of the woodwork), and economic sustainability in a holistic sense, by embracing and creating linkages (the workshop and house are the bottom of a steep lane, and the surrounding community is really a rural business ‘incubator’). She employs 11 part- and full-time workers. Lacey is building a ‘Circular economy’: Using the resources and people around us to build. 

Many of Bartley’s wood products are made from scrap wood, though Lacey told me that she and her father also have local lumber suppliers, to whom they are loyal. But, Lacey calls herself a scavenger. So, while wood types vary, their off-cuts are used in every way, as good magnets, a variety of small items. The items don’t look alike, hence the term ‘bespoke’; a set is quantity, not colour, shade, or wood pattern. Sawdust goes to local chicken farmers, mainly women. However, Lacey is looking for funding to buy a wood chipper to make more sawdust: a bag of wood chips sits in the doorway of the house where she and her family work. Her father and some men were doing work on that house, which he told me had been undergoing renovation for 20 years.

But, for every ‘Lacey’, who has gotten recognition and seems to understsand well how to navigate the corridors and links for grant funding and other financial support, are there many who just flounder? Lacey has two degrees and she and I together struggled to find our way around a website that could open the door to some funding. Our four eyes seemed to find the right key, eventually, but she’d been trying for a few days, without success.

I’d suggested that she try to get a booth as an exhibitor at the upcoming FOROMIC event in Montego Bay. We looked at the cost, almost US3000 and Lacey blanched: “That’s almost a month’s sales!” Is the risk going to be outweighed by the rewards?

The Creation Story, told in simple pictures, from wood pieces to shaped objects

Simple, attactive key chains

Pot of local beeswax

Office desktop accessories, part of a rush order

Cool beauty in many ways

Twenty years and counting …

 

Lacey’s company has been in business for five years. That’s a long time for a new firm. How much longer will it be there? If her father’s renovation is anything to go by, a good few decades. Will she spawn or encourage others? Maybe. Lacey has formalized what she does, which is also not the norm for small businesses in Jamaica. As I found out a few days later, tax compliance is low in general and especially low with newer firms. Lacey is one of the exceptions. Being ‘above board’ is costly, and while it is a distortion of reality to make profits that are supported by not paying taxes, it’s an understandable position taken by many firms. But, let me leave that aside, for the moment.

I wish Lacey well, and encourage her in her efforts. I also encourage you to support her with real dollars. I’ll be checking in on her, periodically.

September–let’s remember: Close to seven

It’s a stretch to say that the time is nigh. Night draws in. It’s close to 7. Jamaica is looking into a dark tunnel that has been dub by crime, and whose dirt has never been properly cleared away. The tunnel looks like it may soon cave it. But, will it happen because eyes have been wide shut for too long? Will it be because hands tied behind their backs have been the MO of our police force?

When politicians only talk about priorities but never do things to make those real, it cannot end well. Check my blog post from today, Crime in Jamaica: A visit to the Twilight Zone.

Crime in Jamaica: A visit to the Twilight Zone

Jamaica has a parallel ‘universe’, where crime lives, & it’s a mental as much as physical space, born from our notions of exceptionalism. It’s a kind of Twilight Zone, whose borders seem to be expancing.

Former National Security Minister, Peter Bunting recently renewed his call for a high level summitchaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, with support from the relevant ministries that will give support to the implementation of social intervention strategies. This was in response to a rapidly escalating level of murders in western Jamaica. 

With the best will in the world, it’s the sort of thing politicians will suggest: they are people used to exercising power and influence and see that as a process that comes from above. Personally, I think that while such approaches might have worked at some stages in the past, it’s not clear that they have much hope now? Why?

The battle against crime was lost long ago when ordinary people did not see it was in their interest to not lose control of their communities to criminals. Like a tangling weed, once the cracks started to form, the weed spread. So, it’s much the case that many communities live cheek-by-jowl with crime and criminals, but have become unable to address the negatives that poses. The recent Tivoli Enquiry gives some idea of why that might have happened. Criminals could deliver goods, services, justice, in a manner that the state or other entities could not. The tolerance of criminals was sweetened by a life that many openly admit they wished was still there. Perverse though it may seem, people felt safer.

So, with that sort of background a high-level summit would not get far, UNLESS and UNTIL, it were to include ‘Dons’ and criminals who are also ‘stakeholders.

The other stakeholders who must be there are ordinary citizens. So, if anything, the summit needs to be truly national and probably LOW LEVEL attack. Answers to crime in communities must come from the many ‘Ground Zero’ battlefields where crime has taken control.

That is an enormous challenge. Why?

Jamaicans have grown up with many reasons for not assisting in fighting crime:

  • Informers are not to be trusted and should be eliminated–that means that it’s a very brave soul who openly offers to the authorities information about crime.
  • Police have been corrupt and knowingly complicit in fostering crime–whether the crooked police have been in cahoots with criminals or doing their own range of crimes, law-enforcement agents have been seen as much as cause as cure of problems.
  • Politicians have for too long just uttered ‘buzz words’ with little evidence that these carry content and drive any real change.
  • Politicians have also been long-suspected of being closely associated with criminals. Just this morning, former Contractor-General, Greg Christie (@Greg0706), posed this question on Twitter.Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 7.49.30 AM.png The fact that such a question could be posed by someone who’s prime role was to look into the awarding of government contracts is startling. However, Former Security Minister Bunting made it clear in 2014 that the link exists, and has been part of the root problem in solving crime

    “Criminals would support party candidates and were often rewarded with contract works. Hopefully, the worst days of this criminal gang/political nexus are now behind us, but we must acknowledge our contribution,”  The ‘worse days’ may be over, but the bitter fruit are still on the tree. So, sinner, heal thyself!

    Bunting, while contributing to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, said to substantially reverse violence in the country, “we have to change the attitudes and behaviours around the violence-related risks and causal factors”.

    The minister said Jamaica has, for decades, developed a subculture of violence and lawlessness that has been reinforced and promoted by segments of the society. He said the connection between elements of both political parties and criminal gangs and dons is one of the causal factors in the culture of violence:  “Criminals would support party candidates and were often rewarded with contract works. Hopefully, the worst days of this criminal gang/political nexus are now behind us, but we must acknowledge our contribution.”

  • Jamaicans have a strange tolerance for many things that they should oppose. This is a feature of daily life, and shows itself in the most mundane incidents, but rises to the highest levels. Jamaicans often try to find reasons to excuse the inexcusable. If they feel that the welfare of the ordinary citizen (‘the little man’) is at stake, they rally to save his ‘opportunities’ to ‘eat a food’. But, again, like the weed spreading, the nation then finds itself unable to oppose bigger things because it’s been so accepting of everything up to that point.

Former National Security Minister, Peter Bunting, introduced the ‘Unite for Change Campaign‘ in 2013. One of its features was the introduction of a ‘mobile phone application (app) that will enhance the resources currently available to empower citizens and improve their level of safety and security’: “This app will offer each Jamaican the opportunity to play their part by engaging either the iReport, Panic Mode, The Law or Alert icons on their mobile devices in order to report incidents of crime, seek assistance from the police or be informed about their rights.”

Mr. Bunting added: “In this respect the Ministry has embarked on an intensive programme of public education and resocialisation to displace the dysfunctional elements in our culture,” noting that crime is an outcome of failures at varying levels of the society; the family, community, school, church, the built environment and governance structures.

His successor, Robert Montague, earlier this year agreed to continue the program.

Now, I have never seen any report that indicates, at the least, how the public is using this app: eg, number of alerts, follow-up, criminals apprehended, etc. A renewed notice about the app appeared in the newspapers in June. I downloaded it onto my phone when I first saw its availability, but have never had cause to use it. I may just start doing so, however, for the many minor transgressions I witness. MY only problem is that I see these while driving, and being a careful citizen, I’m not going to interact with my device while driving. Maybe, I will have to stop and work it, next time. Watch out!screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-9-35-36-am

But, the other aspect about crime is the inevitable feeling that politicians are cynical–ie about their self-interest and self-preservation, and buzz words are for votes. They came to have little meaning quickly as national elections loomed and business was more about ‘divide to rule’, rather than unite for change. The best example of a unity approach would have been a coalition government, but heaven forbid!

I reminded some people the other day how then-PM Portia Simpson-Miller had rejected the overture from then-Opposition Leader, Andrew Holness to walk together through ‘garrisons’. That tells you a lot. It also tells you why being optimistic about crime being ‘tackled’ based on initiatives from politicians are as likely to be failures than successes.

‘Taking back the streets’ is not an empty phrase. But, for it to have meaning, it has to have meaning. Who is going to start to take back the community in which they live? It’s not for the faint of heart. But, saving your country rarely is.

Putting security forces on the streets will have the effect of making it seem that ‘something’ is being done. But, for the impact of that presence to really mean something, the criminals have to decide to stop committing crimes. The rationale for doing that, however, seems weak. Jamaica is notorious for not being able to catch criminals, and then not being able to use the law effectively to sanction them. So, the odds favour continuing with crime, not stopping it.

The police routinely state that x murders were ‘gang-related’, yet that ‘intelligence’ seems to not be brought to bear to curb gangs beforehand. There’s a peculiar disconnection there that goes back to people’s suspicions about the police. But, it could also be that the police are inept. A report yesterday pointed out how out-dated are many of the police’s practices in the area of tracking crime, with local paper records that cannot be inter-connected, and work practices that seem at odds with effective policing. That tells us about political priorities in the past, and we are living with the consequences of those.

But, all of that has left the country in a state where each day sees the apparent spreading crime, and once-quiet communities now find they are just as prone. I listened to the radio this morning and heard reports of how schools in crime-riddled areas are having to ‘lock down’. These are the actions of a place in a state of war, or siege. Criminals, for their part, seem totally ready to do everything to defend what they have and hope to gain.

Therein lies the bigger problem. Force is not enough to defeat force. It’s not clear, for instance, that the increased policing in St. James can point to people who are being sought. Do the police have targets in mind? If not, just being numerous isnt going to cut it. If villains ‘hide’ out ‘in the open’, the exercise is largely futile.

Changing minds takes time. Putting boots on the ground can be done quickly. Changing minds gives lassting results. Putting boots on the ground may give, at best, a temporary respite.

September–let’s remember: 26…Any old iron?

Twenty six is one of those numbers that seems to just be there🙂. It’s the atomic number of iron, so I’ll go with that connection.

Who has ever heard of Mont Nimba? It’s one of those astonishing places on Earth, being made almost totally of iron. When you pick up a piece of ‘rock’ it may be rusty looking, because…it’s iron, an estimated 6 billion tonnes of ‘ore grading 68% iron metal’. Literally, loads of iron. 

It’s located in the south-east corner of the Republic of Guinea, close to the borders with Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. 

It’s certainly one of the world’s really picturesque places. 

But, apart from the enormous reserves of iron ore that’s there, which has been the bone of contention for years, because it’s also in a national reserve–a UNESCO National Heritage Site, and Strict Nature Reserve, it’s full of bio-diversity. It has endemic species such as the viviparous (giving live birth’) toad and chimpanzees that use stones as tools.

I went up the mountain in a four-wheeled vehicle, with my father, on his visit during my posting. It seemed that we were driving at a 45 degree angle for a long time. I remember my father wanting to take a piece of rock/iron as a souvenir, and a long discussion about whether that was allowed. He took it, and it sits in his home as a door-stop.

All a far cry, literally, from the rag and bone men who used to collect scrap iron on the streets of England, during my boyhood days.

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Any old iron?

September–let’s remember: 25, talking about my generation 

25 is not just an album by Adele. The present ‘generation’ faces what it knows and often thinks that the world started with them. Of course, those of us who are older know a little more.

I spoke to a young man about the passing of Jamaican musical great, Prince Buster, and the youth thought that ‘Prince’ was ‘Mr. Purple Rain’. I and his older colleague rolled our eyes, and sang a few stanza of Judge Dread and Blazing Fire. He went to search the Internet.

My generation is also that which contained children of the early mass migrantion to the UK. We’ve lived many different lives. I’ve had it suggested to me to write about my experiences. They are very similar to those retold in Andrea Levy’s ‘Small Island‘.

One of my stories to be told is of racism–reverse racism, even–when black Jamaicans wanted to discriminate against black Jamaican. In England, where the stereotypical story was of white landlords refusing to rent to black lodgers, I faced a black couple who did not want to rent to me, and my white English wife: “We dont want your types here!” We were rare then, but certainly the people in such relationships have become numerically significant in the UK: 1-in-10, according to the latest UK Census. My generation has had to deal with a lot and also been responsible for a lot, good and bad.

My generation has become heads of government, ministers of government, senior clergy, upstanding family members. Some, very few, have ended up in prison. Some have been arrested, for offences that are laudable, protesting for their rights and the rights of others. Some have been drunk and disorderly. Some became professional athletes, playing football for England, running for England, Wales and Great Britain. Jamaicans of my generation, who went to the UK, gave their talents mainly to the country that helped raise them. Some of my generation came back to Jamaica, to work, or to retire. Some are thinking about it.

Some of my generation, who stayed in Jamaica, built businesses, raised families and tried to make their lives good and keep their families safe. Two I know of had friends murdered–that’s very few to know. They never wanted to live abroad, even though they had visas and ready access to foreign places. Only one of them has gone into politics, and is a cousin who is now a Cabinet minister. Others of family here have given their all, and continue to do so, raising people and saving lives.

Will my generation be remembered by this generation?

When Jamaicans don’t know what they don’t know: Jobs puzzles

I was listening to Beyond The Headlines last night, when I heard the Mayor of Montego Bay complain about many problems in the city, including the level of wages for workers in the tourism sector. He argued that people felt ‘inequity’ because Jamaicans were being paid about 59% less than similar workers in other Caribbean islands.

Let’s not dispute the facts about the pay disparity. But, it’s not inequity that is the problem. It is decades of decline labour productivity, which has been going down at an average rate of about 1/12 percent since the mid-1970s. This was highlight simply in an RJR report early last year. Read it; it’s short and clear.

So, here is the problem. The same way that people who scam or sell drugs or commit other crimes seek to justify that because there’s ‘nothing going on’, is the same way that people like the Mayor see the Jamaican workers’ problems as something others have created. IT. AINT. SO!

I listened earlier to one of the MPs for St. James, Marlene Malahoo Forte, talking about how many young people in the parish are finding jobs but seem unable to adjust to what the jobs require. One young man walked off a job in a cold store room because he was too cold. The MP said the same man was ready to go to work in the USA and deal with harsh winters in the north. Let’s take her story at face value. Go figure!

So, yes, the solutions to crime in Jamaica involve doing much to address social problems, we must also understand that people need to really understand what are their problems. 

Now, in fairness to anyone who is trying to get a job and seems to be doing the best he or she can, it’s hard to accept that it’s not an easy road. But, the inability to understand the bigger realities brings with it the tendency to look for ‘solutons’ that are not right and wont last.

September–let’s remember: 24 hours from…

Tulsa comes to mind, and the tones of singer Gene Pitney. Tulsa didn’t stay in my mind because the images of killings coming from there were painful. But, what did 24 hours mean to me?

I’ve driven through the night in France and actually passed Le Mans, which means I could pretend that I had been part of the 24-hour race that is held there. 

More apt, is that 24-hours is linked to ‘all nighters’, when no sleep is had, because something more important is happening. Sometimes, it was a free music festival that never stopped, and the excitement of being out in muddy fields, listening to rock music of many kinds was too hard to resist. Knebworth, 1974… 

Sometimes, it was college assignements that just had to be done, and time was fast running out. FAST! Exhausted afterwards, one could justifiably sleep the sleep of the dead, unless there were classes still to attend. I will live with the fact that my thesis has two pages with duplicate numbers. In the days of carbon copies and typing, not printing and scanning and sending by email, but bundling and binding and taking by hand, this was a small slip.🙂

Sometimes, it was about working on a difficult financial a problem that was taxing more than a few million people and the midnight oil had to be burnt to get ‘this thing’ resolved. Mexico…Brazil…Argentina–and their debt. Russia…and its rouble problem and the thorny maze of ‘inter-enterpreise accounts’, the Soviet version of transfer pricing that pull hair from heads that even did not have any to begin with. Winter in Moscow is COLD enough, without money worries.

Funny thing about currency crises: countries that have had them, tend to keep having them. Moving along…

Sometimes, it’s about bringing life into being. Women can go into labour at any time, and it often turns into a long haul for them and anyone who is directly inviolved. Holding hands. Going to hospitals. Pacing corridors. Waiting patiently. Seeing new eyes and ears and nose and mouth. Joy! Time for sleep, everybody. Never to be forgotten. 

September–let’s remember: Psalm 23

Part of most religious learning involves memorizing some important feature of the faith. It’s often a prayer. Many people also have to, or choose to, learn a passage from the written text of the religion. Most Christians learn the Lord’s Prayer (‘Our Father…’). Many also learn Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I have always been taken by the section about ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:’. I have held onto that notion for many years, and I know why. That doesn’t mean that I have never had fear. Almost every day, something scary happens, or nearly happens. Yesterday, two cars nearly collided head-on with the one I was driving, as I was taking the 13 year-old to school, and due to return said rental car. 

This psalm is one I have always enjoyed, and I’m not going to say more about it than that. Those who want to analyse its imagery are free to do so. I’m just going to drift off quietly back into some classes on Religious Education that I went to as a boy. I didn’t go to a school that insisted on students getting at least an A, but it wasn’t an issue.🙂

Have a blessed day.

Economic Growth Council: getting a golf clap

The Government created an Economic Growth Council (EGC or Council), in late April, chaired by businessman, Michael Lee-Chin. Its role was ‘to advise the Government on a framework of proposed initiatives along with sub-initiatives that are expected to yield economic growth’. It will have no more than 12 members, both from the private and public sectors,  and will make quarterly reports on its progress. Mr. Lee-Chin pledged that the Council will ‘work tirelessly to achieve a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of five per cent over the next four years‘. (Let’s call that ‘5 in 4’.)

The Council presented its recommendations to a meeting of the Cabinet on Monday, September 12th. Not much fanfare, I gather. It was drawn from ‘inputs gained from over 80 consultative meetings held with stakeholders over the past four months. These groupings included various business groups, the confederation of trade unions, the Opposition, public sector agencies, ministries of government, members of academia, the media, diplomatic missions, and multilateral development agencies among other stakeholders. It also draws from studies and work in the area over the years’.

The eight Growth Initiatives outlined are:

  • MAINTAIN MACRO-ECONOMIC STABILITY AND PURSUE DEBT REDUCTION STRATEGIES

Macro-economic stability is a pre-requisite for economic growth. The stability we enjoy today has been hard-earned but remains fragile. High debt poses a systemic risk to the Jamaican economy. Jamaica needs to continue the process of fiscal consolidation with a view to achieving debt sustainability. Economic growth and fiscally responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

  • IMPROVE CITIZEN SECURITY

Improving citizen security is the most consequential growth-inducing reform that Jamaica can undertake. Jamaicans need to experience dramatically improved levels of security and feelings of personal safety. However, it requires a comprehensive approach encompassing judicial and police reform, while also addressing entrenched problems of social exclusion among other measures. Piecemeal, knee jerk responses that lack depth and perspective are unlikely to improve outcomes. 

  • IMPROVE ACCESS TO FINANCE

Finance is the oxygen of business. Small and medium-sized businesses have too hard a problem accessing debt and equity financing. Some of the problems lie with regulatory constraints, competition, and over burdensome taxation. Arguably, aspects of the regulatory framework for the financial sector impede risk taking, which vibrant economies require, rather than promoting the prudent management of risk. Improving access to finance expands economic opportunity, improves business competition and creates a more meritocratic and fair society.

  • PURSUE BUREAUCRATIC REFORM TO IMPROVE THE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

All aspects of the interface between Government and business are in need of reform to improve effectiveness, efficiency and customer service. 

  • STIMULATE GREATER ASSET UTILISATION

Increasing the utilisation of dormant and under-utilised assets would have a major impact on employment and growth. The Urban Development Corporation and the Factories Corporation of Jamaica, for example, collectively own approximately J$100 billion of assets on which they earn a relatively modest return.. In addition, several functions provided by the Government of Jamaica could, arguably, be better performed by the private sector thereby improving resource allocation. Having a robust, socially responsible mechanism to accelerate privatisations and asset sales could have a meaningful growth effect.

  • BUILD HUMAN CAPITAL

Human capital is too often an undervalued component in the conversation on growth. We need to focus on policies and strategies that nurture human capital development and provide skills training that match the needs of our economy.

  • HARNESS THE POWER OF THE DIASPORA

The diaspora represents very powerful reservoir of capital, relationships, skills and expertise that remains largely untapped. Replicating and leveraging diaspora engagement models that have been successfully pioneered by India, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Chile among other countries would allow Jamaica to more constructively organize and harness the power of the diaspora for economic growth and social development.

  • CATALYSE THE IMPLEMENTATION OF STRATEGIC PROJECTS

Strategic projects are critically important. As Jamaica’s experience has shown, by themselves these projects do not necessarily lead to economic growth at a national level. These projects can, however, transform towns and communities.  We must therefore focus on strategic projects to ensure timely and efficient implementation. 

The official announcement added: ‘The EGC’s focus will be on a method of implementation that encourages the Government of Jamaica to enter into an action oriented Declaration of Intent (“Declaration”) with the EGC, private sector groups, unions, and civil society. This will underscore their commitment to specific policies that fall under each Growth Initiative, consistent with the Terms of Reference of the EGC. This approach will provide for there to be a transparent process of monitoring and reporting on implementation, in accordance with the Declaration and for the Declaration to be a “living document”, updated on a periodic basis.’

In the past few days, I’ve seen written comments about the report. Jamaica Observer firmly stated in an Editorial ‘Economic Growth Council report must not gather dust on a shelf‘, noting ‘what needed to happen was implementation’. It reminded us that past reports’ ‘beneficiaries have been paid consultants and committee members. There are billions of dollars in grants that remain unspent over the years because the myriad projects for which they were negotiated have not been implemented or, in some cases, poorly implemented’. Going forward, Government must be ‘fully aligned in a supportive way’. It laid the blame squarely poor growth in the past was ‘not a reflection of a lack of Jamaican entrepreneurship but is the direct result of a failure by successive governments to create and maintain a facilitating and predictable business environment’.

The Editorial then opined ‘If the EGC insists on implementation we have a real chance of growth this time.’ Well, I don’t know what powers the Council has to insist on anything. As I have noted before, this is a body created by the fiat of government, and has no mandate to direct; at best it can advise. The PM had stated it was ‘tasked to work with the technical experts in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and all the agencies under that Ministry.’ Put simply, it is subordinate to Ministers, so shouldn’t be insisting on anything

The Observer, then shifted focus to the World Bank report entitled ‘Toward a Blue Economy: A promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean’, which estimates the economic value of the Caribbean Sea to the countries of the region at US$407 billion per year or 18 per cent of the region’s total GDP inclusive of all forms of economic activity notably fishing, transport, trade, tourism, mining and energy. This was a bit abrupt, but I guess is the latest ‘flavour of the month’, and I will leave it there, because there are many initiatives, old and new that can generate substantial economic value for Jamaica and the region.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) welcomed the report, and liked the’focus on improving the business environment generally’. The PSOJ reportedly said it fully supports the implementation of these recommendations and stands ready to assist where possible.

Colin Bullock, formerly head of the Planning institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) wrote an article this week Reviewing Recommendations Of Economic Growth CouncilHe noted that the eight initiative ‘largely mirror earlier recommendations presented in the Growth Inducement Strategy (GIS) (2010) and the Growth Agenda Policy Paper (GAPP) (2015)’, and that the EGC work is ‘useful as a restatement and reaffirmation of understandings derived from earlier consultations and analyses’.

Pointedly, Dr. Bullock notes that on the concern about access to finance ‘One takes hope from the composition of the EGC that this issue will be vigorously and meaningfully addressed.’ That arrow had Mr. Lee-Chin’s head as its target, one imagines. 

He also adds that it’s an ‘important understanding that Jamaica’s growth deficit is less in analysis and more in effective implementation. The proposals imply an acceptance that stronger and sustained growth will not result solely from the promotion of major investment projects.’

Finally, he hopes that ‘the role of the ECG either in direct growth promotion or indirect engagement needs to be more fully defined. At the same time, public monitoring of the pathway to stronger growth requires a macroeconomic blueprint of investment and sectoral initiatives as well as interim landmarks consistent with the ultimate target.’

That leaves little more for me to add. The comments I have seen deal with several of my own concerns, namely that the Council was going to rehash what had been done before. It has, but has repositioned or repackaged those, trying to prioritize. Again, however, Jamaica hasn’t lacked knowing what others thought were priorities for progress.

I’m also concerned about some governance issues relating to the Council and whether that role outlined for it is respected. I’m a mere citizen, but it’s important to understand how our government has been set up to work, and unelected bodies can take on roles that overstep that set-up. That is not meant to sound sinister. However, we have a tendency to love the existence of opaque structures, only reacting to what they do when something inappropriate or scandalous hits the fan. Eyes wide shut is not how we should proceed.

I’m also interested in processes. From what I have seen, the report of the Council having been presented to the Cabinet is not yet something that has been shared with the public/ If it has, it’s missed a lot of people. If it has not, then let’s be clear about how and when that will be.

I’m more than a little tired with unfulfilled ‘overtures’ to the diaspora. If I could get US$10,000 for every time I’ve heard how its potential could and should be harnessed, I’d be extremely rich; well off enough to invest substantially in Jamaica’s development. I have a fear that it’s a ‘big bang’ approach that is being sought, rather than building on the many small initiaitives that have been going on for decades. For instance, we have several generations of Jamaicans who have benefited enromously from the diaspora’s uncoordinated and coordinated mobilization, through goods sent in barrels, from remittances, from direct support to schools, health facilities, and churches–without government involvement in any of that. I was sending used laptops adn books and school supplies to schools in St. Elizabeth as a side activity while I was working at the IMF. I know people and organizations who have been doing likewise for decades. Maybe, part of the issue is that it’s hard to measure all of that to see what it really totals, and if it can be directed in other ways. Ideas like ‘diaspora bonds‘ don’t seem to have taken off in Jamaica. How much more talking about this, rather than some doing, do we need?

One of the great things that Jamaica should have learned from its current arrangement with the IMF is that transparent and consistent reporting is one of the elements that build public confidence in what government does, even if the results are not to everyone’s liking. It’s one of the strengths of our democracy, too, that election results don’t get delayed or subverted by other processes.

We are not yet comfortable ‘in bed’ with good governance, but as the opportunities arise, we ought to assess carefully the path we take.