The World Economic Forum’s 2013-2014 Global Competitiveness Report was released yesterday: it assesses institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. This year’s report places Switzerland first, for the fifth year running; Singapore remains in second position and Finland in third. The rest of the top ten are Germany, the United States, Sweden, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Jamaica ranked 94th; it was 97th out of 144 countries last year and 107th out of 142 the previous year. The report notes that the most problematic factors for doing business in Jamaica are inefficient government bureaucracy and crime and theft. The report also notes that corruption, tax rates, access to financing and the poor work ethic of the national labour force are also affecting the country’s competitiveness.
For context, it’s worth noting that the report states that Latin America and the Caribbena is a region with low productivity and slow productivity growth, which requires urgent action in many areas to improve its competitiveness.
People who know the country will quickly see reasonableness in the areas cited as weak.
Inefficient government bureaucracy: ‘Red tape’ is known to be a problem and supposed to be on the list of things to be tackled under the current IMF arrangement. So, success there should see a stronger pillar for competitiveness. Is Jamaica worse served by public servants than in most other countries? Some systems are old fashioned and involve too much paper handling. Electronic processes are less common than they could be. Too many procedures require face-to-face transactions, and may falter because the relevant person is absent. Do public servants care about the quality of service given? The work ethic issues suggest this has to be less than it could be.
Crime and theft: The headlines focus on murders, and at some 1,500 a year, or about 55/1,000 people, it’s easy to see that the country is decimating itself. Add to that, shootings, robberies of persons, agricultural produce, personal property and other things. Credit card frauds and lottery scams are common sport. Do many citizens see petty crime as normal and too tolerant of something that really makes the country less effective than it could be? Conversely, I can cite many instances of scrupulously honest behaviour in instances where a little slightness of hand or lightness of fingers would be easy.
Corruption: I wonder how much of this is actual or apocryphal. Poiticians or covil servants taking their ‘piece’ of deals? Let’s watch the Cuban light bulb scheme trials carefully. I’ve noted press reports about fraud and malfeasance. Let’s watch the case develop with the missing funds from the Jamaican Teachers Association. I’ve not lived here long enough recently to see many instances of possible corruption. I’ve not had any official indicate that a little grease will help a process go faster. No policeman has offered to turn a blind eye to an infraction, or let it slide for ‘some considerations’. Just a matter of time?
Tax rates: They are high. The country has a huge debt burden. Rock and a hard place.
Access to financing: Small business and farmers constantly complain about this. But, I’ve never been in a country where that’s not the case. Everyone wants more to borrow on easier terms?
The poor work ethic of the national labour force:We know that there are many people who work crazily hard. We also know there are many people who cannot wait to just give the minimum or nothing at all. How do they balance? The policeman who warned me that my csr would be towed if I parked it in a no parking zone was doing more than his duty? The crossing guard who just waved his finger at cars that would not stop to let the school children cross instead of stepping out and hauling up his sign was doing less than he should? The bank employees who cannot figure out how to issue my check books after three months are indolent? The Rasta who buys peanuts from St. Elizabeth and roasts them in a drum made from an old butane gas cylinder to sell in Mandeville is doing just enough? I don’t want to harp on about it, but I really wish Minister Hylton had not so proudly been late for his meeting because he wanted to watch TV. That could have set such a bad example and undone many a good set of lessons about taking work seriously. Alas…
We will have a hard time finding better examples of what competitiveness looks like than any of the athletes who’ve participated in major events over the past decade. Or, just look at the students pushing to perform well in GSAT exams. We’re brought up knowing what to do, then go off track as we grow?
Time to fess up and take responsibility and be the best that is possible.