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.

September–let’s remember: Catch 22? Catch yourself!

Recently, I booked some flights for a friend which had him flying from Jamaica to NYC and returning the same day, though he was supposed to be staying a month. I just entered the wrong dates. Fortunately, I spotted my mistake and was able to cancel the booking. Not a classic ‘Catch 22’, but an incident that could have had my friend wondering how he seemed to be going and coming at the same time.

Life in Jamaica is difficult, and some would say seems to be a bit of a constant Catch 22, in the classic sense–a difficult situation for which there is no easy or possible solution. But, I would say, on the contrary, Jamaica is full of easy and possible solutions.

As I am supposed to be looking back, I will start with one of those solutions with which I am fully familiar. Even in the heady days of the 1950s and 1960s, when Jamaica enjoyed relatively rapid growth, it could not provide enough good-quality jobs for its people. Solution? Grab the carrot offered by the UK to go and work there. Many did, including my parents. But, many found that they were not in great jobs, even in the fields for which they were qualified. THEN, they were in a Catch 22. 

Many, like my father, wanted to return, but now had no money to make the reverse trip. Solution? Make the best of where you are. Result. The man and his family worked hard, earned enough to move from seedy basements to owning their own homes. Moved from taking buses and the Tube to buying their own cars. Moved from inner city terraces to suburban semi-detached. Enjoyed seeing their child make something of his education and get into some challenging fields of work. They eventually retired to the bucolic realms of rural Somerset, hoping to see Viv Richards and Joel Garner play cricket, but in the end the weather got to them and back to Jamaica they went. They were amongst the lucky ones who could see the ‘dream’ of going to the ‘Motherland’ turn into a dream worth retelling, rather than a nightmare. 

We saw last week, with the return of a plane-load of deportees from England, the nightmare that some have had to live, brought on by themselves and a combination of circumstances. Some tried to justify living a life of crime by saying that they had no other means of making a living. I do not want to be judgemental, but the hard part of life–what is discipline–is doing the right thing without being told. Crime is not the right thing. Those who had to be told that were amongst those who sat in the plane and landed in Jamaica to be processed by the police before being released into a land which many of them did not know well, or at all. 

Whether they truly understood or were feigning ignorance, breaking a country’s laws is what is deemed illegality. No one cares if chopping up your loved ones is accepted practice where you come from, if you do it where it’s not the accepted legal norm, then the ‘throw the book’ at you. Or chuck you out, as the Brits did.

Welcome home! First time here?
Now, ironically, many have returned to their Homeland and have to live like the migrants to England did: bowing and scraping and trying to get by in a place that they thought would be welcoming. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to them. Is anyone tracking? 

If they didn’t understand the meaning of ‘Catch yourself!’, it’s going to be coming clear, day by day. Welcome home!

September–let’s remember: 21 today…minus 8…

Our little baby has taken another step in her growth, as she turns 13 today. I remember as if it were yesterday the day when she was born. 🙂

Anyway, no time for sentimentality! 

She wants more responsibility, so I gave her the bill for my radiator repair, which should take a heft chunk out of her savings. I explained to her what a line of credit is, over breakfast of pastries, bought from a swish new store in Kingston. (We’re taken by the fact that it seems to operate 24/7, and the owners and staff are very friendly–I enjoyed my free brioche while we waited to pay :)) 
She was sort of not truly delighted as this mixed blessing. She’d wanted ice cream last night to celebrate her last night as a 12 year old, but the store was already closed after her mother and I had been eating with some of Mummy’s colleagues from Washington. So, pastries it was. I’m not sure if I should have them, but another sacrifice for a child is chalked up. 

Anyway, she will enjoy her day, with or without a surprise flouring. 

Bless you, dear child!

September–let’s remember: What’s your 20?

If you’ve never heard anyone speak on CB (citizen band) radio, this question isn’t for you. It’s what’s your position or location, in ordinary speech. I’m often asking where people are, mentally, if not physically. 

But, let me sidestep that a moment. 

Have ever been lost, really and truly and frighteningly? Yes. As a youth, in the U.K., I went walking in the beautiful place named the Breckon Beacons, in Wales. Picturesque. Well, it wasn’t a simple walk: I was a Boy Scout orienteering, for a badge. Map, compass, instructions. See yah, later! All started well, for a British day, with some sun and cloud cover. The map reading was going swimmingly. No bother. Then, the weather started to ‘come in’, as they say. Clouds got thicker, and as we went higher, they came to meet us. It was damp. Rain? Heavy mist? We were in the clouds. But, we were also off-track. OMG!

I was never one for swearing much, but I wished I knew a few more phrases than ‘Gor blimey!’ My partner and I couldn’t figure out where we were and where we’d gone wrong. Ordnance Survey maps are not interactive like Google maps. No ‘Your destination is on your left’ These were also not the days of cell phones. What to do? Stay. Calm. 

We did. We retraced our steps as best as we could in fading light, and reached a fork, and reassessed. We’d found ourselves, again…on the map, at least. Orienteering is timed, so, in theory, if you’re off-time people should start worrying. Would they be coming and would they find us? Who could say? We made our way on, torches now needed more than ever. Eventually, we found our target. Relief! 

What that worse than being lost in cane fields in St. Kitts? Yes! 😊

September–let’s remember: Party like it’s 19…99

Prince died earlier this year, and his iconic song ‘1999’ comes into my head at the drop of a hat

My near-teen has her birthday this week, and judging from the items lying around the kitchen, party planning is in full swing. The soft drinks and chips and pops will go down well, I’m sure. Anyway, I asked daughter this morning how the event was shaping up and when it would be. I’ve not got my invitation, yet, so was looking to avoid clashes, as I’ve one activity scheduled on the day of her birth. Saturday! 6pm. Calendared! That’s a word never used before and never to be used again, in public 🙄

What sort of part would it be? I asked. “A regular party…” was her reply.

Like the PNP Conferences, with vuvuzelas? I asked. No!

Piñatas? Hmm. 🙄

I pointed out that she and her friends like to just hang and watch movies and listen to music and dip in the pool and eat pizza and Snap chat and run all over the house.🏃🏾💃🏾🏃🏾💃🏾🍕🍧🍟📱 Was the party going to be like that? “Pretty much…”

I also pointed out that ‘regular’ adult parties didn’t have such activities; they usually had lots of talking and eating fancy food. “Well, adults are lame! Well, most of them” She realized that my eyebrows were twitching. 😏

Prince’s song came into my head.

I haven’t heard, but the word ‘sleepover’ was hiding there? We’ll see. Anyway, the excitement will build.

Her school has a new rule against flouring people on their birthdays. Not sure how I feel about that: it’s a well-worn Jamaican birthday tradition. It’s meant to be a surprise and well-intended. At least, our ways don’t include other cake ingredients like eggs. 😳We’ll let Barcelona’s Dani Alves tell us about that.

Show me more, Shomari! Customer service tun up!

Jamaica has some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. Not only nice, but also great at what they do. 

My blogger friend, Emma Lewis, and I were at the University of Technology last week for a two-day workshop on Multimedia Journalism, taught by Prof. Seth Gitner of Syracuse University, and co-hosted by UTech and the US Embassy in Kingston. More in that later. One of things discussed had been ‘moments’. Of course, many moments just occur and we’re not ready for them. 

We ended day one and were waiting outside the Engineering Department for rides. Taxis were passing by, but Emma was struggling to get through to a taxi company that would not answer its phones.😏 Lightning was overhead, so we decided to go back inside to wait. (We noticed that none of the 20 or so students sitting under the trees budged an inch.) At the same time, we bumped into a tall man, with a crate full of bagged fruit, which he was selling inside the building. Curious, I asked if this was his regular thing. Yes, and mentioned that ‘the company’ (not named) was just down the road. 

A bag of fruit was a doorway to good service

Whether it was because the workshop had been about visual story telling or just from doing this so often, I took a quick picture, as I often do–capturing a moment. I picked up on a few other things.

His hair was covered with a net, as would be that of a kitchen worker. Hygiene 101 passed. He spoke softly and clearly. Once Emma was excited at the mention of naseberry and decided to try a bagful, he offered her one. He tested the naseberry and decided it was too soft, so pulled another bag. It fell to the ground. He grabbed it up and said “I can’t give you that one!” We looked a bit surprised. He pulled another and told her the price, $100, for two pieces of fruit. Guinea, papaya, orange. He pointed out that the oranges were wrapped in tissue to stop the juice seeping into the bag. Each bag came with a napkin-wrapped plastic fork. She was happy. But, what an example of customer service!😊👍🏾🇯🇲

Care. Smiles. Deportment. Engagement. 

He told us his name was Shomari, though we might not have the spelling right. I wish you well, young man, and hope that all those you connect with get the same good service and impression. 

Facebook Live chats

You’re supposed to come back from training courses with fresh, new ideas that you can’t wait to put into action. Well, I went to University of Technology, Kingston, last week for a two-day workshop on Multimedia Journalism, taught by Prof. of Newspaper and Online Journalism, Seth Gitner of the Newhouse School, Syracuse University, and co-hosted by UTech and the US Embassy in Kingston. The idea of doing some visual and audio commentary had been swirling around my head for a while. But, the course seemed to be the trigger I needed. I missed day two because of a snafu with my expected ride, so spent the morning at home learning about Facebook Live chats. It wasn’t difficult and I figured out enough to launch my first chat that same Friday afternoon. I did a second chat, yesterday.

In front of the camera
You can find them on a separate Facebook page I’ve created.

So, now I’m going to tweak things. One media savvy friend says I need a catchier title for the page, like ‘Dennis Talks’ (like TED Talks?) Any suggestions will be gratefully considered: crowd-sourcing works. 

I said yesterday that I don’t want to talk only about developments in Jamaica, but also about things that my wide experience suggests cross many places. That said, a Jamaican friend living abroad, who missed the first chats, was quick to look forward to views on things in Jamaica. 😊

So, I’m going to take feedback and roll with it. 

Look out for invitations to like the page. Don’t treat them like junk mail! 

September–let’s remember: 18 degrees north

I suspect that most Jamaicans know this term more for its being the title of a current affairs show that famously or infamously found itself in legal hot water during the Spring over claims concerning the finances of the current PM. But, Zahra Burton can have a few more hours in bed, because I’m not that interested in her.😊 The courts removed the injunction on the broadcast, so glimpse it if you missed it. 

Jamaica’s geographical location is approximately 18 degrees north.

As you travel around the world, these locators start to take on significance. It was a boyhood thrill to live in London and understand that Greenwich was the point of the meridian, separating east and west hemispheres. Standing on it and splitting your location in two. Likewise, the first time I had to travel south of the Equator. Did water really go down the drain in the other direction? It depends. But, I had to try to find out myself.

Not everyone understands these positional distinctions and know that we’re a tropical country but not that we’re located by the Tropic of Cancer, and what that means for the location of the sun.

Having travelled a lot, I’m a bit more familiar with this stuff, in the same way that I’m not too confused by time differences or different currencies.