Lee-Chin has cred­i­ble for­mula

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

PEO­PLE WHO feared that Michael LeeChin may have pre­sumed his hand to be bet­ter than the mar­ket’s and that his as­sign­ment was for pick­ing win­ners will have had their con­cerns al­layed by this week’s pub­li­ca­tion by the Eco­nomic Growth Coun­cil (EGC), which Mr Lee-Chin chairs, of its list of pri­or­i­ties for sus­tain­able growth.

Or viewed dif­fer­ently, growth will come, the EGC sug­gests, by fram­ing poli­cies that build in­vestor con­fi­dence, en­cour­age stake­holder par­tic­i­pa­tion in the econ­omy, and do­ing these things con­sis­tently. In essence, what Mr LeeChin and his team have as­serted is that there are no magic wands or sil­ver bul­lets. In that re­gard, the EGC’s model is an ex­ten­sion of the project of the past four and a half years to re­form the econ­omy, in­clud­ing do­ing lon­ga­greed things over which the coun­try has pro­cras­ti­nated for decades.

In this re­gard, it is note­wor­thy that the start­ing point of the EGC is a dec­la­ra­tion that “macroe­co­nomic sta­bil­ity is a pre­req­ui­site for eco­nomic growth”. It is a fact that Ja­maica, to its peril, dis­re­garded for four decades the painful con­se­quences of which in­clude a pri­mary sur­plus of more than seven per cent in or­der to re­verse a debt that hov­ered at 150 per cent of GDP.

While eco­nomic mark­ers are trend­ing in the right di­rec­tion – debt ra­tios are de­clin­ing, the cur­rent ac­count deficit has fallen, busi­ness con­fi­dence is at an all-time high – there is much more to be done if these gains are to be locked in, not least of which ac­cel­er­at­ing re­forms in pub­lic sec­tor, to cre­ate a more ef­fi­cient and en­tre­pre­neur­ial state; one that cush­ions the so­ci­ety’s most vul­ner­a­ble, but is fa­cil­i­ta­tory of the pri­vate sec­tor writ large. The pub­lic bu­reau­cracy, in the cir­cum­stance, has to or­gan­ise it­self in a way that makes do­ing busi­ness easy rather than be­ing an over­ween­ing con­sumer of pub­lic goods.


Yet, given the gains, if not yet fun­da­men­tal break­throughs that Ja­maica has made on the macroe­co­nomic front, per­haps the great­est con­tri­bu­tion that Mr Lee-Chin’s team in ad­vanc­ing the growth agenda is if it is able to gal­vanise pub­lic sup­port around, and gov­ern­men­tal ac­tion on, an area that ev­ery­one knows, con­cep­tu­ally, is a drag on growth, but on which the coun­try has failed to ar­rive at a clear, im­ple­mentable con­sen­sus: cit­i­zen se­cu­rity and pub­lic safety. Im­por­tantly, the EGC, in list­ing the mat­ters to be ad­dressed, with­out declar­ing it to be an or­der of pri­or­ity, placed this item se­cond on its agenda.

Ja­maica is a high-crime so­ci­ety, with a mur­der rate of around 45 per 100,000. Fewer than half of these mur­ders are ‘cleared up’, and we do well if three in 10 of these cases lead to con­vic­tions. The con­stab­u­lary is deemed to be un­der-re­sourced, cor­rupt and in­ef­fi­cient, while an over­bur­dened and in­ef­fi­cient court sys­tem has a back­log of nearly half a mil­lion cases. Most es­ti­mates sug­gest that Ja­maica could lift its eco­nomic growth rate by up to six per cent if its mur­der rate was in the 10/100,000 range.

Fix­ing the crime prob­lem, in­clud­ing an over­haul of the law-en­force­ment and ju­di­cial ap­pa­ra­tus, is im­por­tant. Some of this will de­mand tough ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion and an al­lo­ca­tion of cap­i­tal sub­stan­tially beyond ex­ist­ing lev­els, which, in the short term, means a re­de­ploy­ment of re­sources. If Mr Lee-Chin can shape on­go­ing con­sen­sus on that, he’ll be well along the way.

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