Chairman of the Economic Growth Council (EGC) Michael Lee-Chin, while touting the Government’s vision of achieving five per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of four years – referred to as ‘Five in Four’ – posited that if this goal is to become a reality, then all Jamaicans need to take responsibility for it coming true.
“So our goal, our goal is to make sure that we build a society where all can compete and only the best – the ones who have the most desire, only the ones who persevere, only the ones willing to do hard work – will win. That’s the society we want to build, that’s the vison of the EGC; that [for] every Jamaican, there is a clear path to fulfilment and prosperity; for every Jamaican, there should be jobs and opportunities here at home; for every Jamaican, there should be access to world-class health care; for every Jamaican, there should be the national pension fund providing retirement in dignity,” the EGC chairman stated to applause.
He was addressing the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica’s Business Conference 2016 held at the Jamaica Pegasus last Friday.
The keynote speaker at the conference, which was held under the theme ‘#GlobalMegatrends – Growth in a Shifting Landscape’, Lee-Chin asserted that, considering the positive indicators in Jamaica’s economic environment, Jamaica is poised to experience real economic growth within the given time frame.
Among the factors listed were: impovement in the fiscal space – thanks to the previous Administration, Lee-Chin noted; inflation at historic lows; Net International Reserves improving and strong; absolute support of multilaterals; reduction in energy prices by 50 per cent; and improved business and consumer confidence.
Lee-Chin, also the chairman of one of Jamaica’s ‘big four’ banks, National Commercial Bank (NCB), noted that both reduction in energy costs and the concerted interests of multilaterals, are opportunities which can be explored to contribute to the growth agenda.
“So, collectively, we have to ask ourselves what are we doing to hedge these low oil prices permanently, and the only way to do it permanently is to own oil companies – that’s the only way, that’s the permanent hedge,” the NCB chairman said in reference to energy. “So how can we achieve this? Pool our resources together and buy an oil company.”
He added that in relation to multilaterals, “that support is not going to last if we don’t capitalise on it”. Lee-Chin also highlighted that low prices within the telecommunications industry has “spawned” the business process outsourcing sector.
Noting that the ‘Five in Four’ is a daunting accomplishment, especially considering that achieving this goal will require growth momentum “five times the average of the last 10 years”, Lee-Chin contended that we must begin with having a goal, “because having a goal means being accountable”. As such he reiterated the vision of the EGC, which is to create a meritocratic society.
But success is only one per cent strategy and 99 per cent implementation, Lee-Chin said. As such he noted that the EGC needs help, and appealed to the gathering for consensus on issues mentioned in the recently released ECG report, challenging those in attendance as part of their responsibility to read the report in its entirety.
“The Goverment has accepted its role: facilitate and enable,” Lee-Chin had said earlier. “The private sector has to step up and deliver growth.”
Meanwhile, Lee-Chin had also lamented that compared to GDP growth of 5.41 per cent in 1969 and 11.94 per cent in 1970, over the average GDP growth ranges from 0.5 per cent to 1.8 per cent. Not only has little or no growth devalued our currency — but it has also reaped myriad ills in the economy and the society at large.
“No growth means that there is no incentive to go to school. No growth means that our youths will resort to criminality to survive... no growth means that we develop an expectation of hopelessness,” he argued. “Also the conditions that created no growth could also create the following conditions: devaluation of all assets...”
He used as an example the attempts by NCB to enlist on overseas to demonstrate the value of Jamaican assets. Engaging in 65 meetings in 10 days to raise capital for the bank, Lee-Chin related that the response he received in the UK was “beautiful house in a bad neighbourhood”; and from the US, “beautiful house in a bad zip code”. Inquiring what capital support he would receive for NCB, he was told 75 per cent book value in Jamaica and 250 per cent in the US or UK.
“[Devaluation] has caused crime to spiral, no confidence...corruption, poorly educated graduates, decimation of the middle class, a devaluation of societal values, and devaluation in our currency. That’s what we have done to ourselves and we call ourselves ‘bright’... Shame on us! We cannot hand this baton to the next generation,” he said, receiving affirmation from those listening.
Lee-Chin then challenged the audience with the following questions: “What are we going to do to stop national apathy? What are we going to do in this room? Do we have a responsibility to avert all of this?” Having related a litany of sore complaints he has heard in meetings between the EGC and stakeholders, as a final exercise, the gathering was urged to stand and declare: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”