Jamaica in deep crisis – analysts

(Jamaica Gleaner) Arguing that Jamaica’s political parties lack the social legitimacy required to push through the tough policies necessary to pull the economy out of its crisis, academic Don Robotham has suggested a renewed experimentation with the Senate to give the legislature a wider base and the Government a stronger platform to do the difficult things.

“We cannot be jogging on in the same old way. It is not sustainable. We need to find a way to cut expenditure. We need to expand the Senate. It cannot be done by government alone it needs consensus,” Robotham said.

At the same time, Trevor Munroe, who heads the anti-corruption organisation National Integrity Action Forum, called for a rebuilding of the civil society coalition, whose mobilisation forced the Government to extradite gangster Christopher Coke to the United States, to add muscles to the calls for accelerated economic and political reform (see story on Page A2).

Both men spoke Friday at a forum organised by The Gleaner on the state of the Jamaican economy. The consensus: it is in deep crisis, in the government’s debt of over one thousand, six hundred million ($1.6 trillion) dollars, or around 130 per cent of the value of all the goods and services produced in Jamaica. Paying the debt takes up nearly all the money Government collects in taxes or in grants from other countries, leaving little to do other business.

This, analysts say, leaves the administration with little choice but to introduce austerity measures, including cutting public-sector jobs, asking all government workers to contribute to their pensions and collecting more taxes, particularly by capturing people who now escape the tax net.

Robotham, a former University of the West Indies sociology professor who now teaches at City University in New York, conceded that, as it has been in Europe, where governments have collapsed in the face of such actions, reform will be challenging for either the governing Jamaica Labour Party or the People’s National Party (PNP), with core support of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent – to do tough things.

Said he: “If we are talking about a place like Jamaica, in which the political parties already have a low level of legitimacy, (and there is) enormous disillusionment with these parties … there is a real danger that the implementation of austerity measures in a population that is lacking in understanding of these measures, and has no real commitment to these measures, that any party which implements them, will immediately face a tremendous loss of public support.”

It is the fear of a bolting by supporters, Robotham felt, “why the parties are so reticent in having this thing on the table” as the campaign for a general election that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is expected to announce this week to take place before yearend.

It also provides the context for his suggestion for a new approach to senate appointments, with which P.J. Patterson briefly flirted after the 1997 general election when his PNP was returned to office for a third consecutive term.

Earlier, in 1983 when the then Opposition PNP boycotted the snap election called by Edward Seaga, the prime minister named a slate of independent members to the Senate.

The Jamaican Senate is made of 21 members, 12 appointed by the prime minister and the others by the leader of the Opposition. Patterson, at the time named among his appointments to independent members, Munroe and GraceKennedy group chairman, Douglas Orane. He did not persist with the system after the next general election, although Munroe was retained in the Upper House, having joined the PNP.

 

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