Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Friday | January 2, 2009
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Death penalty distraction and other turbulent events of 2008 - How will they shape Jamaica's economy in 2009?

Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist

A part from Barack Obama's election as 44th president of the United States, there was Wall Street meltdown.

Many discussed this September event's possibility behind closed doors and as warnings in the financial press.

Some went further noting the impossibility of continuing credit expansion on a scale hitherto unimaginable but commonplace for almost a decade since the 1999 deregulation.

Warnings were ignored. Official opinion on financial matters often prefers no comment, hoping the inevitable goes away. Why? Perhaps because closed-door-meeting policy formulation sometimes avoids catastrophe in an arena for which confidence is paramount. But the rot went too deep.

Both these events occupied Jamaican interest, the latter presenting major impact almost immediately. If also, we consider events using frequency of reporting in the media as reflective of importance placed upon them, we might identify some others.

Overwhelmingly, we conclude that apart from Olympics and Usain Bolt, increasing incidence of crime with associated debate on capital punishment, takes a central place.

Economic policy and governance too were represented by concern about financial services - 'alternative investment schemes' and their regulation.

Personnel changes in government administration and quasi-governmental organisations such as Jamaica Tourist Board, Urban Transit Company, Urban Develop-ment Corporation, and reports of the Contractor General's 'conflict' with government entities and the unimaginable sand theft - literally stealing a beach - count as events of importance in 2008.

A distraction

What do these events tell us about issues of governance and the economy? I can't but feel the importance placed upon the death penalty is nothing but a distraction.

We can discuss its philosophical, moral and deterrent implications, but this is going to do nothing in pursuit of solving the crime problem we face.

Crime will be with us forever. Critical issues are its frequency, brutality and extent to which elements of the society appear able to accommodate it.

I have an idea. Consider raw intelligence passed on in the genes - most of us are going to be 'average Joes'. There will be a small number well below par and a small number well above par, very bright or even genius.

We call this the normal distribution.

My feeling is that we lose a large number of this latter group from the education system to criminal gangs.


They have leadership and organisational skills, can manage people, can be ruthless, are resourceful and they know how to forage in a hostile environment.

They are not concerned about the ultimate end - death. It often comes early, but youngsters in their areas nevertheless want to emulate them.

They exhibit what has become accepted as the good things in life. Almost all material - the big car starts upon voice command, best guns, cellphones, girls, you name it.

Death penalty, hanging in Half-Way Tree, beheading at Parade, more police M16s and 10 more Gun Courts shall not change these behaviours, perceptions of the good life and its possibilities.

Things will change when talented youngsters are persuaded there is another 'good life' available through means more acceptable to society - not a quick fix.

So while we debate the death penalty perhaps in 2009 we might improve crime detection and prosecution but simultaneously seek to improve our education system to capture these bright youngsters and give them another set of concepts upon which to place high value.

A good life

How to do this? Pick a few targets in the CXC examinations for schools to achieve in five years. Guarantee each young first and upper second class honours graduate in Mathematics, English, Physics, etc - a good life.

If they will go to any country school, for that matter any school and teach for two years, living an exemplary life, all their post graduate studies will be paid for by the state. They will also make double present teacher salary.

Simultaneously 'stimulus' prenatal and early childhood care, allow the Contractor General to do his work and make it clear that the end to corruption has indeed come.

We have not reached levels one hears about in Nigeria but corruption has permeated too many aspects of day to day relations and certainly in our official lives.

Everyone takes the attitude of an allowing, knowing, cynicism - the policeman on the beat finds no problem stopping the motorist to indicate he's had no breakfast.

The minibus driver is aware that his only fare for the day might be taken from him by an official meant to protect him.

The company director finds no problem giving away tax payer money in corrupt unlawful deals. While some crime involves the gun, others involve the pen. And the pen we know, is indeed mightier than the sword.

Having done all that, we can turn to the economy and stimulus. Tax breaks to the tourism sector will not provide stimulus to the majority of Jamaicans.

Different impact

They will provide cheaper holidays for tourists and maintain higher than expected levels of revenues for the tourism sector.

Advertising on CNN prime time will have the same result. But linking that stimulus to enhanced demand from the agricultural sector will have a different impact.

Remake Coronation Market, fix rural feeder roads, hire the best to study and negotiate better trade deals and better terms of engagement with those who wish to provide us with aid.

Use our donors' "do as I say but not as I do" as a means to argue for a better deal.

Perhaps impossible, but worth a try.

The idea that size is the fundamental economic constraint is questionable.

Riches in the final analysis reside in the people of a country, their method of organisation, their attitude to innovation and useful change, their level of respect for themselves, others and systems of governance - its social capital.

Simple things like kindness and cleanliness do matter. So in 2009 we might happen to pick the true and proper exchange rate.

I usually never ask you to do this but trust me, that's not sufficient!


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