Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | July 22, 2009
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IMF déjà vu
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

There was no global economic crisis 32 years ago to shoulder the blame for Jamaica's economic predicament, but on Tuesday, January 19, 1977, when Prime Minister Michael Manley told the House of Representatives of his administration's intention to pursue a borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), his rhetoric closely matched that of the present government.

In stark contrast to yesterday's sitting when Finance Minister Audley Shaw addressed the House, it was Manley, not his Finance Minister David Coore, who spoke to the nation's Parliament on that fateful night.

However, the phrases and expressions used by the Manley administration bear stark similarities to those currently being used by the Golding administration.

It could be déjà vu for Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and Dr D.K. Duncan, who are the only two current members who sat in the parliamentary chamber then. However, the sons of many of the parliamentarians who were there have followed their fathers' footsteps and will witness the nation's return to the IMF. The fathers of current members Daryl Vaz, Dr Wykeham McNeill, Dr Donald Rhodd and Andrew Gallimore were also in the chamber in 1977.

Parliament's Hansard recalls that Manley was scheduled to speak at 5 in the afternoon, but his presentation was deferred to 8:10 that night when an apparently humbled prime minister soberly addressed the House in the presence of the likes of future government leaders Edward Seaga and P.J. Patterson.

As has been argued in 2009, Manley declared that the nation was in the throes of economic crisis.

"I wish to open by stating that we feel that we should all join in declaring this period of our nation's history as involving a state of economic emergency," Manley said.

Farm challenges

During his lengthy presentation on the state of the economy, the prime minister's speech referenced the crisis and attempted to provide explanations for some of the specific measures which would be implemented.

"I explained two weeks ago, the economic crisis which presently faces this country is a crisis which is not unique to Jamaica. Nearly every Third-World country is currently facing difficulties which are similar, indeed some identical with our own," Manley told the attentive Parliament, as evidenced by the absence of the characteristic sotto voce comments for which parliamentarians are known.

Manley continued: "I would like, if the House permits, to try to speak to the Jamaican people through this chamber by using a simple illustration. If you were to take, for instance, a typical farmer in a village in 1974, he had to sell 10 pounds of yam to buy two pounds of salt fish, but finds himself in the position in 1976 where that same 10 pounds of yam is now enabling him to buy one pound of salt fish, where it was two before. And possibly he has to do the same amount of work, spend more on fertiliser and on everything else he uses in the production of his yams."

According to Manley, the balance of payment problem would worsen if the farmer persisted in buying two pounds of salt fish when he continues to receive the same amount for the commodity.

He told the House that the nation had been trapped for the preceding three years in the balance of payment problems.

"The price of what we buy keeps rising and rising in the world economic system and what we sell keeps falling," he asserted. "That, among other things, has brought us to the present balance of payment difficulties."

At this stage, Manley took a swipe at sections of the business community, stating that "some members of our society have really for too long contributed to this" balance of payment challenge.

"Mr Speaker, apart from the basic problems, the truth is that some members of our society have been living beyond what our resources as a country can afford and, over the years, especially since 1973, this has all been getting worse and worse," he added.

Manley said the country's import bill in 1975 was just over $1 billion while the export receipts amounted to $699 million, leaving a gaping hole of $300 million.


Clippings of articles, published in The Gleaner in 1977 about Jamaica's entry into a relationship with the IMF.

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