While Jamaica has recorded slow economic growth since independence, the social development of its people has improved significantly.
This was the consensus among panelists participating in a discussion on: ‘Understanding Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development Since Independence’, at the Golden Jubilee Village, at Independence Park, on August 4.
Director General of the Planning Institute Of Jamaica (PIOJ), Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson, quoted statistics that pointed to significant social developments in the society, in areas such as literacy, education, health, infant mortality and lower levels of unemployment since 1962, the year when Jamaica gained political independence from Britain.
Dr. Hutchinson noted however, that while the well-being of Jamaicans has improved the “unenthusiastic” performance of the economy “means that we have been borrowing to pay for that improvement."
This view was supported by leading Trade Unionist and Head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Danny Roberts, who acknowledged that the Michael Manley-led government of the 1970s spent more than the economy grew to address the social inequities in the country at the time, and this has contributed to the country’s deficit problem.
Mr. Roberts however, cited social indicators between 1976 and 1980 such as the opening up of opportunities for the vast majority of “people from below”; opportunities provided through education; the development in self-confidence of a people coming out of colonialism; and the increase in the country’s housing stock, as human indicators which must be used to buttress the economic indicators of growth.
“We have too often measured the development of the country only in terms of economic indicators,” Mr. Roberts said, pointing out that in periods of economic growth, there has been social decline and conversely, when there is anaemic growth, there has been an increase in social welfare and social improvements in the country.
Another panelist, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the UWI, Professor Claremont Kirton, explained that the formal economic indicators do not adequately measure the country’s economic performance. He too pointed to Jamaica’s Human Development Index as significant.
Professor Kirton noted that Jamaica has a large informal economy (legal and illegal), that is between 40-60 per cent of the size of the formal economy and this is not taken into account when statistics are given on the country’s economic growth.
This view was shared by panelist and Head of the Anti-Doping Commission, Anne Shirley, who pointed out that currently, Jamaica’s second city, Montego Bay, is awash with cash from the Lottery Scam. This money is not a part of the formal economy. She explained that Jamaicans seem to have a fundamental problem with paying taxes and cited ‘Anancyism, corruption and crime’ as reasons inhibiting the country’s economic growth.
According to Ms. Shirley, it is only Jamaicans themselves who can address the issues facing the country. “We as Jamaicans need to take control of the State. It’s not about politicians. With all due respect to the Prime Minister and Ministers of the Cabinet, they do not have any fundamental intelligence or ideas that other persons don’t have. We need to pressure, as Jamaicans, for what it is we want to do and the society that we need to live in,” Ms. Shirley said.
In the meantime, Businessman and President of eServices Group International, Ambassador Patrick Casserly, cited inconsistency as a major reason for the country’s disappointing economic growth.
“The unfortunate circumstance we have found ourselves in since independence is that there is an absence of policy. A policy should survive administrations if it has merit and as a business person, that inconsistency (of policy) leads to an inability to plan. We have to be consistent in our planning to move forward,” Ambassador Casserly stated.
In response, Dr. Hutchinson informed that the country now has a long term development plan in the form of Vision 2030. The PIOJ boss explained that Vision 2030 has survived two administrations and “has now become the articulation of the budget."
Vision 2030 Jamaica is the country’s first long-term national development plan, which aims at enabling Jamaica to achieve developed country status by 2030. It is based on a comprehensive vision: “Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business."
Dr. Hutchinson explained that this year, the growth strategy for Vision 2030 has been developed in consultation with stakeholders and the plan has received the endorsement of both political parties and the country’s main development partners. This, he said, should address the problem of inconsistency in policy and planning.
Members of the public sometimes joined in the animated discussion, which was moderated by noted journalist, Cliff Hughes. The discussion is part of a series of ‘Jubilee Conversations’ put on by organisers of the Golden Jubilee Village, and will continue on August 5, at 5:30 p.m., when the discussion will look at: ‘The Impact of religion on Our Nation Since Independence’.