Several business leaders remain optimistic that Jamaica can and will achieve higher levels of macroeconomic stability, fiscal consolidation, and far-reaching sustainable inclusive growth.
This, they say, even as the country negotiates the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has impacted the economy since the onset of the local outbreak in March, when the first positive case was confirmed.
Their optimism is based on Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness’ announcement of several key undertakings to be pursued by his Administration while speaking at a ceremony on September 7 at King’s House, where he was sworn in to serve as Head of Government for a second consecutive term and the third time overall.
Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) President, David Wan, who notes that Mr. Holness “touched on some extremely important areas” in his presentation, says key among these is the signalled change in the Prime Minister’s management style, “in which… he is going to be more of a coach and less of a player”.
“In the previous term, he [had a more] hands-on [approach]… getting involved in [the engagements of almost] all of the ministries, especially [those] under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. Well, now he is saying that he’s going to let his Ministers take more responsibility and accountability and that he is going to be more of an evaluator of how the Ministers are doing,” he tells JIS News.
The JEF President describes this undertaking as “a very positive change”, as “he can get much more accomplished”.
Mr. Wan says he is also heartened by Mr. Holness underscoring the need for Ministers to exercise sound judgment in executing their portfolio engagements by adhering to the laws, procedures and regulations governing these and refraining from deviating from established procedures, “in order to get things done quickly”.
“So, he is [effectively] saying that he doesn’t want any trade-offs between expediency and not doing things absolutely by the book… which [is] expected [of] them. But it’s good that he is reinforcing it with the Ministers… and it’s always good to know that he [will be] closely monitoring that,” he adds.
Mr. Wan says despite the impact of COVID-19 on Jamaica, the prospects for the country’s recovery remain “very positive”.
His opinion is predicated on, among other things, the Government’s ongoing efforts to maintain low interest rates.
“This [will translate into] low lending rates for the productive sector, so that they can get working capital cheaper than they used to… to grow. I think the low interest rate policy is one that they are going to stick to, despite COVID-19,” the JEF President tells JIS News.
Mr. Wan says a potential downside to the outlook will be the economic impact of COVID-19 and the extent of resources that may be needed to deal with the outcomes “that were never programmed before March”.
“The economic slowdown is likely to bring less revenue into the Government from taxation [particularly] business taxation. This shortfall due to COVID-19 and the domino effects could wreak some havoc on the Budget… ; that’s my concern. Nonetheless, I remain positive because I think the philosophy of low interest rate is where we need to be… and I think that [the Government is seized of that],” he adds.
Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) President, Hugh Johnson, also believes that Prime Minister Holness “touched on some very important [issues]”.
Key among these, he tells JIS News, is the $500-million grant provision earmarked for micro and small community-based businesses, describing this as a “good move”.
Mr. Johnson notes, however, that based on the magnitude of the economic impact of COVID-19, the provision is not adequate.
“So even though it’s a good move, it won’t move the dial; we would need [about] $5 billion,” he adds.
The SBAJ President says, however, that citizens “can’t lose hope” of the possibility of Jamaica achieving further macroeconomic improvements, arguing that giving up would effectively see all stakeholder efforts to consolidate and enhance economic gains going to waste.
“So, we are still hoping against the odds that some [more] meaningful [outcomes] will take place; we should not lose the opportunity [to use] this [COVID-19] crisis to reform ourselves,” Mr. Johnson adds.
Business analyst, Warren McDonald, cites the Prime Minister’s forthright stance on curbing corruption by public officials as a key takeaway from his presentation.
Mr. McDonald cites surveys that he says indicate that Jamaicans “seem to accept corruption by public officials, as normal”.
“By and large, I think he has warned his [colleagues] that he isn’t prepared to compromise on corruption. This is an area that he will have to deal with effectively [because] I think he recognises that this is foremost in many people’s minds,” he tells JIS News.
Mr. McDonald says Prime Minister Holness’ overall presentation was practical, describing it as “grounded in realism”.
He tells JIS News that he is heartened by the proposed creation of an additional 150,000 jobs, adding that “based on the fact that the last Administration did 100,000, [this target] is realistic”.
Against this background, Mr. McDonald says he is “very optimistic” about Jamaica’s future.