Former Minister of Mining and Energy, Clive Mullings, has described the IMF facility as a mere stop gap that must be accompanied by hard decisions and a mix of social and economic measures to reverse the trend of escalating debt and declining production.
Speaking in the Sectoral debate last week, the M.P. for West Central St. James told the House, “Debt management, fiscal discipline, debt re-negotiation must all be part of the mix! We must take whatever decisions are necessary to create space for real investment in agriculture and education. We must diversify our energy sources, promote the use of ethanol to help to reduce our transportation oil bill and create linkages in a viable bio-fuels industry.”
“Education must have more resources available for teacher training, content delivery and to achieve 100% literacy as a matter of urgency. Agriculture must drive internal demand for local produce and soil health and yield must be given pride of place. Petro Caribe funds must be used to fuel energy diversification as we seek to slash our dependency on foreign oil. The taxation on hybrid vehicles must be reversed if we are to achieve our strategic objectives.”
Mr. Mullings said the domestic fiscal crisis predated the global crisis; and he blamed what he called “…a culture of Government paper, or risk-free reward without the burden of inventories, labour or unions.” This he said, was joined by an appetite for debt that was sometimes satisfied by “…raiding the National Housing Trust or prevailing on the Petro Caribe fund…There is this constant competition, to find resources to fund the recurrent budget. The forward sale of bauxite and a reduction of our shareholding in CAP was one such situation. The sale of the JPS to Mirant in 2001 was another such situation, and the suggestion of selling our remaining 20% shareholding in JPS is gaining currency.”
Addressing the regional and international situation, the Government backbencher expressed disappointment with Caricom leaders, saying: “The issue of debt is by no means a Jamaican phenomenon, although our situation is far worse than many in the region. However, one would have thought that at the recent Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain Caribbean leaders would have arrived at a collective position on the issues of debt and multilateral financing, as they sat face to face with many G20 countries. I gather that this was not on the agenda which had been set some time before. If this is so, then in a time when the global financial crisis has become the greatest threat to global economic stability in 75 years, then the agenda should have been adjusted to reflect this reality.”
Calling for a review of the international monetary situation as it affects the debt obligations of developing countries such as Jamaica, Mr. Mullings said the region had a role to play in this. “A lot has happened since Bretton Woods of 1944. America is now indebted to China, and India and Brazil have become economic powers.
It is now time to put squarely on the agenda, a call for them to increase their contributions to multi lateral agencies such as the IMF and for them to have a greater voice in decision making…while we cannot go it alone, we must fill the void of silence. The region must awake from its slumber. Jamaica must leverage its position as an influential nation that has already conquered the world in sports and music. We must regain our voice,” Mr. Mullings said.