Another new year is dawning bringing us to 2005, the beginning of the second half of the first decade of the 21st century. With the first five years now behind us, we can better assess what the next five years can be like.
There is no question that more optimism exists now concerning the future than has been the case in the past decade or more.
This has resulted from the feeling of buoyancy which has come from a number of major national projects announced to be started soon or which have already started.
There is little doubt that the development of highways, new hotels, inner city housing and urban renewal, among others, are projects of significant new developments. By this account, it is felt that boom times are ahead.
Unfortunately, these projects, while providing the expected development in economic expansion, including jobs, will be effective in dealing with only a part of the overlying national problem of social disintegration which manifests itself in a chronically dysfunctional education system and a criminal justice system with a persistent internationally renowned reputation for murder and injustice.
Add to this a level of public debt which is one of the three highest in the world and which refuses to go away.
These three problems are a perilous deterrent to the future of any country and, certainly in the case of Jamaica, a lack of solution over the years has compounded the peril.
Solutions to these three problems are what will determine the future of Jamaica. Solve them and the future will shine with bright prospects for development. But these three major problems must first be resolved.
But, in reality, there are no three problems. There is mainly one – the deep problem of an economy in which the enormous public debt.
This prevents meaningful expenditure on education to produce educated, employable citizens, and on the criminal justice system to effectively provide national security for all.
Fix the economy to provide more resources and solutions to the other problems will be much easier to find.
I do not mean by this that all that is needed to solve the problems of education, national security and justice is a strong economy. There are rich countries which still experience weakness in their systems of education and criminal justice.
But strong economies fare far better and strengthening the economy is where the journey must begin. No meaningful advance in building a strong Jamaica can take place without a sound economy.
There have been signs of economic growth over the past couple of years but on too small a scale, 1%-2%. This is insufficient to lift Jamaica out of its deep problems. At least 5% growth is needed, says the IMF.
In 2005, therefore, we must set our sights much higher, insist on much better and try much harder if we are not to continue to creep and crawl where it is essential now to jump and run.
It is time to shake off the sluggishness of the past dozen or more years if the new developments which are coming on stream are not to be in vain.
So let us make 2005 a really new year and not just another new year. A happy new year to you all.
December 16, 2004