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Special Representative of the World Bank, Badrul Haque, has noted a rapid decline in national poverty levels in Jamaica, from over 30 per cent in 1989 to below 10 per cent presently, although rural poverty remains high.
“More importantly, if you look at the consumption of the poorest 20 per cent and the consumption of the wealthiest 20 per cent, that has remained unchanged over the last 20 years,” Mr. Haque said.
He was speaking at the Jamaica/World Bank partnership strategy consultation with members of both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday (July 7) at Gordon House.
Mr. Haque noted that Jamaica was in “fairly good shape” in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although it is not likely to meet targets for infant and maternal mortality.
“We were told that maternal mortality rate hasn’t changed in the last 20 years, and it still remains high,” he said.
In terms of gender statistics, Mr. Hague said females continue to outperform males at school, and now make up over 70 per cent of students at tertiary level educational institutions. However, he noted that, in terms of unemployment, particularly among young women aged 14 to19, the rate is about 47 per cent, compared with the rate for boys within the same age group, which is about 22 per cent.
He said that part of the reason why the females’ advancement might be hindered, is their expected role in the environment of common law marriage, where they are expected to take care of the children which, in turn, causes complications for both personal and societal development.
“Out-of-school boys is also a worrisome trend, as this leads to them being susceptible to choosing crime and violence as a way of life,” he added.
In terms of the financial sector, Mr. Hague said that 80 per cent of the liquid assets held by the financial sector are in Government bonds. He also noted that there was inadequate private sector participation in the micro, small and medium sized enterprises.
In terms of economic development, Mr. Haque said that, for the last eight years development has been “pretty good.” He added that there was a need for the country to strengthen its human development capital as well.
“With a large proportion of the working age population not in the labour force, those who are in the labour force, a little over two thirds, are functionally illiterate in the sense that they have never taken a test in their life,” he pointed out.
Mr. Hague said there is potential for growth in the agricultural sector, especially for small farmers, but in order to do that there are three things that have to be addressed: technology transfer; improvement in infrastructure; and the issue of praedial larceny.
Jamaica has been a stable democracy since Independence in 1962, with free expression of opinion, a free press and well established traditions of democratic participation. The country has made progress in the areas of financial sector reform and reform of the social sectors, including safety nets, HIV/AIDS prevention and control, and education, he pointed out.