Jamaica is bankrupt. A rather dramatic opening statement but with the way things are in Jamaica these days it might not be so far-fetched. If Jamaica was a business entity it would be considered to be bankrupt and its creditors would either force it to reorganize or liquidate.
Today, we have a situation in Jamaica where public sector employees are demanding that they be granted the increase in their wages that was agreed to in their CBA (collective bargaining agreement) with the government. On the other hand, we have the government claiming that it does not have the money to grant wage increases at this time due to the economic bind it finds itself in.
For the government employees it’s the ‘fact’ that their wages have not kept pace with the cost of living and for the government it’s the fact that compared to those at the bottom, government employees have it good. So, we have something akin to the proverbial ‘Mexican standoff’ going on right now. Read some of the comments in both The Gleaner and the Observer newspapers and you see folks coming down on one side or the other.
The government trots out the statistics that its wage bill is now $125 billion and that it has approx 117,000 employees to pay. That comes out to each employee being paid an average of just over $1 million-plus annually. We all know that’s not the case as some folks make millions while others have to suffice with thousands.
I also see comments in both The Gleaner and Observer where folks are venting about some government employees having to live on something akin to barely subsistence wages. It is understandable that with the cost of living going up and with inflation wages cannot seem to keep pace with expenses. However, folks who work for government should not expect that they’ll be paid the way their counterparts in the private sector are. Like it or not, if folks in government are looking to be paid what they feel they deserve then there will have to be some heads chopped.
We see where the unions and their members want their promised wage increases but they don’t want to see the government workforce culled. Something has to give because right now neither the government administration nor the employees and their reps can have it both ways.
So, where does this leave Jamaica? On the face of it, in a bind. Below the surface, this is starting to become a challenge to the way things have been and continues to be done and a chance for real leadership to assert itself and get Jamaica out of the rut it has been seemingly stuck in since… well, since ‘the Devil was a boy,’ to borrow an expression from my dearly departed aunt.
In letters I’ve written to The Gleaner and in pieces I’ve submitted to this publication, I’ve called for a culling of the government workforce. This I have done from the time when P.J Patterson was PM, when Portia Simpson was PM and now that Bruce Golding holds the office.
Today, the government workforce represents approximately 4.25 per cent of the population (approx. 2.8 million) while in the US the federal government workforce represents approximately 2.25 per cent of the overall population (approx. 307 million). This does not include retirees who are collecting pensions as they would further inflate these numbers.
At a time when the government should be looking at trimming its workforce, it is planning to add to it by increasing the number of electoral districts from the present 60 to 63. At a time when the government should be looking at trimming its workforce, the PM is talking about cutting programmes. What happens then to those government employees who administer those programmes? At a time when the government should be seriously entertaining the thought of trimming its workforce, Bruce seems to be waiting for the economy to start growing once more before he’ll even think about it. The one problem with this is that the economy would have to grow at a better than 7-7.5 per cent rate annually for the next decade to really create anything close to a full employment scenario.
Let’s see, by a show of hands, those who believe this will happen with the present leadership at Jamaica House or with what passes for it within the PNP.
Does it appear that I’m advocating that there be a reduction in the size of the government workforce? Absolutely. I understand the reluctance of this government to downsize its workforce in the midst of a recession but the recession in Jamaica is not something that manifested itself since the fall of 2008 but has been the case since the 1970s, with a brief respite in the 1980s.
Instead of creating conditions for the private sector to create more jobs the government has decided to create more constituencies so even more folks can feed at the trough on the taxpayers’ dime. Instead of intelligence, creativity, maturity and objectivity, we’re getting inanity, incompetence, blathering and dithering from the island’s leadership.
Instead of getting good government and governance, Jamaicans are still getting crappy government and governance. Instead of fixing a broken and bankrupt system, Jamaica is seeing more of the same old BS being perpetrated with the exception that the party initials of its practitioners are different.
It is a system where patronage, corruption and cronyism have become the norm and expediency is the means by which one gets to control and indulge in them. So, we see the JLP, as the Opposition, castigating the then PNP-led government as being too big and bloated and now that they have become the governing party the government is not big enough.
We see Audley Shaw, as Opposition MP, talking about doubling nurses wages when the JLP takes over and when it did he realised the money was not there to fulfil that promise. We also saw the same Mr. Shaw talking down and sugar-coating the effects the global recession would have on Jamaica’s economy. We know how that has turned out. We see and hear Bruce talk about being a transformational leader but finding it most difficult to level with the Jamaican people as to just how badly off the nation is and to make the tough decisions when the times and circumstances demand it.
It’s easy to say that this present government has not been doing the best it can do in running the country but that does not mean that the Opposition gets a free pass. In the 18 years that the PNP were in charge, the Jamaican economy barely averaged 1per cent annual economic growth. Their time in office was marked by scandal, corruption, the aforementioned patronage and cronyism.
Between PJ and Portia, they found it most difficult to rid the party of the corrupt and scandalous. Today, it is a party with a leader but it still has leadership issues; a party with no message and even worse, no messenger with enough credibility to deliver it – even if they had one.
In the sense that Jamaica is bankrupt, and I imagine one could make a serious case from a financial viewpoint, it is as a result of the poor to non-existent leadership from either of the two major political parties. Michael Manley might have had the charisma and the oratorical flourish; Eddie Seaga the financial wizardry; P.J. Patterson the unruffled demeanour and Portia Simpson Miller the supposed street smarts but none of them, plus Bruce, seem to possess a combination of these characteristics. With the exception, to a degree, of Mr. Seaga, they have all screwed up or are screwing up and, in the process, Jamaica is getting screwed – politically, morally and financially.
True leadership is not about making the easy decisions nor is it about making those politically expedient ones. Rather, it’s about making the tough decisions. Think of it like friendship – true friends are not those who are around when times are good but when they aren’t so good and who care enough to keep you from destroying yourself and others by your actions. Bruce, you still have time to exhibit leadership to the wider Jamaica and not in front of select audiences. Just do it.