Monday, October 27, 2008

‘Jamaica has it!’ - Wendell Mottley

NCB Group Chairman Michael Lee-Chin with former Trinidad & Tobago Minister of Finance Wendell Mottley, now chief for emerging markets at Credit Suisse and Senator Don Wehby, Minister without portfolio in the Finance and Public Service Ministry.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaica Observer 27 OCT 08

Like a self-conscious mail-order bride, Jamaica knows she will only get suitors if we send out snapshots of her better-looking side. Lucky for her, she does have a most beautiful side, in stark contrast to those warts of crime that we try to keep away from the flashbulbs of foreign direct investment.

We should be very aware but not afraid of this global financial turmoil. If our athletes had become overawed by their first-world competitors, we would have got no medals in Beijing. That being said, our Olympians told Observer writer Selena Deleon that the common factor of their training experience has been PAIN – which is exactly what we should expect before the resulting GAIN. Just as our runners submitted themselves to a grueling programme, so will Jamaica have to take a rigorous route to socio-economic stability.

An estimable group of business leaders brought together last week by NCB Chairman Michael Lee-Chin and his top team, did not mince words after they listened to presentations by Senator Don Wehby, Minister without portfolio in the Finance and Public Service Ministry, and former Trinidad & Tobago Minister of Finance Wendell Mottley, now chief for emerging markets at Credit Suisse.

Even as he assured us of the Government’s resolve to come to grips with our plight, Don Wehby gave us some sobering information: “Despite the wealth of potential our island possesses, our economy is underperforming compared to other regions and compared to some of our own Caribbean counterparts.”

He goes further – we, each of us, rich and poor, carry “a debt burden of $370,000”. Unfortunately, as we carry it, many of us cannot even count it; in the words of the Minister, “73% of employed persons haven’t had any formal training at all; 68% of employed persons have not passed any exams at the CXC level or above.”

Because of the large recurrent bills to pay down our debt, Minister Wehby sees foreign direct investment as “One key contributor to economic growth.” This was borne out by Wendell Mottley who recalled Trinidad’s tense situation in the 1990’s with the Muslimeen threatening a coup d’etat. “We embarked on twin programmes,” he told us, “a massive programme of macro-economic reform and the privatisation of the energy sector.”

There was no drawn-out, expansive discussion, said Mottley, “We had to act with deliberate speed… I could hear the crowd baying outside Parliament.” The country acted, and the danger abated: “Without heavy direct investment and the coordinated role of the state, Trinidad’s development would not have taken place.”

Perhaps we have not recognised the “baying” of our crowds, because they have not physically descended on Gordon House. Surely, we hear them in the horrific increase in all major crimes over last year. How can we even bear to hear that there was a decrease to an average of four murders per day last month?

Mottley has great memories of Jamaica, participating in the Commonwealth Games held here in the sixties, and later working at ICD and “learning at the feet of the Matalons.” He says in those days, “Jamaica was the prince of bauxite and alumina.”

“Jamaica has it,” says Mottley passionately. He urged us to develop our value propositions “to make a compelling case. You have a big problem so you must have a big solution.” Mottley said he took one look at the size of the Chinese Embassy in Jamaica and recognised that this must be part of their strategic plan.

He described the marked development in Freeport, Bahamas and asked, “Where is the casino legislation?” Mottley recommended offshore healthcare facilities, and suggested that with the excitement of Usain Bolt’s performance in Beijing, Jamaica should look at staging a trade mission to China.

Michael Lee-Chin who has followed through on his energetic investment and philanthropic commitments to Jamaica, told us of a recent conversation with one of his Canadian co-investors in Columbus/Flow, John Risley. He said he had called Risley to commiserate on a bad patch he was experiencing in a North American venture, and the Canadian commented that his investment in Jamaica was one of the most promising he had ever made.

Karl Hendrickson focused our minds wonderfully when he reminded us that this country had a great ability to plan and that there were already good plans that “need not much except determination.” In the case of agriculture, he said, “no one has taught us the art of agriculture – we can’t do it by simply talking about it.”

Later that very day, NCB announced winners of their first Nation Builders Awards, Omar Azan’s Boss Furniture Limited, Hamilton’s Industrial Machine Shop and my friend Michelle Smith’s Chocolate Dreams. Theirs were stories of diligence and commitment, resulting in the creation of jobs for scores of Jamaicans.

Last week also, The Observer launched its Institute of Business Leaders under the patronage of Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall, to be chaired by the excellent Ryland Campbell. Winning business leaders and nominees over the years will participate in training and mentorship programmes to give a hand up to aspiring Jamaicans. We need the generosity of these entrepreneurs to be matched by strong, swift government support.

Observer Chairman Butch Stewart summed up the importance of business: “Government should realise that Jamaica is a multiple of organisations and companies.” He said it was the business sector that provides funds to run the country, “so if you want the country to be prosperous, make sure that businesses are prosperous.” Stewart appealed to us to stop “bad-mouthing” and start “good-mouthing” each other – a superb and actionable idea!

Mutual affirmation is a great start for making to the world a compelling case for Jamaica.

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