Monday, April 8, 2013

Jamaica, land of billions

Jamaica Observer column for MON 8 April 2013
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Every year when Forbes publishes its billionaires list, there is an entrepreneurial frisson as folks click to read how these titans of business achieved their new status.  A billion dollars is big money, not easily achieved, and carefully managed by its owner who may have started out poor as a church mouse.  If the billionaire decides to hire someone to manage his money, you can bet that he would be checking the person’s credentials and competence. 

We wish it were so with Jamaica. Unfortunately, we have seen over many years that you can cut the interest from Mass Joe’s life savings, add it to your billions and then when Mass Joe reaches the poor house, you will arrive in your fancy clothes on Christmas Day to give him his once-a-year treat.  You can tell Miss Mary that she must find more money to pay property tax so she can get good roads.  She scrimps and saves to pay, and when she calls a taxi to take her to the doctor, she is told her road is too bad to traverse.

BOLT and FRASER-PRYCE ... discipline, pain go into building safe, just society
This little piece of rock, 144 miles long with 2.7 million people should have been benefiting from these multiple billions that are expended year after year, instead of digging us into deeper holes of poverty.  Here is the budget and breakdown as announced by Finance Minister Peter Phillips at the opening of Parliament last Thursday: Budget of $520.88 billion for 2013/14, with $370.5 billion earmarked for recurrent (house-keeping) expenses and $150.38 billion for capital (development) spending. Ministry of Finance, Planning and Public Service:  largest sum $177.35 billion for recurrent expenses and $112.9 billion for capital expenditure. Much of the amount will go towards meeting Jamaica's debt obligations.
Ministry of Education: second largest sum - $76.2 billion for recurrent expenses and $2.24 billion for capital spending. Ministry of National Security:  $44.78 billion for recurrent expenditure and $3.43 billion for capital. Ministry of Health: $33.31 billion for recurrent expenses and $634 million for capital projects.                                              
Ministry of Justice: $4.2 billion for recurrent and $530 million for capital. Office of the Prime Minister:  $1.81 billion recurrent, $2.95 billion capital. Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining:  $3.45 billion recurrent, $1.26 billion capital. Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, $2.21 billion recurrent and $15.82 billion capital.
Allocations to other Ministries are: Agriculture and Fisheries, $3.21 billion recurrent, $2.88 billion capital; Industry, Investment and Commerce, $1.68 billion recurrent, $113  million capital; Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, $2.33 billion recurrent, $1.46 billion capital; Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, $2.96 billion recurrent, $134.17 million capital;  Labour and Social Security, $2.21 billion recurrent, $4.88 billion capital; Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment,  $1.54 billion  for recurrent, $11.75 million Recurrent; Ministry of Youth and Culture, $3.43 billion recurrent, $335 million capital; and Ministry of Local Government and Community Development,  $7.06 billion recurrent, $555 million capital.
When private sector folks sign off on such hefty budgets, they knuckle down to ensure that it will result in greater productivity to serve the welfare of all, not just some stakeholders.  Publicly listed companies open themselves to criticism from the smallest shareholders at annual general meetings.  I have mentioned in this column the role played by the late Joyce Gordon-Martin (Gordon Robinson’s dear Mom!) on the board of our firm.  When we were late with the payment of our statutories, she plainly told us that friends or not, she would resign if we were not punctual with those payments. We straightened up and thank goodness we did – obtaining our Tax Compliance Certificate is a breeze because we developed that good habit years ago.
Business guru Steven Covey gave us ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, and I would like to recommend these - for every Government department, agency and ministry.  Please, no more three-day seminars (including lunch and coffee-break).  Keep these habits posted, use them in your weekly team meetings and get the job going.

Over the years, we have picked up quite a few productivity tips and used motivational quotes to keep ourselves on the ball.  Bill Gates’ directive to the Microsoft team of “Business at the speed of thought’ would be a good one to use to minimise the bureaucracy that is frustrating businesses small, medium and large.  The technology exists to make this possible, but only if training is in place.  There are too many folks parading around with smartphones, but no clue of  how to use the many time-saving features.

Use the ‘two-minute rule’.  If a task will take just two minutes, do it immediately.  That may be a one-sentence text or email saying – “Got your message – working on it – will revert by ….”  E-mail, WhatsApp and texting save more time than phone calls where the obligatory courtesies could use up those precious two minutes.  The bottom line is, you work to serve.  You can only serve if you stay engaged with those you serve.  If you find yourself postponing and dodging, you are not smart – you are simply dishonest.

Let us resolve to be brave: our lack of productivity, our downright laziness, comes from cowardice.  We have been so lulled into a life of making coffee, calling friends and chatting on the web that we are afraid of real work.  And so, we have folks entering multi-million buildings, collecting their multi-million salaries, driving their multi-million cars while children are wearing bottomless shoes to school – yes, the uppers of their shoes kept on their feet by ragged laces.

The media should try to give our genuine performers more camera time, and use less talking heads.  Images of former mayor Desmond McKenzie and current mayor Angela Brown-Burke, striding through the troubled areas of Kingston, facing the music and trying to balance the legal and the pragmatic make us feel that our taxes are well spent.  Let us seek out the role models and make them stars of our public sector.

We need to use these billions to build national muscle – to build a safe and just society, to produce, to export, to attract foreign direct investment.  As Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will tell you, this takes discipline and some amount of pain. Have a conscience leaders – let’s build on these billions.

pusey50 4 hours ago

I paid $22500.00 for a lot of land 6000sq ft, in ST James parish , and we have the worse road on the Island . The government have to get good people to manage our money tax payers money , no road , no school in some community. we need better representation , from the government , because they are responsible for our money.

hope2013 10 hours ago 
I hear your cry but do the politicians? Do the so called Mr. Bigshots? And those who think they are more important than you just because they've acquired a little wealth? Some of those are the real ones mashing up the society. 

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