“You Can Prevent Poor Governance!”, Former NY Councilwoman Tells Jamaicans
Former New York City Councilwoman, Dr Una Clarke, says Jamaicans have a responsibility to ensure they are continuously engaged to guarantee strong and effective governance of their country.
As one of four panelists at the Caribbean Policy and Research Institute (CaPRI) forum on “Security and Good Governance” in Jamaica, in Manhattan, New York, recently, Dr Clarke emphasised that only constant participation from Jamaicans would improve governance.
The forum was organised by CaPRI in concert with the US Embassy in Kingston, Continental Baking Company and Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS)
“We don’t become civically engaged until election time,” Dr. Clarke bemoaned. “As a citizen your job is to be engaged at all times; and, you need to speak up about the things you like and don’t like, so that by the time election comes everybody is educated about the pros and cons,” she advised Jamaicans.
“You vote them in, you vote them out. That’s what democracy is all about,” she declared.
Dr Clarke’s comment was in response to questions raised by some of the approximately 200 Jamaicans in attendance, who were concerned about the state of governance in their homeland. Her response also emerged within the context of discussion about the lowest voter participation in a general election since Universal Adult Suffrage in Jamaica, in 1944.
“If you wonder why an advantaged country, such as Jamaica, with so many resources; and, so much potential continues to be poor and indebted, it is because we repeatedly elect governments to make the economy worse,” Dr Damien King, Executive Director of CaPRI added.
The economist argued that since 2001, Jamaica has wrestled with being one of the most indebted countries in the world, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 120 per cent at that time. And, that figure has been worsened by nearly every government elected since 2007, he said, with the debt-to-GDP ratio averaging some 141 per cent for the past five fiscal years, according to the Bank of Jamaica. The current debt-to-GDP ratio is currently projected to be about 125 per cent the BOJ indicates.
“In 2007 Prime Minister Bruce Golding came to power on the promise of free education, which resulted in borrowing going up, the debt going up and the economy getting worse,” he explained. “In 2011, the then opposition under Portia Simpson Miller also campaigned to make the debt even worse by promising to reduce taxes, mainly GCT on electricity. She cut the taxes and the debt got worse.”
He said although the Mrs Simpson Miller’s administration was able to eventually reduce debt by some 20 percentage points in three years and balanced the budget, Jamaicans in 2016 elected another government, which promised to increase debt by cutting taxes. The Jamaica Labour Party, which won the February 25 elections by a margin of one seat, campaigned to remove income tax for Jamaicans who earn $1.5 million and below, annually.
“Jean-Claude Juncker, when he was president of Luxemburg said: All of us know what to do. What we don’t know how to do is to get it re-elected after we have done it,” Dr. King argued.
However, Earl Jarrett, general manager of the Jamaica National Building Society and Vice Chairman of CaPRI, pointed out that, at the governance level, Jamaicans need to ensure that the various organs of government, which help to support accountability work effectively; as well as, civil society groups that support their interests. These organs include the Office of the Contractor-General, Office of the Auditor-General, the Public Accounts Committee, and the Public Administration and Appropriation Committees of Parliament.
“We need to remember that democracy is a participatory process; and, we have a job to monitor and indentify the various areas of weaknesses in management and governance,” Mr Jarrett, who is also one of five Commissioners on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, said.
“It’s our job to ensure these various areas of government work; and, when they issue reports that they are taken seriously.”