As the election season begins this month in Jamaica, no question the economy remains paramount for voters – not so much the nation’s place in the global macro-economy of international trading, but micro-economic factors that affect everyday individuals and local businesses.
In many ways, the Jamaican economy in 2015 was both a tale of growth and of woe. The government recently received glowing reports from international sources for the nation’s economic gains in 2015. American financial publication Bloomberg rated the Jamaican Stock Exchange (JSE) as the best performing exchange, based on the activity of registered companies. A close analysis of the JSE reveals several small and large companies have significantly boosted their capital inflows and their profitability by trading on the exchange.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also lauded the government for executing the nation’s Funding Agreement, which the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) administration took on in 2012. This agreement includes severe conditions meant to reduce the nation’s massive national debt, but also severely impacted the population. The perennial devaluation of the Jamaican dollar escalated the price of consumer goods and services. While in the Diaspora, Jamaicans overseas have seen their pensions and investment dividends in Jamaica dwindle as the Jamaican dollar slides.
Minister of Finance Peter Phillips deserves praise for maintaining the difficult course to reduce the national debt. This has resulted in restored confidence in Jamaica from multinational funding agencies like the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the IMF. However, the benefits from this renewed confidence hasn’t begun to reach the pockets of the majority of Jamaicans. People still continue to pay more for goods and services, while wages and salaries are lower than their inescapable expense budgets. Unemployment also remains high, especially among young people
The need to control the national economy and debt, while ensuring the population attains an appropriate standard of living, has been the perennial predicament for Jamaican governments. Between 1980 and 1989 the Edward Seaga administration followed a route similar to the current administration’s approach. The Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) lost the 1989 elections, as many voters saw Seaga as out of touch with their financial needs – as he grappled with strengthening the national economy, voters sought for more spending power in their pockets.
Some political analysts believe the PNP could suffer a similar fate on February 25, since several Jamaicans are not benefiting personally from the national economic gains made over the past four tumultuous years. These analysts expect the JLP to use the hardship still being experienced by some voters to their advantage in the election.
Unlike Seaga, Portia Simpson Miller’s “Sista P” political persona helps maintain the public’s sense that her administration is deeply invested in their day-to-day economic strains – while Finance Minister Peter Phillips remains politically unencumbered to make the often difficult policy decisions.
Assuring the public about the PNP’s dedication to their earning needs, Simpson Miller has been travelling across Jamaica telling voters that better is coming after the bitter economic medicine applied by Phillips wears off.
Whether she succeeds or not will be resolved on February 25. Whichever party is elected, their leadership must be prepared to develop pragmatic plans targeting the monetary security of the Jamaican people, who have been waiting with impressive patience for years. With an improved national economy, the strengthening of Jamaican businesses through a strong stock exchange, and the international community’s renewed confidence in the country, it’s time to focus on the general welfare of the Jamaican people. The party that can realistically assure voters of this focus deserves to be elected come February 25.