I begin by offering my sincere condolences to the Vaz family on the loss of Douglas Vaz, father, grandfather, an ever-supportive Jamaica College alumnus, and a true Jamaican patriot to the end. May his soul rest in peace.
I have recently written two articles in this medium, one focused on diplomacy; and another on the Transshipment Port. In the first (also published by permission in the Observer) I was happy to see a response from Professor Vasciannie, a former Ambassador to the United States and I thanked him profusely. We had a very amicable discussion on the phone on our differences and perceptions on the usefulness of our current diplomatic focus.
It still remains obvious that the Diplomatic Corps follows the directives (and sometimes vagaries) of our national positions, and therefore many issues that we involve ourselves in are way beyond our ability to resolve. So I still remain resolute that the focus of diplomacy should be on sustainable growth and the attraction of new industries, services, and partnerships.
We must realize that the Government of Jamaica will be unable to attract the very experienced and well connected networks that may exist among the private sector, and it is here that consideration of business orientation needs to be put firmly on the agenda for rationalization.
There is no doubt that the young persons employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade are bright, well-mannered, multi-lingual, and acceptable in foreign lands. However they are not CEO’s and many have not worked in business at the highest levels. Therefore I recommend that they be paired with available talent and experience in the private sector who, if retired, will be available for a short term contracts in strategic locations and guide the young diplomats and target business promotion and appropriate investments.
Regarding the Transshipment Port, there has been no comment on one of our most strategic assets; and the need for the Port to be part of our long-term plans. Cargoes will continue to be the largest component in the movement of heavy loads (at least until “beam me up Scotty”) becomes a reality. We cannot afford to lose control of this source of comparative advantage.
Within the last two weeks it has been obvious that warnings and cautions have been issued through the Ambassador of the United States regarding our relationship with China. The warnings clearly indicate that the USA understands the Chinese policy with regard to owning valuable lands, ports, and mineral reserves. Jamaica is the key to influence across CARICOM and will always be the first to receive scolding with the view that the rest will “shape up” in light of the direction of US foreign policy.
These points connect nicely with the common objective of their impact on sustainable economic growth. The latest “panic discussion” is the slide in the value of the Jamaican dollar against other key international currencies. I have lived with this from 0.75:1; to the current 140+:1; and life goes on. I have long accepted that the only protection against a slide is to earn foreign currency.
Some have done this by migration; others work here and provide services billed and paid for in foreign currencies; some (informally) transact business in US$; and others export. I do not want to entice the macroeconomists to further batter me, but if Jamaicans understood that they could not buy a cart (much less a fancy car) without proving that they earn foreign currency, we would all be amazed at the national mobilization.
In the 1970’s the rural farmer started growing ganja for illegal export; the systems of oppression killed that initiative, and today the people who killed it now control the value chain. We got financial assistance to spray dangerous chemicals on our crops. In the 1980’s Jamaica tried vegetable and fruit “winter crops”(with supposed Israeli assistance) and the same people killed it with “Phyto-sanitary measures” and failed to give us effective pre-inspection assistance. However we did get the gift of the CBI from President Reagan (which we have failed to take advantage of).
In the 1990’s even NCB tried to grow and popularize solo papayas and other exportable crops, and the lack of easy access killed that too. However, we did get the forced “Ship Rider” that took away much of the “Sovereignty” of our own blue space. In the 2000’s air travel did not give us “open skies” but rather controlled our effective travel to Central and South America as most routes transited via Miami and you could not enter without a US visa. I was at pains to point this out to our Government and to the CRNM (then involved in the failed FTAA) but to no avail.
The time has come for us to distance ourselves from those international large countries who wage war; destabilize other nations; deny climate change; increase industrial gases; and who really have no regard for us. Let us be friends and as was said “can’t we all just be friends”? But let’s not sleep with them for every time it comes around to having intimate relations we suddenly find ourselves as the proverbial duck; and you know what happened to that bird!
We need to be bold and chart a course that suits us. If we have to earn foreign exchange let’s do it. If we have to be more efficient and productive let’s do it. If we have to set our own rules and laws to further our own development let’s do it.
Let us be the masters of our own ship, and let us inform the population (voters or not) that rubbing out your hand middle, avoiding work, texting bull crap, is not going to contribute to productivity.
Let’s do it!