Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | February 10, 2013
Home : Commentary
Majoring in the minor
Lambert Brown, Contributor

Jamaica needs every single cent of investment we can obtain at this time. Investment usually, though not all the time, means more jobs. The Jamaican family benefits when additional jobs are created in our country.

Investments that are consistent with our environmental policies, are sustainable, and bring additional jobs at this time must be most welcome.

On Monday last, the prime minister and others, including a Japanese investor, broke ground to initiate a project valued at more than $270 million. This starts with a feasibility study on the commercial extraction of rare-earth minerals from the red mud lakes adjoining our alumina plants.

With the Japanese investors putting up US$3 million of their own money to fund this project, they must be sensing a real possibility for success. Indeed, the success of this project could, in the long run, be an economic game-changer for Jamaica. The high demand for rare-earth minerals and their essentiality in the new global economy mean that the price Jamaica will gain for this 'waste', and hitherto environmental nuisance, is great.

Unfortunately, watching local television news on that night and following the discourse on some radio programmes, one could easily conclude that the most important issue for Jamaica is a question asked by the prime minister about enemy of the state. A clear answer of 'no' would have sufficed to refocus the nation on the critical national economic emergency we face; instead, we were detoured along a futile path of minor political point-scoring.

no tv coverage

In fact, so unimportant was the economic investment story to one television station that extensive coverage was given that night to the mere announcement of the resignation of a perennially losing political candidate, Dennis Meadows, as caretaker of North Trelawny. No time was spent by that station on the day of the groundbreaking ceremony, which promoted the local scientists and the Jamaica Bauxite Institute for the excellent and painstaking research and development done over several decades to open up very bright and far-reaching prospects for our economy.

Clearly, a fair conclusion drawn by some persons who watched the television news of last Monday night would be that the public-relations desires of a political loser were more important than the economic development of Jamaica. The Japanese company, having got its board of directors and shareholders to put up their money to do this project, must be wondering how the local television stations' non-coverage of the groundbreaking will play in the boardroom as a reflection of Jamaica's enthusiasm for this major investment opportunity.

As sections of the media salivate on the minor, Jah Kingdom, as Ernie Smith sings, could indeed go to waste. The refrain of many could easily be: 'Oh, for the want of more patriotic coverage - instead of partisan posturing in our news reporting.'

Make no doubt about it: As a nation, we face an economic emergency. The overwhelming majority of our people want to see an improved economy. They have no interest in who spoke of "black scandal bag", "Jamaica being like a john crow bead" or whose "brain is infested with termites".

A different standard is demanded now. That is what recent electoral results suggest. In that respect, I would have preferred that instead of the unfortunate "enemy of the state" question, more time was devoted to promoting the many and commendable first-year achievements of the Portia Simpson Miller administration; and, second, to continue preparing the nation for the economic storms ahead.

This is a time for staying focused on the economic issues. Government must not allow itself to be sidetracked by the utterances of an Opposition which thinks its best contribution to national development is to be ultra-competitive. The fact that cooperation would be preferred should not negate the role of the Opposition to oppose, oppose and oppose. It is just how our democracy goes - not always pretty, but some say it has served us well.

Perpetual opposition and ultra-competitiveness do not always succeed in winning public support. The US Republican Party is now learning that lesson. Jamaica also has had our own teachable moments. In her years in Opposition, between September 2007 and December 2011, Mrs Simpson Miller often practised what she described in her Budget presentation of 2008 - a policy to cooperate while competing.

In 2010, she gave full support and cooperated with the Jamaica Debt Exchange which facilitated the then IMF standby agreement. When the tax packages associated with that agreement bit into the pockets and bodies of the people, she refused to promote street demonstrations and mayhem, contrary to what others did in the past. She avoided adding further damage to the already shrinking Jamaican economy.

When the time came for choosing a leader, the majority of Jamaicans gave her a decisive electoral victory. A responsible and disciplined Opposition was rewarded. As the saying goes, 'Pay attention to the sale, not the noise in the marketplace.' The Opposition is entitled to its noise. Government officials must, in response, summon the responsible and disciplined approach they exercised while in Opposition. Just as they did not major in the minor in Opposition, so they must continue to focus on the big picture.

A successful effort to rescue Jamaica from the current economic emergency will pay more dividends to the nation and political interest of the governing party than proving or disproving the patriotism of any one.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has often highlighted the last four letters in the word 'Jamaican': 'I CAN'. It would indeed be a prudent move to mobilise the nation around the positive message inherent in those favourite words of the PM as we confront the national economic emergency.

The building of an 'I CAN' society must be a critical part of any strategy to successfully grow our economy and reduce, if not eliminate, our trade imbalance. It cannot continue to be business as usual if we hope to leave days of crisis permanently behind us.

Lambert Brown is president of the University & Allied Workers Union. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and Labpoyh@yahoo.com.


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