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JAMAICA | Mark Golding on Jamaica’s Economic Modernization & Efficiency

  • Written by Calvin G. Brown
  • Published in Opinion
Opposition Leader and Peoples National Party President Mark Golding, M.P. Opposition Leader and Peoples National Party President Mark Golding, M.P.
HOPEWELL,  Hanover, March 22, 2021 - PNP President Mark Golding in his maiden presentation as Opposition Leader in Parliament, addressed the subject of Jamaica’s economic modernization, as part of his wide ranging presentation.

Madame Speaker, I wish to say something about modernizing and strengthening the Jamaican economy.

We see broadband internet as a 21st century utility. We are committed to ensuring full access to the Jamaican people, as we did in the 1970’s for electricity with the Rural Electrification Programme. Our Shadow Finance Minister has spoken to our plans to bring broadband internet to all Jamaicans.

Madame Speaker, we are committed to increasing the efficiency and productivity of our economy by modernizing Jamaica’s commercial architecture. Our bureaucratic processes are often arbitrary, frustrating and onerous. This is a major contributor to the high levels of informality in the Jamaican economy.

The next PNP administration will once again bring focus to improving laws and re-engineering bureaucratic procedures which impact business in Jamaica.

In particular, we will minimize the bureaucratic requirements applicable to start-up businesses and micro/small businesses, so as to minimize the red tape and costs that are now a major disincentive to formalization.

These concerted efforts will enhance Jamaica’s status in the international “Ease of Doing Business” and “Competitiveness” rankings.

We have a proven track record of performance in this regard. The last PNP administration did the substantial work necessary to pass major pieces of legislation such as:

  • The Security Interests in Personal Property Act, which established a new web-based collateral registry and a modern legal framework to support secured borrowing;
  • The Insolvency Act, which replaced the old system from the 1800’s with a modern bankruptcy code which prioritizes the rehabilitation of businesses that face financial difficulties; and
  • The introduction of a Single Form for the registration of companies and businesses, which also provides the required tax and statutory numbers upfront, via a simple and fast process.

As a result of these achievements, in 2015 Jamaica’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking improved from 94th to 58th in the world.

By contrast, since 2016 until now, despite operating in an improved fiscal climate, the record of this Government has been quite poor, with Jamaica’s world ranking slipping from 58th in 2015 to 71st in 2020.

Jamaica: World Bank, Ease of Doing Business Rankings 2010-2020

Year

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Ranking

75

81

88

90

94

58

64

67

70

75

71

Pending

Total # of Countries

183

183

183

185

189

189

189

190

190

190

190

Pending

Madame Speaker, we also remain committed to strengthening Jamaica’s global position as a logistics hub, and driving economic efficiency through strengthening our logistics-centred economy. The key elements of this will be:

  • The build out of the national digital infrastructure;
  • The establishment of a Logistics Council, bringing together the core logistics associations (i.e. the Shipping     Association, the Port Authority, freight forwarders and customs brokers) to inform government policies affecting the industry;
  • The passage and implementation of the Customs Bill now before Parliament; and
  • The implementation of the Logistics Hub Initiative Market Analysis & Master Plan, which was commissioned by the last PNP administration and accepted by this administration, but with very little effort to promote it so far.

Madame Speaker, I also wish to say something about the ganja industry. This industry can assist in the economic recovery of Jamaica, providing much needed foreign exchange and creating employment.

Our 2015 reform to the Dangerous Drugs Act was transformational:

  •  It decriminalized personal possession and use of ganja, thereby reducing arrests and prosecutions by over 10,000 Jamaicans per year;
  • It recognized Rastafari and their sacramental rights to cultivate and use ganja, for the first time in any Jamaican legislation; and
  • It created a platform on which a new medical cannabis industry could be built.

That was back in 2015. It is now time to go further. We will take the law relating to the lawful cannabis industry out of the Dangerous Drugs Act altogether, and enact a Cannabis Industry Development Act to support the inclusive development and growth of this industry.

In doing so, we will overhaul the current system of regulation that has been developed by the Cannabis Licensing Authority:

  • We will ensure inclusion of small farmers, who are now effectively excluded from the lawful industry. We will reduce the barriers to entry, and support them by encouraging cooperatives that are linked to well capitalised processors, supplying small farmers with the best inputs and technology to grow and sell back high quality and safe medical ganja at fair prices.
  • Since 2015, households have the right to grow up to five ganja plants for medical, therapeutic or horticultural purposes. We will empower householders to monetize this, by allowing them to sell their ganja to licensed processors or retailers, creating an important new economic opportunity to supplement the income of Jamaican households.

We will also promulgate new regulations to enable the Rastafari community to reap economic benefits from the cultivation and use of their sacramental herb. The law already allows the Minister of Justice to make these regulations, but this still has not happened.

The PNP pioneered ganja reform in 2015. We are fully committed, with the necessary knowledge and skills, to make the industry work for the empowerment and enrichment of ordinary Jamaicans.

Our commitments to the workers of Jamaica

Madame Speaker, our Party emerged in 1938 out of the historic labour protests of that year, and has maintained a close relationship with the labour movement ever since. Our first Party President and National Hero, the Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley, founded the National Workers Union, which remains an important affiliate of our Party.

It was Michael Manley who said in this House on July 15, 1970 that:

“It is in the totality of your social security and labour legislation system that you discover the true anatomy of the nation’s conscience.”

Pro-worker legislation passed by PNP Governments include:

  • The Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act, which established the Industrial Disputes Tribunal to provide greater access to employment justice for workers;
  • The Employment Termination and Redundancy Payments Act, which ensured that workers who are unjustifiably terminated or made redundant have clear rights to fair compensation;
  • The Employment (Equal Pay for Men and Women) Act, ensuring that women and men earn the same pay for substantially similar work;
  • The Maternity Leave Act, so that pregnant mothers get time off work to have their babies, without losing pay and benefits; and
  • The Employment (Flexible Work Arrangements) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, so that workers are not tied in to the traditional “9-to-5” working day, but can negotiate more flexible work arrangements with employers, without losing benefits.

We remain committed to advancing the cause of working people in Jamaica, and there remains important work to be done.

In doing so, we will not be harming the interests of owners of capital. Rather, we are promoting a more equitable and mutually beneficial relationship between both capital and labour.

The next PNP Government will pursue a series of reforms to ensure greater fairness at work, improve industrial harmony in the country, and increase productivity and competitiveness in our economy:

  • The prevalent use of repeating fixed-term contracts, and the fiction of independent contracting where there is no real independence, have too often become mechanisms to sidestep the basic guaranteed package of worker rights and benefits. This is not fair to workers, it deprives social protection systems such as NIS, NHT and HEART of significant funding, and it costs the State heavily in the long run.

These mechanisms need to be examined by all social partners with a view to having them properly organized, for the benefit of all. The next PNP Government will bring legislation to eliminate abusive contractual devices as a means of circumventing employment rights, and ensure the equal treatment of workers regardless of the legal form of their contracts.

  • The sugar industry has gone through a severe and wrenching decline since the preferential trade arrangements ended. This has had a devastating effect, in terms of falling living standards and the rise in violent crime and criminal gangs in communities across Jamaica where the sugar industry was once the major employer.

Arrangements for the social and economic transition of these communities have been ad hoc and inadequate. The most recent egregious example was the forced removal of long-term residents of Innswood sugar lands by the Government to facilitate a sale to private developers, without proper relocation arrangements having been put in place for the people affected.

We will establish a Commission to examine the situation faced by communities in former sugar areas, and develop a comprehensive plan for the economic revitalization of those areas. The objective is to provide new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for the displaced sugar workers, cane farmers and their families to earn an honest living and to live in dignity.

  • We would like to see Joint Industrial Councils established in those industries where there are high levels of employment without common standards of working conditions, and which are without union representation.

The security guard industry is a case in point. Security guards comprise the largest group of security workers, larger than the police force and the military combined. But while some security companies have made strides in introducing enlightened employment practices, others lag behind in the areas of pension benefits, medical benefits, vacation leave and maternity leave.

Joint Industrial Councils provide a mechanism for addressing these issues in a cohesive way, for the long-term benefit of the industry and the overall economy.

  • Jamaica’s approach to setting the minimum wage dates back to 1938, and needs to be reviewed and modernised. As it stands today, the minimum wage bears no meaningful connection to the actual cost of living for a Jamaican household with a single breadwinner. It is time to transition to the concept of a liveable wage as a floor on earning.

The arguments against this usually focus on fears that some employers may cut back on workers, and that the costs to the State through out-sourcing arrangements will increase to accommodate higher wages.

On the other hand, the great benefits to the society from requiring a liveable wage across the board, tend to be ignored. It will improve the standard of living at the base of the society, reduce child poverty, reduce inequality, build social cohesion, stimulate aggregate demand and promote inclusive economic growth.

  •  We are committed to enacting paternity leave legislation, to encourage responsible fatherhood and stronger Jamaican families. We introduced maternity leave in the 1970’s. The time has come to extend it to responsible fathers who want to play a central role in the upbringing of their children.
  • We passed legislation in 1993 to provide incentives for the establishment of Employee Share Ownership Plans (ESOPs). A special unit was established within the tax department to facilitate ESOP applications. Several companies made use of the legislation, and in due course this created substantial wealth for their employees at all levels, from the bearer and janitor to the CEO.

Unfortunately, that momentum was not maintained. We are committed to reviewing and simplifying this legislation, and resuming the promotion of employee share ownership as part of a deliberate strategy to broaden ownership in the country.

  • The Ministry of Labour has issued a directive that says that, based on its interpretation of a recent Supreme Court decision, the IDT cannot adjudicate on whether or not an employee has been unjustifiably dismissed for redundancy.

We understand that this matter may be appealed. Whatever the outcome in the courts, our position is that no such loophole should be allowed to stand, and the Act must be amended to make it pellucidly clear that the IDT can invigilate any ground of dismissal to determine whether or not it is unjustifiable.

  • Countries: Jamaica