Monthly Archives: February 2013

Autocratic Approach of Government to NHT Should Not Be Tolerated, says G2K

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“The cavalier approach of the Government in attempting to amend the Housing Trust Act is intolerable. Instead of clearly showing the country the impact of the proposed changes and engaging the people of the country to find solutions which does not run afoul of the law, the Minister of Finance seems determined to take the ‘my way or the high way approach to run wid it’, without proper assessment and dialogue”, said G2K President, Floyd Green. The response came in relation to the Bill laid in Parliament yesterday to amend the National Housing Trust Act in an attempt to ‘legalize’ the removal of 45 billion dollars over four years.

The organisation noted that the National Housing Trust, which was first a part of the National Insurance Scheme, has over the years been critical in assisting young professionals in owning their own home. Without the Government sharing the impact of the move, the organization is therefore concerned that the move will result in an increase in interest rates and a freeze on the level of benefits, making it more difficult for Jamaicans, in particular young professionals, to own property.

“Not only does the move from all indications appear to be illegal, but it is detrimental to the dreams and aspirations of our young people. We should not be having discussions on the move without the Board presenting a comprehensive actuarial study indicating the impact and how it will be mitigated” added Green

Generation 2000 is therefore calling upon the Minister of Finance to have an actuarial study of the impact of the proposal laid before parliament. The organization is also suggesting that the Government explore the option of providing the National Housing Trust with suitable land amounting to the value of the proposed draw down over the years.

“Not only is the Government the largest owner of land in the country, the Government also owns prime building space in urban areas which could be transferred to the trust for them to convert to lower and middle income apartment complexes to alleviate the housing demand in these areas” said Green

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BRUCE GOLDING ASSESSES J$44 BILLION RAID OF THE NHT BY GOVT

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“The Government insists that the extraction of these funds will not affect the NHT’s ability to provide houses and mortgages to its named and uniquely numbered contributors. That is nonsense!”

 

The Government’s decision to expropriate $44 billion from the NHT must be seen in the context of the rock and hard place between which it finds itself and the imperative of reducing the fiscal deficit to satisfy the requirements of an IMF programme.

The alternative would be drastic cuts in public expenditure that it finds unpalatable and/or heavier tax increases that are not only just as unpalatable, but unrealisable.

It is to be noted that, despite some $45 billion in new taxes imposed over the last five years (not including the recent $16-billion package), revenue collections have increased by less than 30 per cent while inflation (already built into most taxes) has been around 50 per cent. It is clear that the economy has little or no capacity left to cough up more taxes, the inefficiencies in tax collection notwithstanding.

However, this extraction of funds from the NHT must also be seen in the context not only of the NHT Act, on which the courts are now being asked to pronounce and which the minister of finance has declared his preparedness to have Parliament amend if necessary, but also of the moral obligations implicit in the management of NHT funds.

The NHT, as its name asserts, is a trust fund. Every cent of contributions that flows into the Trust is made by or on behalf of a person with a name and a unique number. Its purpose is to offer housing benefits for those named and uniquely numbered persons.

The Government’s role, exercised through the board of directors it appoints, is to manage those funds in an efficient way to ensure the maximum benefits to those named and uniquely numbered persons.

Some have posited that the income earned from investments made by the NHT constitutes a “surplus” that the Trust, ie, the Government, is free to disburse as it chooses. I adamantly disagree. This income belongs proportionately to the

named and uniquely numbered persons whose monies were so invested.

It is no different from income earned from investments made by a company that properly belong to its shareholders and is not a “surplus” to be dispensed by its managers at will.

The Government insists that the extraction of these funds will not affect the NHT’s ability to provide houses and mortgages to its named and uniquely numbered contributors. That is nonsense! The $44 billion that is to be paid over to the Government is money that would otherwise be available to provide houses and mortgages to its named and uniquely numbered contributors.

At an average cost of $4 million per housing solution, it means that 11,000 families that could have received benefits over the next four years will not now do so. The thousands of jobs that the provision of these housing solutions would have created will not now be created.

This is not the first time that a Government has raided the NHT for funds. $5 billion was extracted in 2005 to fund the Education Transformation Programme. Other funds were extracted to finance the Inner-City Housing Programme to provide houses for persons in dire need, but the majority of whom had never contributed a cent to the trust fund and were therefore not among the named and uniquely numbered contributors.

Repayment of the mortgage loans in this programme has been a predictable disaster. I am on record as being in opposition to the use of NHT funds in both instances.

It is grossly unfair to the named and uniquely numbered NHT contributors, who see these NHT deductions recorded on their pay slips every week, fortnight or month but who, despite repeated applications, have never been able to secure a benefit from the NHT. Many are told that they don’t qualify. How then does the Government qualify?

Having said all that, we must return to the fiscal dilemma confronting the Government, the implications of which could have bizarre consequences for everyone, including the named and uniquely numbered NHT contributors.

The NHT represents an attractive store of cash. It receives $21 billion in annual contributions and earns an additional $10 billion from investments (including mortgage collections). Despite its obligations to refund employees’ contributions after seven years ($3 billion annually), it is cash-rich. A Government faced with a fiscal crisis will inevitably look to this cache of funds to bail itself out.

There are ways in which this can be done without violating the fundamental moral obligations the Government has toward the NHT. One way would be for the NHT to provide a loan to the Government. This would be repayable with interest and the NHT would then book it as an income-earning investment, thus not affecting its balance sheet.

It is understandable that the Government would not be able to accommodate this option as it would simply add to its debt stock — a no-no for the IMF agreement.

There is another way that would have been painless. The NHT is in the business of providing housing which requires land. It would have been a much better way for the Government to provide land in exchange for the $44 billion. The NHT maintains a land bank to facilitate its house-building programmes.

There are fast-growing urban centres across Jamaica (eg SpanishTown, OldHarbour, May Pen, Christiana, Spaldings, Santa Cruz, Savanna-la-Mar, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios) with large numbers of NHT contributors who are and will increasingly be in need of housing. In most of these areas there are large tracts of unutilised Government-owned lands that could be transferred to the NHT, at market or even discounted value, in exchange for the $44 billion.

There are other non-housing-related Government-owned assets that could make up any shortfall and be treated by the NHT as investment assets. This approach would still reduce the ability of the NHT to provide benefits in the four-year period, but these benefits would be available in the future, the Government’s cash need would have been met, the NHT balance sheet would not have been affected, and the trust implicit in the operation of the NHT would not have been violated.

This is the method that was used to allow the NHT to fund the building of new barracks for the JDF. It is a template that could have been used to find a more appropriate solution to the current fiscal crisis.

An inescapable concern that this action evokes is whether, over time, the NHT will be treated, more and more, as a supplementary Consolidated Fund. And how long will it be before the NIS Fund is brought within the same grasp?

What implications does this have for pension reform, where we are contemplating a segregated fund into which public sector workers will be required to make payroll contributions to finance their pensions but which will be within Government’s reach to address fiscal crises that will arise from time to time?

Bruce Golding

Former Prime Minister

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PM Should Share the Sacrifice (Gleaner Column)

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Malawi President, Joyce Banda

 

In line with the severe economic challenges facing most countries throughout the world, in May last year, the then newly elected president of France, François Hollande, and his Cabinet took a 30 per cent cut in their salaries.

The 2008 global economic crisis continues to aggravate dangerous structural imbalances in economies throughout the world and governments are still scrambling to stablise economies and get them back on a path of growth and development. However, it has become the norm for governments to symbolically identify with the problems faced by their peoples.

As such, the still-wealthy French government isn’t the only one that has sought to show solidarity with the people in these austere times. Just last month, Sauli Niinisto, president of Finland, another wealthy European state, announced that he will be taking a 20 per cent pay cut. Affluent Bermuda’s newly elected government under the leadership of Premier Craig Cannonier and her 12-member Cabinet took a 10 per cent reduction in salaries. As the premier put it in his post-election victory announcement last December, “We cannot expect Bermudians to tighten their belts without their leaders doing the same. Sacrifice must be shared.”

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding understood this principle and in April 2009, mere months after the global economic meltdown threw an already broken Jamaican economy into a vicious tailspin, cut his own salary by 15 per cent, with colleague government MPs taking a 10 per cent cut. The Opposition, led by Portia Simpson Miller, then refused to follow suit.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, upon assuming office, chopped his and the salaries of his ministers by five per cent and moved decisively with economic reform initiatives. And just last year California Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators had to absorb a five per cent pay cut as California grapples with a gnawing fiscal deficit.

Africa, whose politicians are known for crass excess, is slowly coming around to the realities, too. Kenya’s Salaries and Remuneration Commission, a government agency that determines and reviews pay for public-sector employees, earlier this month recommended the near halving of the new president’s salary and broad salary cuts for lawmakers and governors.

Kenya’s Minister of Finance Robinson Githae points out that 80 per cent of all revenues collected goes to public-sector salaries, in part stifling the economy. Sounds familiar? Malawi, under a newly elected reformist president, Joyce Banda, and her vice-president, Khumbo Kachali, late last year took a 30 per cent pay cut to show she was willing to sacrifice amid austerity.

NO BELT-TIGHTENING

One would have hoped that the somewhat overhyped, peculiar yet imperative address to the people of Jamaica last Monday by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips would have listed concrete measures to tighten her Government’s own belts in what, for Jamaica, is a truly chronic economic and fiscal mess. After all, our economic problems are far worse than the countries spoken of earlier.

Instead, Jamaicans were subjected to another debt-exchange programme, a long-known public-sector wage freeze, and dreams of getting some major developmental projects off the ground soon, among other sweet nothings.

To add insult to injury, the Government landed a J$16-billion tax package, bringing to J$40 billion the total in taxes announced this fiscal year.

Most Jamaicans are seized of the economic difficulties and know that things will be more difficult than they usually are, yet the Government has failed for close to 14 months to give the people confidence that it knows what it’s doing.

Now while Jamaica is in the midst of an economic conundrum that ranks us among the worst in the world, two Cabinet ministers and one minister of state saw it fit to party the time away at carnival in Trinidad. One of those ministers is responsible for the critical energy portfolio which is in the midst of absolute chaos, resulting in three private-sector lobby groups, prompting the Government to make clear action in 30 days.

EXTRAVAGANCE

Add to the Trinidad carnival Jamaican ministerial frolic in a 20-member Cabinet, the purchase of 16 luxury SUVs for ministers, an army of multimillion-dollar consultants and advisers, wasteful spending on Olympic promotional activities in London amounting to more than J$140 million.

Amid the extravagance, the net international reserves have halved in a year, dropping from US$2 billion; the exchange rate has collapsed to J$95:US$1, resulting in higher cost of living. And while the economy flaps about in recession, more and more Jamaicans perceive the present lot in Government to be a non-sacrificing bunch of partygoing procrastinators and hypocrites.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller needs to put her foot down, demonstrate true leadership and make credible moves to tighten her Government’s loosening belt. Sacrifice isn’t a one-way street.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130217/cleisure/cleisure4.html

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WIGNALL: Who will save us from this inept PNP administration?

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LAST Monday, it pained me to watch the television performance of our prime minister and her second-in-command, Dr Peter Phillips, the man who would never be deputy PM or indeed PM.

The prime minister’s face and her stance were that of a talking head, all mechanical and with hardly any meaning behind the words which she spoke. Apparently her brief introduction, meaningless as it was, was supposed to have been the pep for Peter’s delivery which carried the main part of the tale of woe.

The prime minister told us that things were rough, unlike the message she and her party preached when they hoodwinked gullible voters in 2011 and convinced them that a vote for the PNP would lead not only to a quick, two-week resolution of the IMF agreement, but to ‘nice times’. While she was doing that, then Prime Minister Andrew Holness was telling the nation that hard times would be ahead.

In December 2011, the nation rewarded the PNP for selling us an impeachable fable (if we had impeachment laws) and crucified the JLP for telling us the truth.

So there we had it. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, totally investing in the hope that she can sell the people anything, including poisonous hot air, telling us damn rubbish that ‘we are all in it together’.

Where was Simpson Miller in 2009 as opposition leader when PM Bruce Golding, at the height of the global recession, took more than a ‘haircut’ as he unilaterally shaved 15 per cent off his salary and got his MPs to accept 10 per cent off theirs? What was her stance when her party was asked to accept a 10 per cent pay cut? The PNP, led by a leader who ‘loves poor people’ more than anyone else, said hell no! Now, that is some love.

With the announcement of a JDX 2, that is, asking big holders of government paper to take another cut in their agreed on interest rates, we have to ask ourselves again, why did we vote for the PNP in 2011?

To this date, in 2013, what has the PNP Administration done better than or different to what the JLP Administration did in 2010? That is short of the JLP Administration making a slow creep to the realisation that the global recession would add pain to our already interred bones, plus that ‘little’ Dudus problem?

Big holders of government paper must realise that they have the power to make some demands on this Administration. With the announcement of a massive tax package and absolutely no plan for a growth strategy, notwithstanding Phillips’ talk of Jamaica’s planned logistics hub in about 2015, the country is heading down a dark path that very few us want to travel.

Peter Phillips and the leader whom he has consented to lead him must both leave the comforts of their sound-insulated, air-conditioned SUVs, hit the streets and hear what their own 2011 voters are saying about them.

Frankly, I believe Peter Phillips, once a Rastaman, is still attuned to the streets but, like a man on death row who has three months to live before his hanging, I honestly do not believe he would prefer to hear a slow, dreary hymn like Rock of Ages instead of, say, an early Marley and the Wailers Simmer Down. No one wants to be reminded of one’s lowest value to the general public.

Don’t get me wrong now. I am not saying that if the JLP was in power it would have been significantly different. My point is, as bad as thing were, the JLP had righted the ship in 2010/2011 and, apart from the very same IMF stalling problems, there was a sense that the JLP Administration was better at handling our macroeconomic problems.

We have to face the fact that our beloved country’s existence since the 1970s is based on a fable. We have been paying rent, sending the children to school, paying the light bill or stealing it, whichever one is socially safer, and eating our daily bread because we have been borrowing other people’s hard earned money. And while we were doing that, we had the temerity to convince ourselves that we were doing well.

We had good reason to do that simply because our politicians were the leaders in the pack of wolves promising us more warm meat and another kill and many more days of stuffing our bellies. They who were supposed to be leaders succumbed to the worst that their lumpen elements demanded and their puppet masters in big business extracted from them as payback for ownership of their political souls.

The lumpen owns them at street level just as much as the big money class controls them and allows them to dampen the many demands of the street forces.

Not a simple matter to cut the Cabinet

Many people from all levels are balking at the massive tax package announced by the PNP Administration, but I must confess I sympathise with the PNP. I do so because that party has never really been good at doing much apart from handing out State resources to unproductive people — Crash Programme in the 1970s with party thugs collecting multiple cheques every week for doing nothing — and close friends who will sing their praises.

In addition, where some members of the public and the media punditry have called for a cut in the Cabinet, they plainly do not understand what that entails.

When candidates pull out all stops to run in election campaigns and some are made Cabinet ministers, it is not a simple matter for a prime minister like Portia Simpson Miller to just cut five or six of the laziest in the Cabinet. And there are definitely many lazy seat warmers soaking up all that their over-bloated egos allow them.

These MPs will take the slight personally to the point that they will secretly and not-so-secretly undercut the efforts of their own party at the next elections just to get some ‘payback’ for the ‘diss’. Plus, the more powerful ones will take entire regions with them.

A strong leader like Eddie Seaga, as Prime Minister, would have done it if it was demanded and required simply because he had no likeability factor in the first place and cared little whom he hurt personally if he was convinced that axing them was in the national interest.

The present political arrangement in the PNP, which is the epitome of political cronyism, does not allow for this.

Mainly, no one wants to ‘diss’ the first female prime minister in Jamaica.

Years ago the chief legal light in the PNP, KD Knight made a scathing criticism of Portia Simpson Miller but what eventually happened? As he saw the political writing on the wall, even though he was a strong man who needed nothing from politics, he straightened up and assisted in destroying the JLP in the now infamous Manatt inquiry which took the life out of the JLP Government in 2011.

And as much as he had fulminated on the leadership limitations of the person who would eventually become the president of his party and prime minister, political pragmatism made him hug up the lady simply because the Opposition JLP, even at its best, must be seen as worse than the best that ordinary leadership in the PNP can present to the people of this country.

To the PNP as a political party and governmental administration, long service awards mean much more than performance and, in fact, in many instances, long service, of whatever sort is deemed to be excellent performance. With such a philosophical approach to party matters, it is natural that it will be transmitted to governmental considerations.

The biggest example of that is staring us in the face.

The elevation of Portia Simpson Miller to prime minister.

At present, there are many in her party who are more capable of defining a vision for the country’s future than she is, but because of the philosophy of the party which encourages all gathering at the feet of the leader, even if she has nothing solid to offer this country, grown men and women with productive ideas will agree that she is the oracle and they are the followers.

That is what the PNP has become ever since the death of Norman Manley and the rise and the fall of his son.

The hypocrisy of the PNP second tier leadership

The JLP is different from the PNP in that its political philosophy is much less important than overall performance of the party vis-à-vis the direction of the country. And that is the main reason why the JLP has had so much falling out and infighting.

Sometimes infighting can be good in the building of a nation rather than the breaking of skulls.

I have spoken with ‘quite a few’ PNP MPs who will readily admit to me, as long as they are not quoted, that their leader has severe leadership limitations.

Said one to me last Wednesday, ‘Mark, we are on the same page and I agree with you that that the PM should be released from the packaged messages. I also agree with you that at a certain level, in terms of complex economic explanations, we cannot afford to let the leader free rein.’

I asked him, ‘So how do you balance this? This need to free her up and the fear of giving her too much space to speak on complex matters?’

He came back with, ‘Your man Bruce Golding was never uncomfortable in any situation with the press in Jamaica. To many he sounded like an accomplished lawyer. He was comfortable with discussions on our culture, our social problems, the economy, anything. But, you have to admit he screwed himself on the Dudus matter. So, in the end, who or what approach is better?’

‘Is that what it has to boil down to?’ I asked. ‘The choice between someone who is obviously very uncomfortable with leadership at the very highest level and someone who is prone to making serious errors of judgement?’ I asked.

‘In politics Mark, that is a safe tradeoff,’ he said.

With a no-growth strategy inherent in the PNP’s tax package, I expect that criminality will take off more than its acceleration in the last few months.

What I really fear for the leadership of the PNP Administration is that there is a very real likelihood of the logistics hub taking off in 2014/2015 but I cannot see it taking place under the leadership of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller whose short-term sight will dull the necessary long-term vision of getting the hub on stream.

In the interim, all will gather around her, including the failed finance minister of the last PNP Administration, Omar Davies, who had criticised what he saw as the possibility of a JDX 2.

What can he say now, even as I am thinking that this PNP Government needs to be put to sleep?

Is there a vet in the house?

Sunday Observer

Mark Wignall

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/pfversion/Who-will-save-us-from-this-inept-PNP-administration-_13652221#ixzz2LAbxs1SI

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GOVERNMENT’S APPROACH TO TAXATION DESCRIBED AS MADNESS

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Generation 2000 (G2K) today expressed its disappointment in the tax package which was unveiled by the Government and the approach that was taken in formulating same.

It feels like we have returned to the days of our colonial past where there is no need for consultation or effective representation in regards to taxation. The Minister of Finance, after the debacle in May 2012 with the introduction of taxes in the tourism sector, had promised to undertake consultations before the imposition of any new taxes” said Floyd Green, president of the organisation.

The organization notes that despite the imposition of a 23 billion dollar tax package in May 2012, the Government revenues still lag behind by 14 billion dollars, and tax revenue collection is significantly below target. The organisation is also concerned that young professionals will become disenfranchised as their dreams of homeownership will highly unattainable given the increase in stamp duty and transfer tax.

Mr. Green also stated that, “One would have expected the Minister to use the time in Parliament to outline a clear collection strategy for taxes, including elimination of the burdensome bureaucracy. Instead, the Minister has taken the proverbial Big Bang approach instead of comprehensive tax reform and clearly now is a living testimony of Einstein’s definition of madness

G2K notes the Government’s continuous disregard for the calls to cut the size of the cabinet; its refusal to establish a transparent system of hiring consultants and its continued insincere approach to the sharing of information, is quickly removing their moral authority.

G2K is the the young professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)

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Wignall: Hope you enjoy (Trinidad) Carnival, Phillip Paulwell

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Mark Wignall, Sunday Observer

As much as I know that a politician has very few hours in a day for himself, I still consider Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell’s current trip to Trinidad for carnival an insensitive move.

Recently I spent about six hours touring a constituency with a member of parliament (not a minister like Paulwell) and I can tell you, his phone never stops ringing. Each place that we stopped there were people always wanting to see him or talk about something and, of course, some wanted something from him in the here and now. Not tomorrow.

It was highly stressful, and one has to be made for it.

As for Paulwell, he ought to have appreciated the political value of symbolism. In 2009, at the height of the global recession and its effects in Jamaica, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding took a 15 per cent pay cut and all his MPs and Cabinet ministers took a 10 per cent pay cut. The PNP Opposition members would not budge and took their full salaries.

At the time no one was pretending that the money saved would jump-start Jamaica’s perennially weak economy, but it sent a signal that the prime minister and his team were somehow in there with the people and their pain.

Paulwell has been the most energetic Cabinet minister and it is likely that the speed that he used to enact legislation on the telecoms bill was a follow-up to what was laid out in the previous Administration. No sweat, though, and we congratulated him.

At a time when our approach to energy reform is best expressed in its many stops and starts, especially the recent one when the OUR is heading in one direction, and JPS in another, Paulwell figures that heading to carnival will not move us one way or the other.

Frankly, I believe that his prime minister should have immediately requested his return. He wouldn’t have to say that it was so, but, when there is no leadership, anyone can do anything.

I am not denying Minister Paulwell the right to ease the enormous stress levels that must build up in him from day to day, but surely, why would he want to allow one trip to generate the perception that the PNP Government is an uncaring one?

Rebel Salute was enjoyable and was on our soil. While not all could have afforded it, it was well worth it. The Jazz Festival was on our soil but it was not for the light of pocket. Carnival is ‘somewhere else’ and very few of us can afford a plane ticket there.

To me, the timing was poor, and hence I saw it as being insensitive to the present mood of the country.

Then again, maybe Mr Paulwell knows that come 2016 all his party has to do is wind up the robots that make up 26 per cent of the electorate and hope that the JLP gets about 24 per cent.

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Buggery-law-review-promise-was-a-political-sham_13584250#ixzz2KUmKwbzA

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From Rags to Riches – Singapore’s Success

Singapore Skyline

Singapore’s Skyline

Just under two years ago Singapore re-elected the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), handing it an 11th consecutive term in office. Lee Hsien Loon, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, continues into his ninth year in office as prime minister, unimpeded. What does this South East Asian island state of just over five million people but less than one tenth the geographic size of Jamaica have in common?

Singapore became a self-governing state in 1959, declared independence from the British in 1963, and entered into a federation with its neighbour Malaysia, with which it shares many commonalities a short while after. Following heated squabbles between the Singaporean and Malaysian political directorates, Singapore in 1965 was separated from the federation and had to fend for itself.

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Lee Kuan Yew is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most successful transformational leaders. He is the veritable bulwark for what Singapore is today. The country is very small, densely populated and constantly uptight about its vulnerabilities. Lee, elected into government at the age of 35 in 1959, set out on an incredible journey, turning a one-time small, uncivil, futureless, fractious, communist-ridden and problem-plagued multi-ethnic island state into now a beaming and prosperous metropolis with a very high standard of living, sharing company with Switzerland, the United States, and Canada.

TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP

Lee’s journey is worth exploring and offers Jamaica numerous lessons in how to transform a nation. Strong and decisive leadership is most essential. Leadership, in a rough sense, is the process of social influence whereby an individual can bring about the support of other individuals to achieve tasks or objectives. Jamaica has many leaders, but we lack transformational leaders. Transformational leadership typically involves a charismatic individual who is able to inspire others to perform beyond their usual capacity. A quick glance at academic literature on the subject points to a range of traits and skills embodied by successful leaders worldwide.

Among the typical traits are being adaptable to situations, alert to one’s social environment, ambitious and achievement-oriented, assertive, cooperative, decisive, dependable, dominant (influence others), energetic, persistent, self-confident, tolerant of stress, and willing to assume responsibility.

As it relates to skills, this includes being clever (intelligent), conceptually skilled, creative, diplomatic, fluent, persuasive, socially skilled, knowledgeable about group task, and well organised.

Importantly, a clear vision must form the foundation of transformational leadership; people must know where you are heading.

LEE KUAN YEW

Lee Kuan Yew embodied all these traits and skills. It comes as no surprise then that he managed to move Singapore from a Third World backwater to a gleaming First World metropolis. Jamaica never had a truly transformational leader. Some may have come close. Lee Kuan Yew’s book, From Third World to First, which takes account of Singapore’s transformation through the years, points to an experience he had while attending a 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Kingston, Jamaica.

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He may have lacked political correctness, but his wisdom must be respected. He said, in part: “… Prime Minister Michael Manley, a light-skinned West Indian, presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence. But I found his views quixotic. He advocated a redistribution of the world’s wealth. His country, a well-endowed island, … with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other subtropical crops are grown. They had beautiful holiday resorts built by Americans as winter homes … . Chinese, Indians and even black Jamaican professionals felt there was no future under the left-wing socialist government of Michael Manley. The policies of the government were ruinous … . Thereafter, I read the news of Jamaica with greater understanding.”

Michael Manley, though imbued with many of the traits and skills to make a truly transformational leader, blew a huge opportunity.

SINGAPORE’S CHALLENGES

Singapore’s success is renowned in view of the extraordinary challenges faced by it. It’s roughly the size of the parish of St James with a population almost twice the size of Jamaica’s. It had no natural resources and a limited domestic market. There were regular flashes of racial upheavals among its three main ethnic groups: the Chinese, Malays and Indians. Unemployment hovered at around 14 per cent in the mid-1960s with limited industries to sustain good middle-class paying jobs.

The British used Singapore as a nodal point in its maritime empire contributing 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), 30,000 jobs, 40,000 indirect jobs and occupying around 11 per cent of Singapore’s land area. The withdrawal of such a mighty contributor to the economy in the late 1960s spelled gloom to many Singaporeans already vulnerable to the large and well-endowed countries surrounding them, including Malaysia and Indonesia.

Lee Kuan Yew assembled some of the brightest minds he could find and set about to leapfrog the region and make Singapore a First World oasis in the Third World. He encapsulated that vision into one simple guiding principle for survival. Singapore must be more rugged, better organised and more efficient than others in the region. In his usually candid and practical assessments, he argued that if Singapore was as good as its neighbours, there was no reason for businesses to be based there.

MAJOR INITIATIVES

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There were some major initiatives that bore tremendous success. Education is taken very seriously. English became mandatory in all schools to ensure that Singapore wasn’t competitively stunted by inability to speak English. Singapore was cleaned up and today its capital ranks among the cleanest cities in the world. Lee Kuan Yew stressed the importance of integrity and honesty in government. Over many years, members of his administrations have been imprisoned or expelled for corruption. One prominent minister, in the 1980s, committed suicide after an embarrassing corruption ordeal. Incidentally, Singapore prides itself on attracting the best and brightest to political representation and its ministers and other senior officials are the highest paid in the world; its prime minister gets around US$1.7 million per year, while Cabinet ministers earn just under a US$1 million per year. Transparency International ranks Singapore among the least corrupt countries in the world.

singapore edb

Significantly, the establishment of the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1961 as a one-stop agency for investors, eliminating the usual bureaucratic craters in many other countries where one has to scramble from various agencies and ministries to achieve one thing, was a success. The agency also had specific concentrations in industries to be accommodated. The EDB is essentially an enhanced version of JAMPRO. Much of Singapore’s success is linked to this one-stop agency.

Another major initiative was the creation of an international financial centre for Singapore. In 1960s Singapore, this was viewed as highly improbable and attributable to the thoughts of a mad dreamer. After all, Singapore was a Third World backwater well below the financial centre titans of New York City, Hong Kong and London. In record time, the government aggressively developed a financial centre, putting in place the relevant policies and regulatory framework to speed up its development. It also worked to reinforce rule of law, an independent justice system, stable and honest government and sound macroeconomic policies.

RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT

The trade union movement also went through significant transition to being more consensus-driven and less disruptive. This caused some controversy. The media and opposition parties, though free, complained about its restrictive environment. Singapore’s political directorate is known to sue persons who they perceive to have sullied their character. This has caused some opposition members to go bankrupt. Lee Kuan Yew views it as essential to preserving the integrity upon which government can effectively lead the nation.

Many would argue that Jamaica cannot replicate what Singapore has done. There are too many differences, they argue. They are both right and wrong. While there exist some differences, we can certainly mould and shape some of their initiatives and transplant them here in Jamaica. We may not share the East Asian Confucian values that enabled countries like Singapore to aggressively and speedily pursue development without some of the standard constraints of Western liberal-style democracy.

Lee Kuan Yew stressed: “… Freedom could only exist in an orderly state, not when there was continuous contention or anarchy. In Eastern societies, the main objective is to have a well-ordered society so that everyone can enjoy freedom to the maximum.”

Interesting food for thought.

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