Jamaica is falling apart, anyone who has eyes can see this. If one looks past the high-rises, BPO centres and car-marts (all shiny new things) you get to see roads in desperate need of repair, sewage mains no longer functioning and buildings in general disrepair. For example, when it rains roads flood and people have to swim in the business district of this nation, the state can’t afford to purchase cars for the police and as seen over the past few years the hospitals cant even get funding to ensure patients and medical staff aren’t exposed to dangerous conditions.
It is normal, almost reflexive in these situations to blame the government (or in our case the two incompetent parties). It is normal to cry for blood and demand that something is done about the injustice. It is normal and even correct to say that the decades of mismanagement by both parties (though one party did have a longer time at the wicket) have led to the nation being at the breaking point where even the bare basics now seem to be failing us. It is normal to feel this way and demand justice but we must understand that today, the persons who really have control over what is done is not the governing JLP, it is instead the IMF.
Let us be honest, politicians may be liars, they may be thieves and they may say asinine things, but they do enjoy being elected. So how is it that the party which was swept into office with the help of the scandal at Jubilee and all of the ills which face the nation, and still continue to do (or not do) the same things as the last administration which was embarrassed at the polls? This is so because, in spite of what the PM may want to have us believe, he does not run the country he simply takes directives from the IMF.
The facts are that since at least the last administration tax revenues have exceeded initial projections. The facts are that since the last administration we have had a budget surplus of at least 7% and sometimes higher. The fact also is that we cant spend that money, not because we don’t want to, not because we have nowhere to practically spend it, but because the IMF has stated that those monies be used to pay off our debt (a debt which almost all agree we cant hope to pay off).
This piece is not here to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the IMF or to say that Jamaica’s politicians have always been hindered by this institution. If one wishes to criticize IMF policies and where they lead one can look at the pieces written on the Philippines and Indonesia (both of which are still crippled by their IMF flirtations), and if one wishes to look at how local politicians have sold us out and raped us (financially) they can read the numerous volumes in UWI and Gleaner archives.
However, the situation today is that even if our politicians wanted to change their ways from that of rapacious highwaymen to nation builders and lay some social groundworks they couldn’t, because the IMF regulations are so stringent and limiting in their room for manoeuvre.
Social groups who are lambasting the government for underfunding institutions though well-intentioned are barking up the wrong tree. Persons and movements which demand money be put aside for housing and other areas are looking to wrong people. And the opposition which says they will do more for the people in these areas speak lies as they know that the boss won’t allow for it. The situation in which we find ourselves in today in this nation is that of two parties who do basically the same thing ( implementing austerity measures), and even if we were to get a party who wanted to invest heavily in the state couldn’t because of outside forces.
It is a Greek-like situation, where national politicians are simply enforcing rules passed on from their financial (and therefore political) masters. We simply must get rid of the IMF as a force in this nation if we truly want to advance the country. Only then will we begin to have a government truly accountable to the people and therefore (in theory anyway) able to properly invest in the nation. Then politicians will no longer have the excuse of saying ‘the surplus cant be touched’ as hospitals are evacuated for want of maintenance and upkeep. Then we will actually be able to discuss things such as what to do with the currency without the heavy hand of the IMF and its single-minded mission (that of neo-liberalism) barking in your ear.
For those who are paranoid that the state may once again go back to its old wasteful fiscal days, being rid of the IMF would actually be the test. It would show if we did, in fact, learn, because if we haven’t learned how to manage our economy do we really deserve independence (as being under IMF programs is basically signing up to be a protectorate).
Right now whenever we complain and moan about our politicians, whenever we demand that they actually use the cash they have on the nation it is akin to the burning of effigies. Nothing has ever come from burning effigies (or for my Christian friends sacrificing to idols), for a real change I say again we must start with the removal of the IMF. We must be debating on alternative forms of international finance, we must be debating on serious land reform, a housing program and the nationalising of key industries. All of those can only be successfully tackled and debated in a realistic manner, but only if we are rid of this behemoth which currently dictates just how much can be spent (thus greatly limiting the number of programs which can be implemented or institutions refurbished).
The world today is not the world in the immediate aftermath of World War II, finance and means of getting funds are no longer solely bound by the Washington consensus of the IMF and World Bank. With the BRICS Bank now up and running and with the Chinese AIDB also underway one can see where, with creative policy, we could actually fix infrastructure and implement the long overdue social policies. There are ways in which we can get out of this mess without tightening our belts to the point of disfigurement, avenues we could force our politicians down, but we cant do that with the IMF calling the shots. If we really are to stand any chance of changing this country for the better then we must begin by calling for the exit of the IMF.