Jamaica Deserves More: 5 Problems With the JEEP.

It is not clear what the Jamaica Labour Party will be offering, but as it relates to the People’s National Party (PNP)’s proposed job relief initiative the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) – the Jamaican people deserve more.

There is a problem here for which both parties are culpable – this certainly is not a PNP issue. In fact, let’s start with the JLP:

Jobs Overnight

JLP Achievements 2011

If you are in Jamaica right now, you may have noticed an unprecedented upsurge in the amount of people working along the roadside. Just this week, while travelling over a very short distance, between Barbican and the Mona Area (in Kingston), there were dozens and dozens and dozens of people chopping grass along the side of the road, painting the curb and so on. It looked like Labour Day.

Amazingly, overnight, hundreds of unemployed Jamaicans had found “work.” They had been given the opportunity to do “something,” to ensure they have “a little something” in their pockets, “for Christmas.”

What happens to all these people after all the sidewalks are clear and every curb is painted? The JLP is guilty of something here.

The Problem

Clearly you can identify the problem. The problem of politically created and distributed employment that is, temporary, state funded, over-subscribed and focused on jobs which could probably have cost less to complete.

The JEEP

PNP Manifesto Cover 2011

The PNP’s proposed JEEP epitomises this problem. The large focus in the media has been how JEEP will be funded. In my opinion however, the critical focus ought to be the actual nature of the jobs being proposed.

Break It Down

We are told that the JEEP will implement “labour-intensive infrastructure projects, such as the construction of retaining walls, paving of gullies and reforestation. Proper systems will be put in place to ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency.”

The phrase “labour-intensive” is a euphemistic way of saying “requiring a tremendous amount of manual labour.” Essentially JEEP will employ Jamaicans to clean up the place – do more sidewalk work.

Here are 5 reasons why I find this problematic:

1.    Isn’t this simply an expansion of the public sector?

The PNP has made it clear that funding for the JEEP would largely be “derived from existing state resources”.

One more person and this string's gonna break!

Isn’t that essentially the same as the government employing more people? Expanding the public sector?

Further, even if we disagree with cutting jobs in the public sector, certainly we can agree that expanding the wage bill would work against Jamaica’s economic interest.

2.    Isn’t the philosophy behind JEEP (“its ok to expand the public sector wage bill indefinitely”) exactly what the IMF and international ratings agencies like Standard and Poors have warned against?

As stated in an earlier article, S&P’s reasoning for projecting a downgrade for Jamaica if the political administration changed, was “hardly a vote of confidence in the willingness of the PNP, should it come to office, to take the hard decisions.”

We can’t argue that S&P is JLP. The point has been pretty clear for a while – “If Jamaica is serious about confronting [the economic crisis], it must urgently begin to cut public expenditure.”

3.    Do we want our governments to create temporary employment, or to fix the problems that hinder permanent employment?

  • Has the private sector expressed any unwillingness to employ more Jamaicans?
  • Have Jamaicans on a whole expressed an unwillingness to work permanently?

The answer to both questions is no. Jamaican’s want to work full time, and the private sector is not opposed to hiring Jamaicans. The issue is an economic atmosphere that dissuades private investing.

RIU Jamaica - Tourism Investment

The problems include:

  1. Weak governmental response to extortion.
  2. Heavy handed  and questionable monopolies like JPS.
  3. Governmental disregard of international ratings (same issue expressed in point # 2).
  4. Wanton corruption in the public sector (the need to “have links” and “know somebody” for the simplest things to be accomplished)

4.    Isn’t there something bothersome to you about the idea of thousands of jobs being created by political leaders that only people in a certain category may be able to access?

Election date announcement in Mandeville - 2011

I was thinking to myself as I saw the people painting and working along the sidewalks this week – “I wonder if they advertised these jobs?” I wonder if they conducted interviews, collected references. Did you see the notice in the paper advertising these jobs?

Seeking to allay my fears, even before they were expressed, Dr. Omar Davis gave this assurance:

“We wish to give the assurance that explicit measures will be taken to guarantee public scrutiny of all such expenditure to ensure that there is value received in return for each dollar spent.”

Sure. The fact is, jobs of this nature are almost directly tied to the hands of the politician and will only work to further financial dependence of the citizen.

Why not build systems and policies that will ensure the creation of real jobs, with a real opportunity for all people, regardless of their political persuasion, to apply and be fairly evaluated?

5.    Isn’t it obvious that these jobs will only leave the people worst off?

Look out! Watch that fall.

The expediency argument is untenable – a government’s main offer should not be the creation of low-income, low skilled, and temporary jobs to solve the ills of the society.

These jobs have no security or benefits to those who get them.

There is no guarantee as to how long this ‘employment’ will last.

There is no note as to how much these jobs, to be widely provided, will pay.

Rebuttal

The inevitable response to this criticism will be – “Yes, this is why we say the jobs are temporary. We will be using this as a start, to relieve the pressure while we fix the economy.”

My response is – don’t tell me the temporary. Tell me what will be done to ensure that at the end of this temporary employment stint, there will be opportunities for real employment.

Conclusion

The idea of mass temporary employment is undesirable. JEEP proposes to employ tens of thousands at the government’s expense – in essence, an expansion of the public sector. How can Jamaican leaders, in light of all that the international community and local analysts have said, want to further bloat the public wage bill? Shouldn’t the government’s main aim be to fix the issues that the private sector finds burdensome – encouraging the creation of ‘real jobs’? Do we need these types of jobs – ones that are directly linked to the hands of politicians and therefore will only further undesirable political partisanship?

What is your opinion of the PNP’s proposed JEEP, and other suggested state funded crash employement programmes?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andrew Wildes (@AndrewWildes), a law student, journalist and aspiring author. Read more about Andrew at MaximizeMyLife.

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