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Jamaica out of intensive care, needs time to recuperate – Byles

Published:Tuesday | September 15, 2015 | 12:15 PMMcPherse Thompson

Co-chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Richard Byles said he is as impatient as anyone else about the lack of growth and the continuing high level of employment, but noted that it requires more time to improve the economic conditions.

While reporting mostly

positive indicators about the

performance of the Jamaican economy for the fiscal year to July and August at a press

conference in New Kingston where he released the latest communiquÈ of EPOC last week, Byles was asked whether there was a lack of an educational programme to better inform people about what was happening, given continued scepticism about the benefit of the economic support programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.

"Maybe, and I'm as impatient about growth and employment as anyone. But maybe I have a deeper appreciation of what's the kind of timeframe that's necessary, given where we are coming from," he said.

"Jamaica was like a really, really sick person that was on the verge of collapse and taken into the intensive care unit at the hospital and had to spend weeks in there - all kinds of drips and something to help you breathe - that's what Jamaica was like two and a half years ago," said Byles, referring to the period before Jamaica inked an agreement with the IMF in May 2013.

"That we are not up and running, competing with Usain (Bolt) or Asafa (Powell) - we are not even jogging - has to do with where we are coming from and what is the process of getting fit," he said, using the analogy of the performance of two of Jamaica's top athletes.

"I think we are really impatient to see the growth," Byles said, adding that "it's going to take time and it's going to come to us in not jumps and leaps but in gradual improvement as we go along."

'it will happen'

The EPOC co-chairman said: "That certainly is my wish and when you look down the road and you see some of the government projects to come on stream and you see growing business confidence, and you hear about more and more business people doing this or doing that, you begin to see that it will happen. But it is not going to happen in the kind of time frame that we would all like to see, which is the next six months, the next 12 months to see an effect on people being employed."

However, "when you go to the north coast, you see the impact of a flourishing tourism business. It's just different to what you see in Kingston and the south coast - more people employed, more small businesses bustling ... it's just like a different economy and it shows what growth of four per cent can do in terms of employing people and creating secondary and tertiary economic ripple effects," he said.

Byles, who is also chairman and chief executive officer of Sagicor Group Jamaica, which has invested millions of dollars in the tourism industry, noted that the Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported that for the first quarter of 2015 a 0.4 per cent growth in the Jamaican economy was due in part to a 0.6 per cent increase in the services industry led by hotels and restaurants, which grew by four per cent.

"So until we get to that point of four per cent for the whole economy, it's hard to see and feel the beneficial effect of growth on employment," he said.

Noting that that was happening on the north coast because of tourism, Byles said there is "no drought to speak of over there either, which makes life even better".