Big Think Interview With Bruce Golding
Orette Bruce Golding has served as Prime Minister of Jamaica since 2007. He is the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and was the founder of the National Democratic Movement (NDM), and is the country's eighth Prime Minister since it declared independence. He s the current MP of West Kingston and he hosts a monthly talk show called "Jamaica House Live."
Question: How has Jamaica fared in the wake of the recession?
Bruce Golding: We faced a particular challenge because even before the recession we had serious economic difficulties. We had accumulated 11 years of fiscal deficit, we were heavily indebted. We are a very small and open economy so that we are particularly impacted by what is called "exogenous shock," which is external influences. And therefore, we were particularly hard done by the recession.
We took the decision that we needed to fix that. And therefore, we introduced very, very tight fiscal measures to reduce our budget, to cut our deficit, to rein in our government borrowing—because we were borrowing so much that we were crowding out the private sector. In a sense, we were doing what we needed to have done even before the recession, without the recession. But we felt it was even more important to do that now and to position ourselves so that once the recession had passed, we would be in better shape to attract investment and to secure economic growth.
It has been tough. I give you an example. Bauxite alumina counts for more than 50% of our export earnings. And because of the global recession, three of our four refineries had to shut down. You can understand the devastating effect that that has had. But what we have done, we have used the time—a crisis as an opportunity and we have used that opportunity to put in place a proper fiscal framework. We have... we have reduced our dependence on credit and we are pursuing a fiscal responsibility program that I think will [...] to our growth and development once the recession is over.
We are a little concerned that the recession is... the recovery is so slow. And the recovery is likely to be elongated and therefore it’s going to take time before we benefit from all the sacrifices that we have made, but we believe that it is a good investment for our future.
Question: Jamaica's debt load reached 126% of GDP last year. Is that dangerous?
Bruce Golding: The size of the debt is one thing, the cost of the debt is even more important to us. We have borrowed significantly, both externally and on the local market. We were borrowing on the local market at an average rate of 17% with various instruments commanding rates as high as 28%. And the cost of servicing the debt—not so much the size of the debt—is what impacts on our fiscal ability to do the basic things that government needs to do; provide proper security, provide proper education, proper health care and so on.
So what we have done has significantly reduced the cost of that debt. We did a debt exchange program on the domestic debt, on the domestic portfolio of our debt, $700 billion Jamaican, some $7-$8 Billion U.S. That has significantly eased the pressure on our budget. Rates on government paper have fallen from more than 20% to now 8%. So that has given us some space.
Where we have been a little disappointed, is that as we rein in government, as we pull government out of the economic space, that space ought to be taken up by the private sector. But the private sector has still not fully recovered from the effects of the recession. Investors are still risk-averse. They are still reluctant to plunge in. Not until they are certain that the recession is at an end. They have been talking to the United States, as you know, about the possibility of a "double-dip" recession. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think that investors are waiting to see when would be the right time, when would demand have recovered sufficiently to make investments secure. And we are at the tail end of that. So, we will have to wait a bit longer, but I think that way we are well-positioned for investment.
In the meanwhile, what we are doing is, we are seeking to spearfish particular investment projects that, hopefully, could kickstart our recovery, and could lead the way for others, particularly with major companies. The largest telecom provider in the Caribbean, for example, Digicel, is undertaking a major investment in downtown Kingston as part of the redevelopment and renewal of downtown. We’re going after projects like that because those can seed the recovery and those can ensure that the recovery can come sooner than it otherwise would have.
Question: What lessons has Jamaica learned from the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti?
Bruce Golding: Well part of our circumstance in the Caribbean is that we are exposed to the three worst natural disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanoes. In the case of Jamaica we have... we are not prone to volcanoes; we have no volcanoes there. But we are prone to earthquakes and hurricanes.
The Haitian experience has demonstrated two things: One, the need for us to adopt appropriate mitigation measures, preventative measures. One of the things that I noticed when I visited Haiti, and I was visited Haiti two days after the earthquake is the lack of any building regulations, the sense of any building codes. So that four and five story buildings were constructed without proper reinforcement and so on. In Jamaica, we have maintained pretty strict regulations concerning how buildings ought to be constructed, where they should be constructed, what are the engineering features that ought to be there. And we have offered to help Haiti to put that in place.
The second thing that we learned was the need for us to put in place disaster-management measures. Haiti has always had a capacity problem and it was quite clear from the disaster that it was beyond their ability to cope. Mind you, a disaster of that magnitude would have challenged by even the people in California. But again, we are seeking to assist Haiti because we have had a disaster management agency now for almost 30 years. So we have built up quite a store of experience and expertise in dealing with that.
You can never be fully prepared and every disaster will challenge you in one way or another. In this case it has severely challenged it and the international community has an obligation to do everything possible to assist them.
Question: For many years, Jamaica's murder rate has been among the highest in the world. What have you done to reduce crime?
Bruce Golding: Since May, we have mounted a concerted, intensive law-enforcement program that has proven to be very effective. We have, since May, reduced the murder rate by 42%, and it continues to decline with each succeeding month. But we have to do more. Crime doesn’t take place in a vacuum, it takes place in a context where there are what we call "unattached youth," which are young people who are not in school, they are out of school, they are not trained, they are not qualified, they don’t have the ability to secure a job, there are not sufficient opportunities available for them. They become ready recruits or conscripts into criminal enterprises. And therefore we have to provide hope. We have to provide opportunity. We have to provide an alternative way of life. And this involves a whole renewal program of basic skills training; micro-enterprise development. Going into these communities and mobilizing them into constructive, wholesome activities. It involves cultural activities, sports.
But importantly, we have to provide them with a future. That is going to require a lot of effort, a lot of resources. We have appealed to our international partners to work with us on this, and they have responded; commitments have not yet come in, but they have certainly indicated their anxiety to work with us on this.
This is a process, it’s not a deal. It’s not something you can do by simply passing a law. It’s not something you can do by simply voting money in the budget. It is a process that has to be worked through consistently over a number of years, but we are beginning that process now and we’re going to be measuring it as we go along. We feel that with the assistance we are getting from the multilateral agencies that we will be able to benefit from the best practices that have been applied in other countries. In the United States, for example, many of your cities have faced this problem and you have dealt with it. And we need to learn, how did you manage to do it? What were the success factors? How can we replicate those in Jamaica?
Question: What can the international community do to help address drug-related crime in the Caribbean?
Bruce Golding: Crime that we are experiencing in countries like Jamaica and other parts of Latin America must not be seen in isolation. It is part of an international network; it is connected in one way or the other. Even when criminal elements are not themselves involved in international narcotics, they are somehow connected to that network of criminal activity and I think it’s important for us to see that, first of all, it is a global problem. And therefore it’s something that we all have to work, work, work on.
Take the trafficking in drugs, for example. And you know, South America is a major source of drugs entering not just North America, but Europe. If we are to tackle that effectively, it cannot be just simply on the supply side. It cannot be just trying to intercept boats and trying to exercise surveillance on cargo going on ships and so on. We also have to tackle it on the demand side. And I don’t think sufficient effort is being paid to that.
In addition to all of that, it has to be seen as a developmental challenge. The United... the World Bank has estimated that crime robs the Jamaican economy of 4% of its GDP each year. Look at what that means. It means that if we end a year where the GDP has grown by only 1%, but for crime it would have been 5%. And therefore it is a development challenge for us. And it is something that I think requires a global partnership because it’s interconnected.
The criminal enterprises in one country are linked in one way or another to a chain of activities that involve so many other countries. We have asked the United Nations to, by a resolution, to look at certain aspects of the international criminal business, for example, the trade in small arms. Crime depends on weapons. Criminals need weapons. The ease with which people in countries like Jamaica and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean can get their hands on weapons is something that we have to tackle.
I have raised this matter with the United States. I know that there are certain constraints that would face the United States because of the Second Amendment. But I do believe that we have to apply more stringent measures to reduce the flow of arms into the hands of persons who then become criminal warlords in countries that have little capacity to deal with that sort of problem.
Ninety-seven percent of the guns that we recover—and we recover on an average, we recover 600 guns each year—97% of them are made in the United States. We can’t they came from the United States because they may have come through other countries, but they were made in the United States. And therefore we feel that some additional measures must be put in place to trace these guns. And to limit the ease with which guns can move from one hand to another and in a matter of a few weeks it can be in countries that just don’t have the capacity to respond to the threat that it poses.
Question: What can be done to reduce demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. and Europe?
Bruce Golding: Well, if you look at what appears in the media, for example. Every so often we see major drug busts; we look at what is happening in Mexico, the war that is on. So much attention is being paid on interdiction—to capture the drug before they get to the shores of the United States. I haven’t seen a similar kind of aggressiveness in terms of capturing the people who are receiving these drugs when it gets... when they get to the United States. I don’t get the impression that people who are using drugs and who are peddling drugs feel as intimidated as those who are seeking to export the drugs.
I think that there are three dimensions to the problem. There is the supply side; that has to be pressured. There is the transit phase; its movement from its location, its source, to its ultimate market. That has to be prosecuted vigilantly. And there is the demand side, those who are ordering the drugs, those who are receiving it. And I believe we need to put equal emphasis and equal vigilance, equal aggressiveness on all of those phases of the drug trade.
Question: Has President Obama been better for Jamaica than President Bush was?
Bruce Golding: I think in terms of President Obama, he came in at a time when the United States was faced with so many challenges; the global crisis. And then he inherited so many external challenges, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. I don’t think that... we would love to see more attention paid to the Caribbean, but I don’t hold that against him because he has to order his priorities.
When we did meet with him at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad a year ago, we urged on him the need to increase the focus on the Caribbean. He sent us a clear signal to us at that time that the United States would be adopting a different policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, a more enlightened policy, a more engaging policy, and we welcome that. We in the Caribbean, of course, seek some special attention because of our particular vulnerabilities. We are small, we are open, we are subject to so many external shots. And he did give a commitment that he would meet with us as heads of government in the Caribbean. That meeting has not yet taken place. We’re going to be in touch with the State Department to see how quickly we can arrange for that meeting. We’d love if he would visit us in the Caribbean, but we are quite prepared to meet with him here in Washington... here in the United States. And we are hopeful. We believe that he has an understanding of our particular circumstances and our needs and we believe that he will be empathetic. But we understand that we have to find our place on his order of priorities.
Question: What outstanding issues with the U.S. have been particularly troublesome?
Bruce Golding: We do have an issue that we are working together to resolve and that has to do with the procedures that are used in extraditing Jamaicans. We had an issue, as you know, with Christopher Coke. The perception was, was... had developed and has been concretized in the minds of some people that this was some clever attempt on the part of Jamaican government to prevent the extradition. Absolutely not. We simply insist that the extradition must proceed in the manner that is prescribed by both the extradition treaty we have with the United States and the laws of Jamaica to which that extradition treaty has to be subservient.
Now, the application that was made in the case of Coke represented a violation of Jamaican law in terms of the evidence that was used and how that evidence was gathered. Not that the evidence ought not have been used, but that it required the approval of a judge of our Supreme Court—and that process was ignored. And we have to be very careful that we don’t allow these precedents to be set and to go unnoticed because then they become the norm, and then they undermine the value of Jamaican law. We raised that matter with the United States; the response was not as understanding as we would have wanted.
My own party, very concerned that the implication that this would have to a continuing dispute with the United States, sought to engage a legal firm in the United States to see to what extent they could assist in getting a dialogue going at a higher level. That went awry. That went completely off track and things were done which ought not to have been done. I’ve had to take responsibility for that. But Coke was eventually extradited. He is on trial here. We are working with the United States to see how we can fix what went wrong to ensure that in future instances we don’t have that problem. And I’m hopeful that in the discussions that are taking place, both at the level of the Department of State and the Department of Justice... I hope that we will be able to resolve those issues.
Question: Is there more work to be done to improve relations between the U.S. and Jamaica?
Bruce Golding: There’s always further work to do because there are always so many issues that arise from time to time. I think it’s unfortunate that Jamaica has been without a U.S. ambassador since the beginning of last year. That is to be corrected shortly and an ambassador has been chosen. We are anxious to welcome her to Jamaica and we believe that her presence will provide a basis for improving the conversation on so many issues; issues that have to do with the region, and matters that are of common concern to the United States and Jamaica. But particularly matters having to do with Jamaica itself, its own challenges, its own development deficit, the kind of partnership with the United States that we have been accustomed to in the past.
Question: What qualities make a great leader?
Bruce Golding: I think the most important quality that makes a great leader is his or her willingness to stand up for something if you feel it is right, even when everybody is maybe saying that it is wrong. The other important thing about leadership: you can listen to what people are saying, you can weight very carefully the criticisms that are made of you, and decide that what you are going to do is to jump out in front and say what the people are saying louder than anybody else. And that is maybe one type of leadership.
My own view is that, that is simply following from in front. I believe leaders must be prepared to look at their people and say, "Now look, you put me here to lead, this is the direction in which I think we ought to go and this is the direction in which I proceed to take you." At that point, people have to determine whether or not they are prepared to subscribe to that or they are prepared to follow that leadership or whether they are prepared to seek a new leader who may do what they want, even if what they want is not necessarily what ought to be done.
You find yourself in a position where you come out of a democratic process, but sometimes you have to say, “No, this is the leadership that I offer.” There is another dimension of that. We are accustomed in many countries in the Caribbean... we are accustomed to messianic leaders, persons who are larger than life and persons who cause people to feel that: "Put all your troubles in my hands and I will take care of them."
I’ve never sought to offer that type of leadership. I’ve said to the people of Jamaica" "We have a journey we have to make, it’s a tough journey. It’s a long journey, and it’s a journey in which some of us perhaps will not make it. But if you are prepared to walk that journey, if you are prepared to bear that heat and to face all the challenges and the sacrifices that have to be made, I am prepared to go in front of you to lead the way." What I can’t do is to take you all on my back one-by-one to the other side of the shore then. That kind of leadership doesn’t exist in humanity. That kind of leadership only exists in the Almighty.
Question: What has been the most difficult part of the job?
Bruce Golding: The most difficult part of the job is the same two people who elected you with a great deal of expectation; who elected you on the basis that what existed before was not good enough and therefore who expected that you would deliver quickly. To explain to those people that, "Look, not only is it a hard road that we are going to have to hoe, but developments that we have not foreseen have made it even more difficult to deliver within the sort of timeframe that you would want." And therefore, you ask for patience, you ask for understand, you ask people to recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight.
I mean, we had to introduce taxes, new taxes on the Jamaican people in the middle of the worst global recession that the world has seen in more than 70 years—at a time when other countries were reducing taxes as a means of easing the pressure of that recession. That’s not something that’s easy for people to understand. And to communicate that; to communicate the necessity for that has been the greatest challenge that I’ve had to face.
Question: Which leaders have influenced you in the way you lead?
Bruce Golding: I have sort of drawn on the leadership style of several people. I mean several great leaders that I have watched, some of them quite historic. Winston Churchill is one who I have studied at great length. I’ve been impressed with the dexterity of people like Bill Clinton, his ability to sort of move through the political forces that exist. I’ve been very inspired by the promise that Barack Obama brought to America and indeed to the world. I listened with great intent to his statement at the United Nations a few days ago and I was tremendously impressed—not only with his understanding of these issues and his understanding of the role that the United States has to play, but his unwillingness to either up the tempo and create further international tension while at the same time being very strong and very firm in terms of what America wanted to see and do on the international scene.
So there is no one leader that has sort of patterned... None of us is perfect. I’ve tried to observe and inculcate elements of leadership from many of them.
Question: Why are homosexual acts illegal in Jamaica?
Bruce Golding: It is rooted in a number of things. Firstly, we are a predominately a Christian country and a fervently Christian country. It may not be reflected entirely in terms of how we live sometimes, but we are passionately committed to certain basic Christian principles, which [...] homosexuality. But we have become quite tolerant. We are tolerant provided that homosexual lifestyle does not invade our space. And what do I mean by that? Persons who wish, because of their own inclination, to live in a homosexual relationship, do so in Jamaica and there are many such persons in Jamaica. The society in Jamaica in general do not want to be... do not want it to be flaunted. They don’t want it to be sort of thrown into the face, because there are some real fears. There are some real fears. The basic unit of a society is a family, and there is a passionate concern in Jamaica about protecting the integrity of the family. And it is felt that encouragement or recognition of the appropriateness of the homosexual lifestyle is going to undermine the effectiveness of that family unit and, in that process, undermine the basic fabric of a society.
But I think much of what has been carried in the international media in terms of homophobia in Jamaica is grossly exaggerated. Homosexuals in Jamaica, they live and they enjoy their relationship. They are intermingled with heterosexuals, they have normal relations with heterosexuals, but they do have their private relationships. And so long is that is so, I don’t believe that the people in Jamaica are going to be particularly perturbed.
What is illegal in Jamaica is buggery, which is in fact making homosexual acts illegal. There have been very, very few prosecutions; very, very few. And in most instances, there are prosecutions because there is a complaint by a victim. So that it’s not the flashpoint issue that many people in the international media claim that it is.
Recorded on September 25, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
A conversation with the Prime Minister of Jamaica.
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