The Multinational Monitor


N E W S   M O N I T O R


Feeling "the pain of structural adjustment"

by Fitzroy Nation

Henry McIntosh returned home near dusk, parked his old bicycle by the side of the house, sat down gratefully on the back steps and started talking about his worries.

"Every day they raise prices," said the 47-year-old farmworker. "I don't know what people are going to do."

The tiny-district of Delveland, near Jamaica's western tip and perched on a hill overlooking hundreds of acres of prime sugar cane land, appears far removed from the bustling capital 140 miles away. But distance from Kingston, home of the Caribbean nation's decision-makers, has not eased the impact of the series of painful measures introduced over the past year to satisfy dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In Delveland and other areas of the island, the mood is, dark. "People here might soon be dead for hunger the way things are going," Mclntosh said. "It's not only that the prices are too high, but you can't get anything to buy in the shops."

Jamaica is undergoing what the administration of Prime Minister Edward Seaga calls "the pain of structural adjustment." Charting a strident free-enterprise course, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party has opened up the economy to foreign imports and has placed heavy reliance on the private sector to restore economic vibrancy by expanding exports. But it has encountered serious difficulties with the IMF, which agreed in April 1981 to support this program by providing a $650 million loan over three years.

Jamaica's failure to satisfy performance criteria resulted in suspension of that extended fund facility scheme in early 1983. Late last year, amid differences about the outcome of the September quarterly tests, the program was abruptly abandoned. It has since been replaced by a one-year arrangement, involving $143 million in new credits.

The administration calls the harsh measures attached to the agreement-reduced public expenditure, increased taxes, devaluation of the national currency, and the like -- neces-sary "pain" before the "gain" that will result if the economic adjustment program is successful. As part of the new IMF agreement over 6.000 jobs will be chopped from the public sector as the government attempts to half the budget deficit.

Henry McIntosh's main concern is putting food on the table.

"Nothing is cheap," he said. "Before you could make ends meet by buying fish or tinned meats to eat with yam, rice or other foods. But now you can't get rice, and you can't afford meat or fish."

Portia Simpson, spokesperson on consumer affairs for the opposition People's National Party, said recently that food prices were "escalating at an alarming rate." Speaking at a special PNP forum in Kingston, Simpson noted that rice and flour were in short supply. "Bad enough that these are costly, but on top of that they cannot be found. Ground provisions-yams, bananas-are gone sky high."

According to Simpson, the government has removed subsidies from many of the high protein foods Jamaicans depend on. "The problem for the consumers is not only about high prices. Many of these items are in short supply. Today you see them. Tomorrow they have disappeared."

Government officials admit that the problem is that the country just does not have enough money to buy food from abroad. Servicing Jamaica's approximately $3 billion foreign debt eats up 28 percent of the island's total export earnings.

In July, after a meeting with food distributors, Prime Minister Seaga announced that the basic food supply situation should begin returning to normal by August. That offered little consolation to the people of Delveland and other deep rural areas.

Anthony Johnson, the junior minister of agriculture, has pointed to the shortage of imported food items as "a tremendous opportunity for local farmers to produce food and livestock for local consumption."

But Johnson said prices of local foodstuffs were too high. "What is happening is that the price of local foods has made a jump. Although rice is short, if the housewife feels that she is being ripped off then she will definitely resist buying locallygrown foodstuffs," said Johnson.

Regardless of prices and other factors, it appears that appeals for a change in taste are falling on deaf ears. In Grange Hill, the large town closest to Delveland, people had to stand in line for several hours to get bread which is in short supply because of insufficient supplies of flour. There was tension in the supermarket and in the shops as some customers accused proprietors of hoarding the basic foods.

For 15 years, McIntosh made the annual trek to farms in the southern U.S. to pick fruit and cut cane. But last year the doctors said he wasn't medically fit because of high blood pressure, and he doesn't think he will qualify for the farm work program ever again.

A peculiar thing struck him when he visited the ministry of labor in Kingston the other day: the number of late model cars on the streets of the capital. "How come we can't buy rice and yet we have, so many cars?" he asked.

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