Jamaica leader confident of island's economic progress
| Kingston, Jamaica
Viewing 1983 as ''the critical year in our recovery,'' Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga is visibly pleased these days with his island's ''dramatic turnaround'' during his two years in office.
In the course of a lengthy, wide-ranging interview in his warm, attractive office in Jamaica House here, Mr. Seaga ticked off the areas where recovery has been taking place: tourism, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and mining.
There have been plenty of bumps along the way during the past two years, and Mr. Seaga did not minimize them - nor did he lend himself to hyperbole or unbridled optimism about the future.
In his view, Jamaica simply must make headway during 1983 toward solving the unemployment problem, or as he put it: ''come to grips with our unemployment.'' If this doesn't happen, he said, ''there goes our opportunity'' to launch a permanent recovery.
But there is optimism in much that Mr. Seaga says, as when he comments, ''The country is very definitely climbing out of its problems.'' One by one, he singled them out:
* Tourism, traditionally the island's No. 2 money earner, has recovered ''from its lowest ebb'' and been restored to relatively sound condition. A 20 percent a year growth was registered for both 1981 and '82 - and prospects are good that this will continue in '83. The number of visitors is increasing regularly.
* Construction, which had fallen off to minimal levels, has come back substantially and is reaching levels not seen in Jamaica since the '50s. A 26 percent jump in construction was registered in '82. The result is that from a ''virtually dead'' industry in 1980, new building of everything from homes to offices to highways ''is very much in a boom state.''
* Manufacturing has not been as responsive to change as the Seaga government would like, but here, too, there has been improvement. New measures to give businessmen access to dollars (to import machinery and the like) are designed to get this sector moving.
* Agriculture is at a takeoff point. ''We're just waking up to our potential, '' says the prime minister. Many crops, like sugar cane and bananas, have experienced a series of poor harvests in the past decade or so, but this trend is reversing itself. Mr. Seaga makes clear that the recovery of sugar and bananas, the expansion of the coffee industry, and the developing of new farm produce is ''a No. 1 priority.''
* Mining and particularly bauxite production, ''our most important sector,'' faces many problems that are beyond the scope of Jamaica to solve - including a worldwide drop in bauxite use during the world recession. A significant decline in revenue for Jamaica from this sector is the result. The Seaga government is working hard on barter deals and just about anything that will market Jamaican bauxite around the world.
There have been numerous other successes, in Mr. Seaga's view. Inflation, for example, is down from 20 percent in 1980 to 4 percent in '81 and 7 percent in ' 82.
He is also pleased with the return to the island of many Jamaicans who left during the troubled times of the '70s. He said he has no clear information on how many have come back - but customs reports on the number of vehicles, the amount of personal goods, and other categories suggest the number has been ''fairly substantial.''
While much of the interview was focused on such accomplishments, Mr. Seaga also looked ahead to 1983 and beyond with some relish. Moreover, he sees Jamaica as following a ''political and economic course very similar to that of the United States.''
There is no mistaking his warm attitude toward the US, the Reagan administration, and the free enterprise system.
But Mr. Seaga does not dwell too much on the past, and efforts during the interview to get him to speak out on his disagreements with former Prime Minister Michael Manley were of little avail.
Many of Jamaica's problems, in the eyes of Seaga supporters, stem from the social and economic programs carried out by Mr. Manley during the '70s. The Manley program sought to nudge Jamaica toward a socialist economy. Mr. Seaga has reversed that.
During the election campaign of 1980 that brought him to office, Mr. Seaga took sharp issue with Mr. Manley on a number of issues. He also blamed Mr. Manley for withering economic conditions on the island.
There can be no doubt that the Seaga and Manley styles and approaches, as well as their economic philosophies, are markedly different. That is patently clear in the current direction of the economy. And it is a direction that Mr. Seaga hopes will continue.