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Editorial & Column


There’s Optimism In The Air; Troublesome Trend


November 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

There’s optimism in the air

After so many false alarms during the past three years that our depressed economy was just about to turn the corner for the better, the recovery appears finally to be under way.

That’s certainly the picture we get from third-quarter figures for the U.S. mainland economy and the consensus of most stateside economists for the all-important fourth quarter.

Locally, the figures and projections that we do have are encouraging indeed. Unemployment, while still higher than in the ’90s, has started to ease down somewhat.

The number of construction permits issued, a leading indicator, is way up. In fact, the number and value of public construction permits issued between January and August of 2003 are up 90% and 60%, respectively, compared with the prior year.

As anticipated by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, that indicates that come election year in 2004, we’re going to have public construction projects coming out of our ears. It’s too bad that the projected investment in public construction has been held up for the election year. Our economy would have been better off if it had been spread out over the past two years.

Other indicators, like retail sales, auto sales, exports, and hotel room-nights, all show moderate improvement over last year. In sum, our economy appears to be strengthening.

Against this backdrop we add the very encouraging prediction for a stronger holiday retail season. As explained in our front-page story today, forecasts call for growth between 5% and 8% over 2002. In the best-case scenario, December retail sales could reach $1.7 billion this year. Not bad for an economy just shaking off the doldrums.

In the end, whether the forecasts turn into reality will depend on the level of consumer confidence. And as we often remind our readers, the business sector has an important role in building up that confidence. Let’s all do our part.

Troublesome trend

By all accounts, the recent primary elections were a resounding success. One of the parties, the New Progressive Party, chose its gubernatorial candidate in primary balloting, a first in the island’s history. Its voters went in droves, about 600,000 strong, to participate—a historical record.

Although it had fewer primary races to be decided, the Popular Democratic Party also had a respectable turnout. Both major parties presented a slate of options that included incumbents and newcomers in good numbers, and they let their voters decide. (The Puerto Rican Independence Party, being the elite, private, antidemocratic club that it is, of course doesn’t hold primaries. It chooses its candidates the old-fashioned way: by imposing them from the top.)

Organizers clearly underestimated the massive turnout, so there were islandwide reports of long lines, waits for additional balloting material to arrive, and other inconveniences that prompted many to leave without voting. Certainly, these are things that could and should be corrected in future elections. But there was nothing to call into question the validity of the elections, particularly given the wide margins obtained by winners in most races.

What was troubling was the spectacle of the electoral commissioner of one of the major parties making spurious allegations of irregularities in the process, strictly out of a petty political tug-of-war with his colleague from the opposing party answering in kind. It was much ado about nothing. But these minor mishaps gave some irresponsible commentators and some reporters with a well-developed taste for negative news occasion to call into question the validity of the elections, which is absolutely ludicrous.

Petty political squabbling doesn’t belong in the State Elections Commission. The presidents of the two major parties and the SEC president would do well to rein in the commissioners and remind them that the SEC and, indeed, the island’s electoral system is sacred and should be above the political fray.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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