Monday, April 8, 2013

Jamaica: Money madness - sliding dollar ... J$100 to US$1

Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer

With the exchange rate expected to reach the dreaded J$100 to US$1 mark this week, consumers who have over the past few years done their fair share of belt tightening will be forced to buckle up even further and continue to hold strain.

Those consumers' dilemma results from the continued dwindling effect the sliding dollar is having on their ability to purchase goods and services.

Already the mumbling at cashier counters in supermarkets in the Corporate Area have become more pronounced.

Upset and outraged over the amount of money they have had to fork out for basic necessities, even religious zealots who scope out supermarkets to spread the 'good news' have been changing the tone of their message in keeping with the times.

"Jesus warned of condition like this. That was the reason why He said we should pray for our daily bread. It was only under the rule of (King) Solomon that everybody was satisfied," one Jehovah's Witness shared with a consumer outside one supermarket The Gleaner visited in the Corporate Area recently.

Verbal attacks directed at politicians for their management of the economy over successive decades were common on the lips of several persons who emerged from the supermarket in the early afternoon.

With plastic bags in hand, one shopper, who asked not to be named, was obviously not in a good mood after realising that she spent more than she bargained for.

"Three thousand-odd dollars and mi nuh get half a weh mi want yet," the Seaview Gardens resident lamented. "Mi did waan three sardines and a only one mi could afford. You nuh see seh the country mash up?"

The elderly woman reflected on a time when she was able to take J$40 to any supermarket and take home "one box a grocery with chicken and everything".

Those days, she recalled, were in the 1980s and during that period trading of the Jamaican currency did not escalate beyond the J$6.50 to US$1 mark, according to information gleaned from the Bank of Jamaica website which documents the history of the exchange rate.

"That time mi used to do domestic work in Havendale (St Andrew) and every weekend mi would buy grocery fi carry go give mi children dem down di country (Clarendon)," she said.

She recounted how in 1988 she bought a "five-draw, good-size dresser" for J$1,000. The record shows that year the dollar trade highest at J$5.54 to US$1.

Additionally, in 1991, with just J$1,500, the Seaview Gardens resident purchased a brand new divan bed which she possesses to this day. That year trading of the currency started showing signs that there was trouble on the horizon, with the dollar ending the year at J$21.57 to US$1.

Twenty-two years later, she would have to take no less than $18,100 to a furniture store to purchase a similar bed.

"You caan go nowhere with that kind of money now. The amount of things this J$3,500 weh mi just spend could give mi. Mi would have to call taxi and truck fi remove them," she said.

"See it deh, all now no meat kind, no flour, no sugar not in mi bag."

Rose Plummer, who lives alone, said shopping for items once every week has worked out better for her.

According to Plummer, all Jamaicans will have to learn to "cuff and curve" in this time whether they like it or not.

"I can remember paying J$100 for bread, now it's J$250," she said.

"What is going on in the country is sin why all these things happening. We, as a nation, have to go back to God. Portia Simpson cannot solve this problem; this bigger than her. Andrew Holness cannot solve our problem. The dollar flowing like it's at Caymanas Park or stadium and is only Jesus can help us. We have to turn back to Jesus," Plummer charged.

For J$1,597, with discount included, 45-year-old Samuel Wilson was able to stock up on a few snacks which he expected to be enough for his daughter who attends basic school.

"Before the end of the week, I have to come back. Ten years ago, mi could a carry home more than a trolley of grocery with di said amount of money but right now things gone way out of proportion," he said.

"Right now, when mi a buy snack for my daughter, it's no less than J$2,000. It's because mi have a discount card why I get it for this price. It's just by the mercies of God mi survive but it could be worse. God is taking care of me and my family."

April 08, 2013

Jamaica Gleaner