Economy Minister stresses importance of flexible approach to planning

Cuba’s economic plan should not be regarded as a straitjacket, but as indication of objectives, according to the country’s Minister of Economy and Planning, Alejandro Gil Fernández.

Speaking on the country’s flagship television discussion programme, Mesa Redonda, he said that in 2020 the economic problems facing the country as a result of the tightening of the US embargo requires an approach that is without specific directives or limits, but involving the collective agreement of workers in each enterprise.

Gil said that the new approach, which was introduced in June 2019, will require workers to discuss how to achieve more than the economic plan requires, and to do more with the resources available. Stressing the importance of finding creative solutions to maintain productive activities, he said that solutions had to be found in each workplace rather than with higher authorities. “You have to look for alternatives and potentials in each place, it’s not about looking up”, he said.

Referring to recent remarks by President Díaz-Canel, Gil said that “in the current situation, people who have sensitivity and the ability to lead, seek the solutions that are needed: (they are) not people who ask for more”.

“You have to identify what else can be done, and take risks, because the economy does not work at zero risk, especially in the business sector”, he observed. He then went on to emphasise the importance of decentralisation to increased efficiency and productivity, a process he described as involving the elimination of verticality and finding solutions at the territorial (provincial and municipal) level.

He also stressed the importance of growing and diversifying exports. This was, he said, the only genuine source of foreign exchange income as all other all other approaches involve borrowing for imports and creates debts that must be paid later. In doing so he called for an end to the mindset that involves the importation of goods rather than their manufacture locally.

Gil’s remarks were delivered against the background of the tightening of the US embargo, the probability that economic growth will only be marginal in 2019 and no more than 1% in 2020.

In the course of his remarks he noted also that exports are expected to grow 3.7% this year and new financing opportunities will be offered to some companies to allow them to retain a part of the foreign current earnings to finance their operational needs.

He also noted the need to reduce imports destined for the tourism industry and to produce domestically as much as possible for the sector. This was, he said, a national priority. He however noted that because tourism required many inputs acquired from abroad, national producers cannot expect the industry to wait while they developed product lines or be protected from imports. “Because it is an emergency, the important thing is that tourism grows, but that import costs are not increased, otherwise the net profit is negative”, he said.

Before Christmas, Gil told a meeting of the country’s National Assembly that to achieving 1% GDP growth this year as envisaged by the country’s Development Plan will require “great effort, discipline and a search for alternatives”.

Separately, Politburo member, Marino Murillo, the Head of the Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development, was quoted by Granma as having told members of the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party that the complex and worsening economic situation made it essential that obstacles to productivity and efficiency be removed. Present difficulties, he was reported to have said, should not be allowed to become a factor slowing the process of updating Cuba’s economic model.

Despite this, a continuing problem remains with encouraging Cuban enterprises, managers and workers to take initiatives out of concern for the repercussions in a system that is hugely bureaucratic, still over centralised, and tends to stifle or reject alternative ways of working. There remains an attitude that the state will find solutions.

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