Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Institutionalise EPOC, says Byles

Published:Wednesday | July 20, 2016 | 7:25 AMMcPherse Thompson
EPOC co-chair Richard Byles

Jamaica needs institutionalise the Economic Programmed Oversight Committee (EPOC) to continue scrutinising the Government’s economic and financial policies beyond the current four-year programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which comes to an end in December this year.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Audley Shaw said the Jamaican Government has started discussions with the IMF on the format of a staff-monitored programme to replace the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) when it ends.

However, a staff-monitored programme does not carry the sanctions attached to the EFF.

Notwithstanding that, EPOC Co-chairman Richard Byles believes that institutionalisation of the committee may serve as a reinforcement of an IMF staff-monitored programme.

“I feel quite comfortable in saying publicly that we do need to institutionalise it, and by that I don’t mean that I and the current members continue,” Byles told a press briefing at Sagicor Group Jamaica in New Kingston last week.

“But I do mean that the institution of oversighting by non-government people who have no skin in the game, but who can be very objective that that should continue. And I will certainly lobby for it,” he added.

EPOC was formed in 2013 after the then government inked the four-year agreement with the IMF.

It consists of persons from the private sector, the public sector and civil society, who are mandated to receive and review information from the Government on the progress of implementation of the memorandum of economic and financial policies over the life of the IMF’s EFF.

EPOC also assists in ensuring that the agreed targets are achieved and advise the public through the media of any concerns or developments.

Byles said the concept is to have a “set of Jamaicans look at what is happening, a set of non-public sector people look objectively at the data and opine on it, just like the IMF does but more explicitly.”

He noted that “even the programme we are in today, if the Government didn’t want to be as transparent as it is – meaning allowing EPOC to do what it does, give us access to data, give us access to the technicians – if they didn’t want the IMF to make a public statement when they do the staff reviews it wouldn’t happen.”

He added that “it is very much the willingness of the government to be transparent because they knew that transparency would engender confidence, and confidence is at the base of growth and investment”.

Cognisant of the relative absence of direct sanctions under a staffmonitored programme, the EPOC co-chairman said “whether it is a programme that we are in or it is a staff-monitored programme it really turns on the issue of how committed is the Government and, I would say, how determined is the Jamaican public to make sure there is transparency.”

Under the EFF, which is a lending arrangement unlike the staff-monitored programme, the IMF can withhold funds if a country fails to meet specific targets, usually on a quarterly basis.

However, according to Byles, “even without that, I think so long as there is transparency, so long as civil society demands it and there’s a kind of EPOC and the IMF is allowed to speak freely, I think we will have the sanction that we need”.

As for investors, he said that “when they see that there is a programme of economic reform and development that is sanctioned by the IMF and monitored by the IMF and the reports coming out are positive, of course that engenders confidence.”