Fri | Sep 22, 2017

EPOC ending on a positive note

Published:Friday | November 11, 2016 | 11:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
Richard Byles, co-chair of EPOC.

The life of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), the group charged with monitoring Jamaica's four-year economic support programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will shortly come to an end with the conclusion of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

That agreement will be replaced once the IMF executive board approves a new standby agreement for Jamaica - a decision the co-chairman of EPOC, Richard Byles, said was imminent.

"... And I guess you could say the work of EPOC is therefore complete," Byles said at his latest press conference on Thursday, where he released the 42nd communique of the non-public sector members of EPOC.

The Jamaican Government has indicated it is committed to continued monitoring of fiscal performance, he added, likely through a different body.

"So I expect that very shortly after the new standby agreement is signed and announced, that they will also announce the structure of that and the function of it and its objectives," Byles said.

Asked if there was anything in EPOC's terms of reference on which it had not delivered, Byles indicated the committee had done its job of monitoring the EFF since its inception in May 2013.

"EPOC simply watched," he said.

Using the analogy of a football game, he said the Government and others were the players, and members of EPOC were the spectators who wrote a report saying what they saw, whether participants played by the rules and how they performed.

"That was our entire terms of reference - to make sure that the Government met the IMF programme objectives and to say to the public what was happening so that there was transparency and it would result in confidence," said the EPOC co-chair.

Byles said he did not believe there would be any difficulty determining that Jamaica has successfully completed the 14th quarterly test - although it was unclear whether theere would be one - given that Jamaica has met all the quantitative performance criteria.

"Once the EFF is done, the life of EPOC as we know it comes to a close, but I'm happy that it will come to a close with a record 14 quarterly tests passed," he said.

Byles reported that Jamaica produced a primary surplus of $53.6 billion for the first six months of fiscal year 2016-17, compared to a target of $29 billion.

The net international reserves (NIR) stood at US$2.47 billion at the end of September, ahead of the IMF target of US$1.86 million.

Revenue and grants totalled $235.3 billion for the review period, compared to a budget of $222.4 billion. Tax collections of $217 billion continue to outperform budget, with all the tax categories exceeding their target, except travel tax which underperformed by just under $1 billion.

General Consumption Tax accounts for about 34 per cent of total taxes, Pay-As-You-Earn about 16 per cent, sales consumption tax 15 per cent, and customs duty about eight per cent, together accounting for about 75 per cent of total tax intake.

Expenditure of about $253 billion was $6.4 billion below the approximately $260-billion budget. Savings on the expenditure side and the overperformance in tax collection resulted in the primary balance that is more than $20 billion ahead of target.

"The strong primary balance and the NIR continue to outperform targets for what would represent the 14th quarterly review by the IMF of the Extended Fund Facility. This is an outstanding achievement for which the Government - past and present - and all Jamaicans should be justly proud," stated the communique.

Byles said the Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported inflation for September at 0.5 per cent, reflecting higher prices for food and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as increases in the cost of tuition at the beginning of the new school year.

The inflation rate year-to-date was 0.8 per cent at the end of September, annual or point-to-point inflation was 1.9 per cent, while the fiscal year-to-date rate was 2.2 per cent.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com