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Byles confident Duncan will deliver as EPOC co-chair

Published:Wednesday | December 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
Richard Byles (right), outgoing co-chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), formally hands over to Keith Duncan, the new co-chairman, at a press briefing at Sagicor Life, New Kingston, on Tuesday, December 13.

With two months left in the first review period under the standby agreement between Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) said it is cautiously optimistic that the country is on track to meet the requisite targets.

The primary surplus for the fiscal year to October was $56.2 billion, comfortably above the budget of $37.8 billion and ahead of the December 2016 target of $54 billion, newly installed co-chairman of EPOC Keith Duncan said.

Tax revenues were at $245.9 billion compared to a budget of $241.2 billion, and based on projections should see the indicative target of $300 billion being realised by the end of the review period, end December 2016, he said.

Total expenditure as at October was $293.9 billion against a target of $301.9 billion. The shortfall is driven by the capital expenditure being behind budget by $$7.2 billion at $19.9 billion year to date against a target of $26.9 billion.

The non-borrowed net international reserves, a new quantitative performance criterion under the standby arrangement, was at US$1.422 billion against the adjusted December target of US$1.40 billion, according to the first communique Duncan issued on behalf of the non-public sector member of EPOC during a press briefing at Sagicor Life, New Kingston, yesterday.

 

Inflation

 

Centre inflation was at 1.8 per cent, below the target rate of 5.5 per cent but within the band agreed with the IMF under the standby arrangement.

Former co-chairman of EPOC, Richard Byles, who handed over the position to Duncan during the press briefing, said he has "100 per cent confidence" in the JMMB Group Chief Executive Officer's "commitment to Jamaica, his sincerity and his commitment to making sure that we follow the economic programme that we have signed off on with the IMF".

He said Duncan has been a part of EPOC since its inception in 2013 and believes that he will "certainly for the next couple of years as we work through this new IMF programme, serve as co-chair very well".

Duncan effectively took over as co-chair at the last EPOC meeting and the first under the standby agreement last Friday, December 9.

Byles will continue to be a standing member of the committee.

Duncan lauded Byles' leadership "in taking EPOC out of the ground and building it into an institution in Jamaica such that Jamaicans from all walks of life look forward" to hearing him say that "we are on track", and also to share any concerns that he may have, reflecting EPOC's deliberations.

He said Byles has been "very forthright, very open, very transparent with the public, has made it a point of duty to engage, and this has led to a level of accountability in terms of holding stakeholders to account - the government, the Bank of Jamaica, but in a very collaborative way."

 

Stellar leadership

 

He continued: "Very stellar leadership, courageous leadership and to move EPOC from just a thought as an oversight committee to being such an important public institution is a real, real achievement," Duncan said.

The JMMB executive said EPOC proved to be one of the important keys to the success of the recently concluded extended fund facility undertaken largely by the previous government, and now stands as an effective model and best practice for oversight of such programmes.

He noted that the government has created two additional independent oversight bodies, the Economic Growth Council (EGC) and the Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee (P-TOC) to focus on economic growth and public- sector transformation, respectively.

Duncan said reporting will be coordinated to ensure that combined, "we provide an objective, accurate, comprehensive and balanced report on Jamaica's macroeconomic performance".

He said that while EPOC's governance and reporting will be undertaken on a quarterly basis instead of monthly, reporting will continue to be monthly with a more comprehensive one at the end of each quarter.

"This will be in line with the reporting of the other two oversight committees, the EGC and P-TOC," he said.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com