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Where's Hill's influence on JLP policy?

Published:Sunday | November 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

We are surprised that four months into its assignment, Aubyn Hill's task force has offered no progress report on the efforts to fashion an economic strategy for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), or that we can perceive no impact of its work on either the thinking or the policy pronouncements of the leadership of the Opposition.

If we are to be frank, on economic matters, especially regarding Jamaica's economic reform project, the JLP lacks coherence. Its chief finance spokesman, Audley Shaw, seemingly feeling hard done by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and overcome with peeve, appears to be more concerned with tilting at windmills rather than seriously addressing the fundamental issues.

Andrew Holness, the party's boss, has, thus far, failed to step into that vacuum to provide the appropriate leadership. He perhaps believes that with the Government having lost support because of its fiscal austerity, being fuzzy on economics is the easier path to victory in the next election. On that score, Mr Holness is probably right. He would, however, likely find that it is not the best platform from which to govern.

The basis of this conundrum lies in Jamaica's more than four decades of anaemic growth, unsustainable borrowing and generally poor management of its economy that resulted in a debt of around 150 per cent of GDP. In 2010, a JLP Government, with Mr Shaw as its finance minister, was forced to enter an economic bailout agreement with the IMF.

The programme soon faltered. The Government couldn't muster the political will and broad support to push through measures demanded by the IMF and which were required from global money markets and multilateral financial institutions to reopen to Jamaica.

REMARKABLECOURAGE

Over the past two and a half years, the Simpson Miller administration and its finance minister, Peter Phillips, have demonstrated remarkable courage in implementing tough reform policies, including ensuring a primary surplus of 7.5 per cent of GDP. The Government has won praise for its efforts from the Fund and the international community.

There is much more to be done, but there are signs of positive outcomes: the debt is trending downwards, unemployment has fallen marginally, and growth has returned to the economy, though it is not sufficiently robust to strongly underpin a surge of confidence in the future by the majority of Jamaicans. Indeed, recent opinion polls show a decline in support for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her Government.

It is, in part, to develop strategies to accelerate growth that Mr Holness established the Hill task force. But it has operated against the backdrop of constant sniping at the IMF programme by Mr Shaw, including his claims that the Fund has made performance criteria "easy" for the current administration, and personal swipes against Fund officials who acknowledge Jamaica's gains. At the same time, the JLP, Mr Holness included, has been against a critical plank of the programme: exchange-rate adjustment. They have proposed a fixed exchange rate. It is the economic issue on which the JLP has, up to now, pronounced with clarity.

It is urgent, in the context of Mr Hill's mandate, for the party to outline its updated - if that is the case - economic policy, including Jamaica's expected relationship with the IMF under a future JLP government, what would be Mr Shaw's role in that administration, and what support he would have if he were the finance minister.