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Waiting for the JLP's economic policy

Published:Monday | November 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Waiting for the JLP's economic policy

It is nearly three years since the Simpson Miller administration's return to office and, therefore, just about two years before a general election is constitutionally due.

It is also a year since Andrew Holness defeated Audley Shaw's challenge for the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party and the leadership of the parliamentary opposition. It's half a year since Mr Holness established a task force, headed by banker Aubyn Hill, to advise his party on economic policy and strategy.

No issue in Jamaica is subject to so much and such intense debate as the state of the island's economy, especially in the context of the reforms being implemented under the government's agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and whether the administration will sustain the fiscal discipline required by the programme, given the

imminence of an election.

In the circumstance, we are surprised by the failure of the Opposition, particularly its leader, Mr Holness, and Mr Shaw, the shadow finance minister, to seriously reference Mr Hill's work and to outline a strategy for the management of the economy should the JLP return to office.

It, astonishingly, didn't happen a week ago at the JLP's annual conference at which Mr Shaw belittled the government's management of the economy, ridiculed its meeting of IMF's tough performance targets and branded Richard Byles "a mouthpiece" of the governing People's National Party, for reporting, in his capacity as a chairman of the public/private-sector oversight committee, on these economic outcomes. On the face of it, Mr Shaw, under who, as finance minister, a previous IMF programme collapsed, seemingly doesn't like this one.

At the same time, Mr Holness highlighted his "difference" with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, as a man who is willing to tell Jamaicans the truth and pay the political

consequences, if necessary; like in the last election, when, having had a short stint as PM, he warned of "bitter medicine" to come if the JLP retained the government.

It remains unclear whether under the JLP Jamaica would retain the tight fiscal policy and the debt-reduction strategy demanded by the Fund, and if Mr Holness and Mr Shaw agree on the way forward and are in sync on Mr Hill's recommendations, whatever those are.

Chatter from the pork barrel

Who remembers Arnaldo Brown? That's the young man whose first major public declaration after his election to Parliament three years ago was of drooling support for the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), the barrel from which MPs get to dispense slivers of pork and dollops of rind to their constituents. Mr Brown wished for more.

That's the same Arnaldo Brown who was made a junior minister for foreign affairs, where he ran up a $1-million-plus bill for his mobile phone, for which taxpayers are obliged to pay and over which he was initially contrite, exciting a willingness among people, even when not entirely convinced, to entertain explanations of the exigencies of the job. That Mr Brown appears to be having, or has had, second thoughts.

He now characterises legitimate questions about the execution of foreign policy as "chatter" and seems intent on claiming credit for Justice Patrick Robinson's election to the International Court of Justice as the results of the ministry's lobbying - presumably via his expensively billed mobile phone.

If Mr Brown and others in the Government had communications and policy advisers who were as skilled as their fitness instructors so obviously are, maybe they wouldn't stick their feet in their mouths so often.