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Editorial: JLP’s leadership crisis

Published:Monday | June 8, 2015 | 6:00 AM

THE JAMAICA Labour Party (JLP), we can confirm, continues to face a crisis of leadership. This is reflected in the party's inability, or worse, unwillingness, to articulate clear, coherent policy options, or sensibly critique and debate those being pursued by the Government.

The latest manifestation of the party's laziness, if not intellectual malaise, was last week's statement by its general secretary, Horace Chang, on the ongoing wage negotiations between public-sector workers and their employer, the Government. It was distinguished by its triteness, which, unfortunately, is too often the case with declarations by shadow ministers.

His analysis of Jamaica's fiscal circumstances and how the Government might substantially increase its five per cent pay offer to workers essentially boiled down to this statement: "The (governing) PNP (People's National Party) is responsible for the state Jamaica is in today. They are the ones who devalued the dollar and increased the cost of living. Jamaicans are fast realising who the problem in Jamaica is today. They can pay the workers if they cut waste and corruption ... (and) send home some of their activist consultants."

Glib, but callow.

Dr Chang, we believe, deserves the benefit of the backdrop against which these wage negotiations are taking place and the difficulty of accommodating demands for hikes, ranging from between 30 per cent and 100 per cent. For more than 40 years, Jamaican governments eschewed fiscal discipline and the politically tough, but economically appropriate, decisions. The upshot: a public debt that was heading towards 140 per cent of GDP, little private investment in the real economy and anaemic growth.

Inevitably, bad policies caught up with us. Few would lend to Jamaica at rates the Government could afford. The administration of which Mr Chang was a member in 2010 entered into an economic-support agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that quickly ran aground because of the Government's unwillingness or inability to make some of the required hard choices.

The new administration has been doing much better since 2012, including in meeting the IMF's benchmark primary balance of 7.5 per cent of GDP, which has placed the debt on a downward trajectory. An overvalued Jamaican dollar has been adjusting. The current account deficit has declined from above 12 per cent to single digit; inflation has moderated, coming close to that of major trading partners; the country's global competitiveness indices have improved.

But the Government was, in part, able to keep a lid on the fiscal accounts by maintaining a wage freeze, when the more sustainable, but politically far more difficult option would be to eliminate around 15,000 public-sector jobs. Indeed, Audley Shaw, the shadow finance minister, has now agreed that job cuts, done forensically, are advisable.

But such policy lucidity, or critique of substance, is a rarity of the JLP under Andrew Holness' leadership. When not engaged in internal squabbles, his shadow ministers often play to the lowest common denominator and, as Dr Chang did, offer wind and fluff.

For instance, half a year ago, Mr Holness established a task force on the economy, the result of whose work has not been made public, and, judging from the party's public pronouncements, can hardly have informed the JLP's policies. Would a JLP government, for instance, dismantle policies being implemented under the direction from the IMF?