Wed | Aug 23, 2017

PNP task forces good idea

Published:Monday | March 28, 2016 | 3:00 AM

What is probably the most significant element of what Portia Simpson Miller has called the Opposition's Council of Spokespersons is precisely what has received the least attention. The critique has focused primarily on the humungous size of the team - 22 front benchers and nine deputy spokesmen - and on those personalities who the analysts believe are badly slotted or shouldn't be in at all.

We agree that some of this group should have been pensioned off, but expect that the opposition leader will periodically shuffle the team.

Mrs Simpson Miller explained that she configured the team not to shadow the Cabinet precisely, but to ensure that all areas of government were covered as well as "to provide experience to our younger parliamentarians". That is not an unreasonable idea when portfolio spokespersons, who are not full-time politicians, have the distraction of jobs and earning a living. In such circumstances, the quality of their policy interventions often suffer - as is too often the case with the party in opposition.

Herein lies what we believe to be significant.

According to Mrs Simpson Miller, each spokesperson was mandated to establish a task force in his or her subject area. The task force is be chaired by someone who is not a legislator and its job will be to help the spokesperson in his or her work.

We endorse this idea, with its echoes of the approach of Mrs Simpson Miller's People's National Party (PNP) under Michael Manley after he boycotted the general election of 1983, and when he was out of office for another six years.

Mr Manley established several task forces to work on different sectors of the economy and develop policies and a programme of work to be implemented when it was next in government. The outcomes of these groups helped nudge the PNP away from its earlier strong socialist orientation towards an embrace of the market and the aggressive liberalisation of the economy not long after it returned to government in 1989.

 

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Critically, too, the efforts of those task forces helped the PNP to, during that period, mount a far more cerebral and quantitative critique of government policy, rather than the off-the-top-of-the-head bleats and substanceless, gut-feel declarations and appeals that tend to be the offering of shadow ministers.

In that regard, we would expect that the PNP task forces would include academics and people with experience and expertise in the areas they cover and that not all of them will necessarily be party supporters, or activists. Indeed, the party should be sufficiently aware of its intentions to produce the best possible policies in the interest of Jamaicans that it is willing to invite independent thinkers to contribute to the discourse of the groups. In other words, proposed policies and criticism of government actions should, before public pronouncements, be subject to rigorous analyses.

We suspect that had that been the case with regard to the current Government's proposal for changing the personal income-tax threshold for some workers, they would have avoided many of the anomalies, inequities and the cost issues that are likely to plague its implementation if it is persisted with.