Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Editorial | In praise of transparency

Published:Wednesday | November 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The Government has approximately taken on board this newspaper's suggestion that it keep in place the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) as a fiscal watchdog and establish whatever new group necessary to monitor other aspects of its standby arrangement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

So, this week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the establishment of the Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee (P-STOC), chaired by trade unionist Danny Roberts, to join EPOC, as well as his Economic Growth Council (EGC), led by banker Michael Lee-Chin.

There is sound logic behind this approach, despite the arguments of those who had advocated the disbanding of EPOC, or its transformation into a broader, more encompassing body to reflect the declared wider focus of the new IMF agreement. We disagreed.

For while reforming the public sector, to create an entrepreneurial bureaucracy that facilitates the private sector, is critical to expanding the economy, we are clear that macroeconomic stability is sine qua non to sustainable growth, and this fiscal mischief, for which governments have a propensity, is the greatest danger to this.

Over the past four years, EPOC, under the leadership of its then chairman, Richard Byles, has proven itself to be a non-partisan, frank and transparent arbiter of the Government's management of the fiscal accounts, which, in no small measure, helped the previous administration, and this one, behave closer to their better selves.

EPOC's new chairman, Keith Duncan, the CEO of the JMMB Group, has a difficult act to follow. He might escape being branded by the Opposition as a mouthpiece for the Government, but he might well be called worse, and he should be aware that the designation could come from either side of the aisle. If he does his job well, he can ignore these slurs.




Our suggestion to Mr Duncan is that despite the quarterly indicative benchmarks and half-year IMF reviews under the new programme, EPOC should continue to deliver monthly analyses of the administration's fiscal performance, whose contextual presentations need not appear to crowd the Government and impinge on its broader objectives.

We look forward to the other members of Danny Roberts' committee - which will indicate the robustness with which it intends to go about its assignment - and how he proposes to structure its work. While we appreciate that the requirements from P-STOC and, therefore, its analyses, will be more qualitative than quantitative, we believe that EPOC has provided a template which is adjustable to its own needs.

There are possible areas of overlap between P-STOC and the EGC, although we suspect that their emphases might differ. In the final analysis, however, in this venture three can't be too much transparency.