Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | 'Alternative facts' and hard truths

Published:Monday | February 20, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites

Donald Trump says his administration is running extremely well. Anything to the contrary constitutes 'alternative facts'. In Jamaica, the State apparatus would have us believe the same thing. Assertion, proposal and public relations are used as sleazy substitutes for real achievements and hard truths.

Take the issue of public-sector reform, for example. Wasn't a programme to have been presented by Government, presumably to Parliament and the people by this time? Where is it and what can be the use and labour of the much-touted Danny Roberts-chaired monitoring committee if the detailed policy is still secret?

And what can be the substance of public-sector wage negotiations that ought to be completed by the beginning of the financial year, when the shape and size of the new public service is yet to be decided?

What credit is to be given to the Trump-like statements coming from ministers downplaying and some even denying the inevitable job losses?

'Samfying' oneself is the worst form of deception. The hard truth is that as the late George Eaton, Nettleford and Orane among others, have told us, this reform demands a radical enquiry into the efficiency, productivity and affordability of every ministry, department and agency.

 

UNPOSTPONABLE PROCESS

 

If one reads the IMF agreement, it is clear that this process is unpostponable. It will involve, of necessity, not only the collapsing of many jobs, but the curtailing of many of the colonial vestiges embedded in government wage contracts.

What should be taking place now is a comprehensive programme of reskilling required for most, if not all, who work for any arm of Government to prepare them for outplacement or new job competencies and attitudes.

Where is the money in the Estimates of Expenditure for the inevitable retraining and redundancy expenses?

In fact, the Estimates, which will soon be hurriedly examined and then become the prelude and justification of the promised tax package and the further impoverishment of the majority of Jamaicans who have inelastic incomes, appear to be structured in much the same way as in previous years.

So why should we expect different outcomes? Why not try zero-based budgeting, which would force detailed and excruciating but, ultimately, purgative enquiry into every dollar taken from the taxpayers' pockets?

 

CURSORY OVERSIGHT

 

This ought to be the work of the Standing Finance Committee which sits in Gordon House next week. But the tradition is for cursory oversight and a leaving of the Government of the day to really do as it pleases, or as everyone feels it has to, given the awkward, costly and bloated size of the public sector.

Until we do that and further reform government accounts from a cash to an accrual system so that Jamaicans, including their leaders, can know what we really owe and how much is owed to us, the yearly theatre of the Budget exercise - with all the scripted soliloquies and chorus lines - represent as much alternative facts as hard truths.

We continue this national self-deception at our peril.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.