Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | Good initiative, Mr Duncan, but ...

Published:Tuesday | May 23, 2017 | 5:00 AM

Keith Duncan, the banker who now chairs the committee that monitors implementation of Jamaica's standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has added a novel and interesting dimension to the project.

Where Richard Byles, his predecessor as head of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), kept a tight grasp on fiscal numbers and was brave, frequently in the face of political attacks, in giving the public the stark picture they painted, Mr Duncan has taken his show on the road. He is on an education exercise, going into communities, attempting to break down the seemingly arcane ideas of finance into the language of the people and show the relationship between achieving the IMF targets and people's lives.

Late last month, Mr Duncan was in the community of Maryland, in the mountains of rural St Andrew. Last week, he was at Annie's Bar, in urban Swallowfield near New Kingston, a gritty, blighted district within hailing distance of important corporate centres and critical institutions.

This approach has echoes of Michael Manley's communication strategy of the 1970s when the then prime minister calculated the value of sugar cane exports in terms of tractors that could be imported, while explaining his support for the proposal of the new international economic order that better favoured developing countries. Not only was this formula easy to understand, but as is appearing to be the case with Mr Duncan's excursions from his corporate edifices, people like the idea of being directly engaged on important matters that will impact their lives.

Should the effort continue, we expect that by the end of programme, many more Jamaicans than would otherwise have been the case will have a better understanding of the quantitative and qualitative targets that are to be achieved by the Government; why these are important; and how they should lead to fiscal stability, economic growth and job creation. An important spin-off for the Government is the possibility of greater national buy-in for the programme, making it easier for the administration to take important, but politically difficult, decisions.

 

Monitoring performance

 

But even as we appreciate and support Mr Duncan's initiative, there is a risk, should he not be careful, of the blurring of the lines between the committee's job of monitoring performance, based on the empirical analysis of a specific set of data, and the responsibility of political leaders to enunciate policy and explain to constituents the basis on which competing priorities are resolved.

At their Maryland meeting, Cecil Robinson, 46, made a plea for "a basic school, a clinic, and a post office", whose delivery are not in the gift of Mr Duncan's committee, except as a conduit for the delivery of the request to whatever ministry or agency they report. The issue came into sharper relief at the Swallowfield meeting.

In the context of Mr Duncan's explanation of the Government's intention to produce, by October, a plan to normalise garrison communities/informal settlements and create law-abiding neighbourhoods, Pamela Munroe asked: "... Where is the consultation with the people? ... I don't see anybody consulting with the people."

Audria Osborne was similarly concerned at the absence "of the people's voice" in these plans, to which Mr Duncan responded: "You say there should be consultation with the people. That is why we are here on the corner."

Mr Duncan should be wary of being perceived as usurping the role of Government. We are quite happy with policing the implementation of the programme, rather than being drawn into social engineering.