Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Editorial | Mr Hill’s new job test of PM’s judgement

Published:Friday | December 15, 2017 | 12:26 AM

This is not a matter primarily about the competence of Aubyn Hill, but it is not an unreasonable question whether Prime Minister Andrew Holness exercised the best judgement in appointing Mr Hill as the executive director of the Economic Growth Council (EGC). The same concern goes, too, for Michael Lee-Chin, the EGC’s chairman, for concurring with the prime minister’s decision, or, perhaps, initiating it.

The EGC was established by Prime Minister Holness not long after his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won the Government in early 2016. It aims, as has been articulated by Mr Lee-Chin, the highly successful Jamaican-Canadian entrepreneur, is to identify and promote the implementation of policies in support of accelerated economic growth.

More specifically, the council’s specific target is that the Jamaican economy, four years after the launch of this initiative, by the 2019-20 fiscal year, will have grown by at least five per cent and would be in a position to sustain that pace of expansion, compared to the country’s rate of annual growth over the previous four decades of one per cent. Mr Lee-Chin, famous for his pithy, evocative phrases to market his ideas, branded the growth target “five-in-four” – that is, five per cent in four years.

COUNCIL’S STRONG TRACK RECORD

More than a year ago, the council, most of whose members are people with a strong track record in the private sector or had successfully run government entrepreneurial enterprises, published a slew of policies and initiatives to be pursued by the administration, ranging from increased spending on the security forces to how Jamaicans pay their taxes, to give the economy the best chance of achieving five-in-four. Their implementation was to be monitored by a secretariat headed by Maureen Denton, a Jamaican who had worked in high positions in corporate banking in America and as a project consultant in Africa.

It is Ms Denton’s resignation, not publicly disclosed until this week, that opened the way for the appointment of Mr Hill, a banker who had a stint as head of Mr Lee-Chin’s National Commercial Bank, as her successor. That, otherwise, might not have raised eyebrows, except for any baggage Mr Hill will bring to the table of the EGC.

Achieving five-in-four will turn not only on the Government implementing the broad policies outlined in its ‘Call to Action’ document, but will require consensus among stakeholders – the Government, the political Opposition, and the private sector – on the efficacy of the proposed policies, their sequencing, and their actual implementation. At the very least, you would hope there is no distracting and divisive opposition to the policies.

CONSENSUS-BUILDING

While the chairman may sell the overarching vision, consensus-building, in large measure, will be the result of the day-to-day work of the EGC’s secretariat and its executive director – in this case, Mr Hill. Such a job is usually best done by someone who transcends the hurly-burly of party politics.

Mr Hill, we fear, will be seen as a partisan. Indeed, he led Mr Holness’ economic task force when the JLP was in Opposition and was an active participant in the party’s campaign for the general election, particularly as spokesman on the JLP’s signature policy of an income tax give-back. He now serves as a JLP member of the Senate and is its deputy president. He was also named an investment ambassador to India.

None of these things automatically disqualifies Mr Hill from the post, but many people have their doubts. Unless Mr Holness has second thoughts about the appointment, which is unlikely, it is now up to Mr Hill to operate with skill and deftness to shield the prime minister from charges of poor judgement.