Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Meet your slave mistress

Published:Sunday | September 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Gordon Robinson
1
2

Gordon Robinson

It's been rumoured that Jamaica recently celebrated 52 years of Independence. In acknowledgement, we spent $57 million on one Grand Gala.

What's the reality? Independent Jamaica has put all its economic eggs in an IMF basket, but the IMF prescription of growth by fiscal strangulation is a thinly disguised scam whose real purpose is to ensure external debt payment above all national priorities. Recently, our fiscal slave mistress, Madame Christine Lagarde, visited her fiefdom. The serfs were orgasmic. Prime Minister Portia, in an official statement, said:

"The Government … is honoured to be hosting Madame Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund … ."

Obsequious enough for you? She continued: "The visit of Madame Lagarde is more than symbolic [GR: Freudian slip?].

"It signifies the Fund's acknowledgement and endorsement of the considerable progress which has been realised in … Jamaica's economic transformation programme … ." [GR: All this from a mere visit? Seems we can't survive without IMF "acknowledgement and endorsement", so we anxiously produce this shameless fawning]

"The progress made … includes:

upfront fiscal consolidation and reform;

several structural initiatives aimed at improving the business environment and restoring external price competitiveness; while

strengthening the social safety net."

SUCK SALT THROUGh SPOON

"Fiscal consolidation" means Jamaicans suck salt through a wooden spoon while Government gathers up scraps from everywhere to pay external debt, paying zero attention to all else. That's "progress"? For "several structural initiatives aimed at improving business environment", read "no improvement but we're still aiming". That's "progress"? " … Restoring external price competitiveness" means "devaluation", which has the opposite result since our exports are 90% imports. Where's the "progress"?

But, that's just me. What did Bosslady say about it? Madame Lagarde issued her own statement via IMF's website. It began:

"I've had the privilege to meet the Most Hon Prime Minister Portia Miller Simpson [GR: Oh dear!], Hon Minister Peter Phillips and Bank of Jamaica Governor Brian Wynter. Our discussions focused on the economic policy priorities and outlook for [Jamaica].

[GR: Bosslady travelled so far to vet independent Jamaica's "economic policy priorities"? Dear, oh, dear]

"I commended the prime minister and authorities for their commitment to reform Jamaica's economy and lay the foundation for inclusive growth, job creation and a more prosperous future for Jamaicans."

Where does Madame LaGarde get off "commending" my prime minister for anything? Can it be any clearer who's in charge? Anyway, Bosslady only saw a "commitment to reform Jamaica's economy … ", which is different to Portia's claim of "upfront … reform".

This is what Madame Lagarde said about actual reforms:

" … Growth has picked up, unemployment has declined, inflation has been brought under control, the current account deficit has shown an ongoing improvement, and reserves are starting to recover. Debt-to- GDP has been put on a downward trajectory. Key reforms were implemented, in particular, the tax-incentive legislation and the fiscal rule. But there are other major reforms that are still pending, including improving [tax collection], modernising the public sector, and improving the business climate … a prudent fiscal stance needs to be sustained."

Bosslady cracks the whip. We'd better sustain "a prudent fiscal stance". She seems to believe 1% growth means "growth has picked up". "Unemployment has declined" needs context. Official unemployment averaged 14% from 1991 to date. Year 2014's first-quarter "decline" to 13.40% hasn't caused a flicker in the 25-year average; means NOTHING on the ground to thousands of unemployed tertiary graduates; and is almost certainly a temporary fluctuation. Less than two months after Bosslady exulted, "Inflation has been brought under control", massive bus fare hikes brought a sense of reality even to the official inflation stats.

It's important to note Bosslady hasn't mentioned any of Portia's "structural initiatives aimed at" improving business environment, noticing only "the tax-incentive legislation and the fiscal rule". Bosslady says, "Major reforms … are still pending", specifically including " … improving the business climate".

Who has it right? Have we improved "business climate", or just aimed badly? Pengelley? Azan? Zacca? What say you?

Bosslady, unable to itemise actual achievement, tried her hand at obfuscation:

" … I was impressed by the high degree of consensus and awareness on the need to reform Jamaica's economy, manifest in the excellent work of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee [EPOC]. This broad support for the reforms has been essential, and will need to be maintained to ensure continued progress and confidence build-up in the economy … ."

So, EPOC is evidence of a "high degree of consensus and awareness"? Did Bosslady read a single newspaper? Still, the best her spin could create was "consensus"; "awareness" and "broad support". What've we actually done?

VAGUE PROMISES

In that achievement vacuum, Prime Minister Portia lapsed into her standard "love-and-care" rhetoric, followed by grand but vague promises:"We recognise … the progress and recovery already being experienced still need considerable care, nurturing and support from all segments of Jamaican society … .

"Stimulating growth and employment is … the highest priority of Government and the Fund. We're advancing with major projects, which you'll hear more about … ."

What major projects? The 381MW power plant? The logistics hub? O, brother, where art thou? Government has trumpeted these phantom major projects as the crux of its growth strategy since coming to office, but recently, PIOJ Director General Colin Bullock admitted publicly that the Vision 2030 growth targets were impossible to achieve; that current growth was insignificant; that major projects wouldn't make much difference; and that not even 3% per annum growth from now on would be near enough.

Speaking in MoBay late last month, Bullock said with specific reference to "major projects" like the logistics hub: "They're necessary, but ... not sufficient. … They can create jobs. They can create economic activity, and … confidence. They can convey a sense that there's something happening … .

"But beyond that, those large projects are not enough … ." (source: Jamaica Observer, August 31, 2014)

That's the same PIOJ director general who, up to January this year, was proclaiming major projects, especially the logistics hub, as the way to "foster more robust growth" (see Colin Bullock's presentation at The Jamaica Logistics Hub Symposium for Jamaican Companies and Investors Seminar January 21, 2014).

C'mon, man! Which is it?

Portia continued her trek through fantasyland:

"It's also the shared commitment of Government and the IMF that vital social safety net programmes will be maintained to protect the most vulnerable … ."

Within two months, students were dropping out of tertiary institutions like bald pates from rural skies after being refused student loans because of insufficient "safety net" funding; senior citizens had their transportation "safety net" ripped to shreds; and children were told to bring enough water with them to school to flush toilets. Thanks to "vital social safety net programmes", more than 1.1 million Jamaicans live below the poverty line.

Madame Lagarde was clear:

"If Jamaica continues on the path of fundamental reform, the foundation for a better future will be put in place. We're deeply committed to working closely with Jamaica on achieving its economic goals."

Portia soon cleared up what "working closely with Jamaica" really means:

"Jamaica thanks Madame Lagarde ... for the policy advice, technical assistance and financial support which have proved valuable ... ."

It's official. IMF isn't just a lender. Its managing director is our fiscal policy 'adviser' AND gives technical 'assistance'. Lucky us. But it's now obvious that both rapacious lender and snared, uninspired borrower agree on a joint charade claiming their arrangement is for Jamaica's benefit.

Worse, we now learn Bosslady, our official policy adviser/technical assistant, has been slapped with corruption-related charges for alleged misconduct when she was French finance minister. She's been charged with "simple negligence" over her handling of a controversial €400m payout to French tycoon, Bernard Tapie, a big supporter of her government. This is our fiscal future's jockey while we "giddy up" to her command to maintain "a prudent fiscal stance"?

Under French law, accused persons are treated as almost guilty until proven innocent. In France, police evidence is reviewed by a magistrate who questions the suspect before ordering charges if there's a prima facie case.

That's who Bosslady is. Who are we?

(Sim simma)

Beenie Man ah di girls dem sugar

(Sim simma)

Di girls dem world-class lover

(Sim simma)

Mi love dem shape and figure

(Sim simma)

Yuh know dem need this na

Approximately $57 million on one celebratory Independence function? Whose Independence?

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.