Wed | Sep 18, 2019

Danny Roberts | What about empowering PSTOC?

Published:Sunday | September 8, 2019 | 12:18 AM

The need for a stakeholder body such as the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) to monitor and report on the fiscal, economic, and monetary indicators without the influence of political control or bureaucratic self-interest has proven to be a wise and purposeful move.

It has certainly helped to promote consensus and democratic involvement in managing the changes to our economic and social arrangements and has been advocated as a model that other countries should emulate by no less a person than the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. “With everybody inside the tent,” she said at a UWI forum in 2014, “all voices are heard and everyone has a stake in success.”

The concept of an EPOC is witness to the enduring advocacy of the International Labour Organisation about social dialogue and tripartism among key stakeholders in society. It countenanced the active involvement of workers, management, and government in consultation and information exchange on issues of common interests relating to social and economic policy. While the ILO focuses on the three major stakeholders in the industrial relations system – namely, employers, workers, and government – the conceptualisation of ‘tripartite-plus’, as applied broadly through an EPOC arrangement, has moved from abstract theory to testable hypothesis to celebrated success.

Last week, EPOC was empowered to enable it to continue the monitoring of Jamaica’s economic reform programme after the expiration of the precautionary standby agreement between the Government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in November of this year. But with all the economic indicators showing positive signs, the Jamaican economy has been struggling to achieve more than modest economic growth. Last year, for example, the Jamaican economy grew by a mere 1.9 per cent, while countries such as the Dominican Republic grew by 7.0 per cent, Antigua and Barbuda by 4.9 per cent, Guyana by 3.4 per cent, Belize by 3.0 per cent, St Kitts by 3.0 per cent, and St Vincent & the Grenadines by 2.6 per cent.

In terms of GDP per capita, the top 10 Caribbean countries do not include Jamaica despite the success of our ambitious reform programme to stabilise the economy, reduce debt, and further our growth rate. Poverty has shown a slight uptick between 2016 and 2017, indicating a general imbalance in the distribution of growth and development. And Jamaica still remains one of the most murderous countries in the world.

Perhaps the primary reason for that lies in the state of our public institutions. In the last two decades, studies have revealed a direct correlation between quality institutions and economic growth. In fact, the studies strongly suggest that institutions are the fundamental determinants of the long-run economic growth across countries. Almost 20 years ago, a World Bank study on ‘poverty and economic management’ concluded that “poorly functioning public institutions and weak governance are the major constraints to growth and equitable development in many developing countries”.

The need, therefore, to prioritise public-sector transformation as a critical plank of our economic reform programme would bode well for the future. Like EPOC, a Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee (PSTOC) exists under the current IMF arrangements. It has presided over the successful implementation of all the critical structural benchmarks identified as part of the public-sector reform programme. It, too, needs to be empowered, and its broad-based stakeholder group given the opportunity to define a new public administration that is more relevant to the country’s social, economic, political and technological environment.

Sadly, our citizens continue to be overwhelmed by the heavy bureaucratic burden of classical approaches to public administration. We are all too anxious for a new public management approach to running the public service. A shift from bureaucratic administration to business-like professional management, guided by a philosophy of client-centricity.

We yearn for a public service that is flexible and adaptable to changes, with far fewer hierarchical structures in administration, and demonstrates the effectiveness of politics-administration dichotomy.

The plain truth is that we can no longer tinker with our public-sector transformation process for too much is at stake. Despite our sustained efforts at reform, dating back to 1984, we have not achieved a measurable degree of success. New Zealand also began its public-sector reform in 1984, and today, is ranked number one in terms of the quality of its public institutions while Jamaica ranks 122nd out of 140 countries.

Our ranking on the Global Competitiveness Index, at 79 out of 140 countries, bears no relation to our economic reform success. Our GDP rating of 122 out of 140 countries is a blot on the efforts and sacrifices of every Jamaican who has contributed to our macroeconomic stability. It would, therefore, seem paradoxical to think that Jamaica’s economic success could become the lightning rod of social instability.

The IMF, in fact, recognises that the failure to equitably share the economic gains from our collective efforts could undermine the economic reform programme. Public-sector transformation, therefore, stands as the midwife to sustained economic growth and development.

In a broader and far more profound sense, public-sector transformation and Jamaica’s economic growth and development must be cast in the crucible of the post-IMF era. For more than 500 years – and up to our political Independence – Jamaica has celebrated the resilience and fortitude of its people in the ‘fell clutch of circumstance’.

We must now bolster to show – not only in the post-IMF period, but in this post-Independence period – that in those menacing years that will accompany the unfolding of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our post-Independence leaders have inherited the unconquerable spirit to make us as Jamaicans the masters of our fate.

- Danny Roberts is a senior lecturer and head of the Hugh Shearer Labour Studies Institute at the Consortium for Social Development and Research, UWI Open Campus, and co-chairman of the Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and strebord02@gmail.com.