Tue | Dec 6, 2016

You're moving too slow, Shaw tells Gov't

Published:Friday | September 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
SHAW

THE Government is being accused of dithering on public-sector reform, which Audley Shaw, the opposition spokesman on finance, said could prove disastrous to the country's fiscal affairs.

"A few things are being done, but I don't think they are being done on an aggressive enough scale," Shaw told The Gleaner yesterday.

Jamaica's agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calls for, among other things, a transformation of the public sector as a way of improving the doing-business climate in the country.

Horace Dalley, minister without portfolio in the finance ministry, who has carriage of the matter, said in Parliament in August that the successful implementation of public-sector transformation, pension reform, and the overhauling of the public-procurement regime "are essential to meeting the targets and goals of the economic-reform programme".

Shaw, however, said he was disappointed with the pace at which the reform was taking place, and even blamed the IMF for giving the Government a free pass on the matter. He said the Government was being allowed to get away by not forcing them to undertake pension reform, and taking the necessary steps to contain the wage bill, which the IMF agreement calls for.

Some $161.7 billion of the $540-billion Budget is being used to pay wages this year, representing a wage bill of 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Jamaica must reduce the ratio of wages paid by the Government as a proportion of GDP to nine per cent or less by March 2016.

"These are areas that should be dealt with now, rather than the extension that the IMF has given to the Government," Shaw said.

When Jamaica first inked the extended fund facility with the IMF in 2013, the Government said a review of public-sector employment and remuneration would be undertaken and completed by March 2014, with technical assistance from international development partners, to guide the subsequent rationalisation of the modalities and terms of employment.

The timeline has, however, been shifted to 2016, and Shaw is convinced that the People's National Party administration is getting an easy exam paper.

'EASY TESTS'

"You know why they are passing these tests so much? Because dem get an easy test. … What I was failed about was the very things that they wanted implement by 2010-2011," Shaw said.

Shaw, who also addressed a press conference yesterday at the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) headquarters at Belmont Road in Kingston, called on the Government to "fast-track the transformation of the public sector in line with [the] recommendation of the Public Sector Transformation Unit (PSTU)", which was formed under the JLP administration.

The PSTU was established by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding to advise on the overhaul of the public service. A report prepared by the unit called for the merger, privatisation and abolition of several public-sector agencies.

Shaw argued that it was important that the Government sees transformation of the public sector as a process and speed up the process of its implementation.

EFFICIENCY IS KEY

"The watchword in all of this is efficiency. One of the greatest problems we have in this country today is inefficiency in the public sector. [Efficiency] can't be achieved by simply mergers alone. There has to be closures of some entities, [and the] retirement of some posts," Shaw said.

He further argued that a big part of the transformation has to be the retraining of employees, which is critical to improving efficiency.

"It will help you to understand your role better, make you realise that your role as a bureaucrat is not to block something or slow down the process of approving something. Your role has to be within the context of helping to expedite and to create a more friendly kind of face for the public sector," Shaw said.

The Government, in its latest letter of intent to the IMF, has said it would initiate discussions on a new wage agreement for the period after March 2015 to maintain a prudent path of public-sector wages.

The Government also said it would continue to reduce the size of the public sector over 2013-2015, through the elimination of some posts and an attrition programme. It said that the filling of vacant positions would be constrained in an effort to meet the wage as a percentage of GDP target.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com

$161.7B of the $540-billion Budget is being used to pay wages this year,
representing a wage bill of 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Jamaica must reduce the ratio of wages paid by the Government as a proportion of GDP to 9% or less by March 2016.