IMF programme too austere, says Carolyn Cooper
University of the West Indies professor, Carolyn Cooper, says the Government should reconsider pushing back at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-supported economic programme, arguing that it is too austere, thus making life more difficult for the poorest Jamaicans.
"I think we are going to have to fight against austerity soon, because a lot of people are really feeling it," Cooper, who is also a Gleaner columnist, said during a meeting with Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston offices last Friday.
However, Phillips said that had Jamaica not embarked on the economic reform programme, the consequences would be unimaginable.
He noted that the Government has been faithful to its commitments in the programme to ensure that a floor is maintained for social spending, which has cushioned the impact of the gut-wrenching policies on poorer Jamaicans.
"Since 2012, we have increased payments to PATH (Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education) beneficiaries by 30 per cent, with the elderly receiving a 67 per cent increase," the minister said during the meeting, reiterating comments he had made during his opening contribution to the Budget Debate.
"Because of our concern for our children, especially those who are most needy, we have instituted a transport allowance under the PATH in order to ensure that these children attend school. Some $72 million has been allocated in this budget. We have strengthened the School Feeding Programme, moving the budget from $3.5 billion in 2012-2013 to $4.4 billion in 2015-2016.
"Over the past two years, the programme has been expanded to benefit more children and increase the nutritional content of lunches, through partnerships with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and the Jamaica Agricultural Society, to utilise local produce, fruits and eggs. We have recently instituted a breakfast programme at the early-childhood level, which will see 70 per cent of these children receiving free breakfast," Phillips said.
"I can't say we have relieved every person of pain in the adjustment, but I can say this, the pain would be 10 times worse in the context of an economic collapse," he added.
Brian Wynter, the governor of the Bank of Jamaica, who was also present at The Gleaner on Friday, said it was not the role of the Government to drive poverty reduction through spending in the economy.
"In terms of poverty and in terms of the hardship at the bottom, we have to recognise that no matter what a government might do in how it spends, a much stronger and sustained way to protect the poor is to make sure that we can increase jobs," Wynter said.
"Employment growth is vital, and if the path, as it must be, is that employment must come from the private-sector growth, then it determines this path. The labels of 'austerity' and 'not austerity' are misplaced in Jamaican in terms of what we have to do. Job creation is essential. Job creation from investment by the private sector is essential and, therefore, all the complementary policies will get you there," he added.