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EDITORIAL - What the Gov't must do in 2010

Published:Friday | January 1, 2010 | 1:00 AM

The new year usually brings with it strong feelings of optimism. We expect that things will be better than last year.

The only thing is that time doesn't stop, nor do the circumstances of the old year just ended at the stroke of midnight. So today, Jamaica is still faced with the many challenges with which it was confronted 24 hours ago.

The good thing, though, is that the sense of renewal and burst of faith that accompany the new year tend to induce the energy and provide a window in which to reorder our priorities and to tackle unfinished business. It is important that this year, as a country, we firmly grasp this opportunity for renewal.

For, as Prime Minister Bruce Golding remarked in his New Year message, "2010, in many ways, will be a defining year".

Difficult 2009

Jamaica has just passed through a very difficult year, caused in no small measure by the global recession that has lashed our economy, which declined by perhaps as much as five per cent. Indeed, at year-end the Government imposed a $21.8-billion tax package, to go with an earlier one of $18 billion, to help close a yawning fiscal deficit. The Government is also negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to borrow US$1.2 billion to help the country meet external payments. The Fund, before it hands over its cash, wants evidence that Jamaica is willing to take bitter corrective medicine.

These are indeed, tough times. Two important facts have to be grasped if we are to overcome them. First, that the economic difficulties facing Jamaica, to which the global recession has contributed, have been exacerbated by the bad policies we have pursued over a long time; and second, that the fix will demand good policies and bold, visionary and tough leadership.

It is not enough for Mr Golding to merely analyse the problem, he must take effective action, starting with naming an economic team, including a finance minister, in whom people can have confidence.

New Finance minister

After the fumbling over policy measures in recent months, the new finance minister must bring clarity to the latest tax package, particularly how the bands on the new income tax thresholds are to be applied. He must coherently make the Government's case for its decision not to raise the withholding tax on the interest on government instruments, which was skirted by Mr Golding in his pre-Christmas broadcast.

Audley Shaw's successor and his team must, apart from the taxation plan, deliver a credible plan to cut the Government's expenditure, which include a cut in jobs and a reform of the civil service to enhance efficiency. They must unveil a workable debt-management strategy and outline measures, not ephemeral notions, to drive economic growth.

Prime Minister Golding must outline a programme for the critical engagement of civil society, in particular the private sector, to allow for a more robust test of the appropriateness of the policies the Government intends to pursue.

The administration must outline a clear path of retreat by the executive from its dabbling in administrative management, and assume its rightful role of setting policy and holding the public bureaucracy accountable. The civil service must be allowed to get on with this job of management.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.