Jamaica's finance ministry and its agencies tend to be far more transparent than other government departments with information that inform, or are the effect of, public policy.
For instance, each month, in arrears, the ministry posts on its website provisional information on tax collection and the Government's expenditure. In the process, the public can arrive at reasoned and reasonable conclusions about the efficacy of the administration's fiscal policies, and whether there is need for adjustment.
This past week, the ministry enhanced this process of accountability by, for the first time, posting on the website the entire volume of the Estimates of Expenditure from the 2012-13 fiscal year that was presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips.
It is perhaps mere coincidence that the ministry's action followed the decision and announcement by this newspaper that it would do the same thing (see http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/budget2012-2013). We, nonetheless, commend Dr Phillips and the financial secretary, Dr Wesley Hughes, for a move that will provide the public with easier access to information about how the political executive and public-sector bureaucrats intend to spend their taxes and money borrowed in their name.
More needs to be done
Of course, the finance ministry, as we have noted, is not the only government ministry or agency that periodically publishes information on policy, action or activity. This newspaper is, however, not convinced that there is sufficient transparency with regard to public information, especially in a context where openness is an important antidote to corruption, and fact-based debate is likely to lead to improved policy formulation.
In that regard, we hope that the latest move by the finance ministry is the precursor to more robust, consistent and timely publication of information by government departments. We, for instance, hope to see, from its next publication cycle, the posting by the finance ministry of all tax waivers, not just those at the sole discretion of the minister, granted to firms and individuals.
For example, it would be useful, and welcomed, if the ministry published the waivers granted to political parties for the importation of motor vehicles to support their campaigns for last December's general election. That information should include the number of vehicles that were to be imported and the conditions under which the waivers were granted.
Additionally, this commitment to transparency should require, among other things, that all government agencies post on their websites policy documents well ahead of the programmes that are to flow therefrom, giving the public a chance to comment on these. The names of proposed appointees to the boards of institutions that fall under these agencies should be similarly published ahead of confirmation.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has promised an administration that is open and honest and worthy of the trust of the Jamaican people. Moving in this direction, we suggest, will give confidence that she is serious.
We expect, therefore, to hear soon from Information Minister Sandrea Falconer, and minister with responsibility for technology, Mr Phillip Paulwell, a timetable, within three months, for the implementation of such a programme.
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