Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Opposition spokesman on finance Audley Shaw has declared that a dithering People's National Party (PNP) Government is drifting into its annual conference with no definitive plan to motivate Jamaicans in its ninth month in office, since its victory at the December 2011 polls.
Shaw, renowned for his acerbic commentary on economic affairs, also predicted that with nothing substantial to offer a deflated populace, the leadership would this weekend continue to seek to blame the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for its dismal performance at governance.
He suggested the PNP was entering its confab in a bewildered state.
"There is a sense of drift, inaction and lack of direction and this can be explained in the context of the present situation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)," Shaw declared. "What we have been faced with from the Minister of Finance (Dr Peter Phillips) over the past eight months is really a lot of talk."
Shaw accused Phillips of being devoid of ideas and adopting a strategy of perennially casting blame on the Opposition, which had formed the Government between September 2007 and December 2011, for the lack of a current IMF agreement.
"He keeps changing the schedule for the negotiations to be completed," Shaw scoffed.
He charged that Phillips was unable to forthrightly present the contentious issues that hinge on the success of an IMF agreement - tax reform, public-sector pension reform and public-sector transformation.
"The minister and the Government are afraid to face the facts on what has to be done in the medium term and to deal competently with the issue of a credible and predictable framework for wage settlements going forward, dealing with the high cost of the public sector, which includes pension reform as it enters IMF talks," charged Shaw.
Shaw also accused the Portia Simpson Miller administration of vacillating on public-sector pension reform.
"I would link the pension reform with the public-sector reform because those two go hand in hand, but seem to be in delay or reverse mode," suggested Shaw. "Until the Government is able to deal competently with those three elephants in the living room, an IMF agreement is something that will be elusive."
Last month, Phillips dismissed claims by the Opposition that the protracted IMF discussions would stretch beyond 2012 and signalled that the final round of talks with a high-level IMF team was scheduled to commence on September 25, a week after the PNP wraps up its annual conference.
But by his pronouncements, Shaw remains unconvinced that an IMF agreement will be realised this month.
"What is of concern, not just to me but to major stakeholders, the private sector in particular, are the critical benchmarks that are going to be needed in order to have a successful arrangement with the IMF," he declared. "The performance of the Government in achieving those benchmarks is painfully slow."
The former finance minister cited the three critical benchmarks as tax reform; public-sector pension reform and public-sector transformation.
"The tax reform for instance, by now a White Paper should have been tabled in Parliament," argued Shaw. "It was actually promised to be tabled before the summer break."
Shaw contended that the tax package was announced by Phillips in the delayed Budget presentation fell short of what was required of the proposed tax reform.
"Tax reform is different from a new tax package," Shaw argued. "That is still to be done nobody is impressed, least of all the IMF, with what has been put forward so far, even in the Budget because tax reform is much more far reaching than what he has proposed so far."
He said what the Minister announced in his Budget presentation was "light years away" from the fundamental proposals that are contained in the Green Paper that was tabled in Parliament as well as those from the private sector.