EDITORIAL - The PM must change the narrative

Published: Sunday | September 16, 2012 Comments 0

When Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller addresses her party's annual conference today, she has an opportunity to redefine her premiership and start a rebuilding of confidence in her administration.

Mrs Simpson Miller may not believe that this kind of introspection is necessary.

But should she be an honest, curious and perceptive taker of the pulse of Jamaica, the PM will know that there is a deepening sense that she is in charge of a rudderless Government - one in danger of foundering on policy incoherence and an absence of strategic vision.

And this perspective is not because of her gender, or the fact that Mrs Simpson Miller, as she put it, allows portfolio ministers to do their jobs without incessant meddling from the boss. No one wants the PM to intervene in, or pronounce on, every piddling issue.

What people expect, though, is for the prime minister to set the tone of Government that is both truthful but causes people to be optimistic about the future. Hers has none, except it is silent and of a darker shade of grey, with no clear path to vibrancy.

Should the prime minister misunderstand, there is no assumption, given Jamaica's pre-existing condition and the sluggish global economy, that we would be enjoying robust growth and job creation.

However, after nine months in office, people expect her to display a clear appreciation of her mandate and that she would be using her considerable skills of persuasion to explain to Jamaicans the difficult job of recovery, while exciting them about the future. Such promises, of course, have to be credible.

On these fundamental issues, however, Prime Minister Simpson Miller has abandoned the wheelhouse, preferring to cut ribbons at the easy, popular stuff - like the opening of basic schools, or the unveiling of plans to build homes.

Fix economic fundamentals

What the prime minister seems not to appreciate is that such schemes are not sustainable if the economic fundamentals are not put right and the conditions created for long-term growth, beyond the meandering limp of the past four decades.

The primary fix must be Jamaica's Greek-style national debt of J$1.7 trillion, or 140 per cent of GDP, whose servicing eats up nearly 60 per cent of the annual budget and more than 89 per cent of government revenue and grants. Debt servicing appropriates resources that might otherwise be invested to support growth.

But fixing the debt problem is no easy business. Tough decisions have to be taken, including reforming the public sector so that its wage bill accounts for fewer resources; demanding that government workers contribute to their pensions; and overhauling the tax system to make it more efficient, including having more people pay their fair share. There are some services that the Government will not be able to afford, or afford at the level of the past.

These are economic decisions that must be underpinned by political action of explaining to people why they are necessary and the rewards to follow. Prime Minister Simpson Miller appears to be disinclined to be identified with this effort and the implied pain to voters.

Further, beyond a handful of projects that will keep Jamaica on a path of anaemic growth, there have been few big ideas from the Government, certainly none articulated by the PM. It's a narrative she needs to change.

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.

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