Delano Seiveright, Guest Columnist
Quite a bit of anticipation developed over the last few weeks for the presentation by Prime Minister and People's National Party President Portia Simpson Miller on the floor of the 74th conference held recently.
It was over that period that increasing numbers of Jamaicans on social media and on the streets began voicing serious concerns about the seeming absence of the prime minister from the spotlight on a range of critical national issues ever since winning the December 29, 2011 general election.
The concerns began to spill over into mainstream media, which have been largely quiet and, in some prominent quarters, far too ambivalent to the critical social and economic ills plaguing the citizenry.
Over the last several weeks, there has been an increase in protests and roadblocks by frustrated citizens' islandwide on issues ranging from the absence of, and inability to contact, their government MPs, to poor road conditions.
A Gleaner report titled 'Tension grips PNP: Party leadership to face unhappy Comrades', dated Saturday, September 15, 2012, on developments surrounding the PNP conference was telling enough. The report, in part, stated: "One parliamentarian expressed concern that PNP supporters are so disenchanted that his colleagues can identify many of them among every protest that has taken place in recent months."
While few Jamaicans will work themselves into a tizzy over the delay in signing a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is essential to stabilising the Jamaican economy and placing us firmly on a path to economic growth and development. There is no easy way out of our economic quagmire, and many more will feel the pinch of the hard economic times.
Sadly, though, the pinch will be a lot worse and last far longer if we fail to take the corrective measures now. It was during the heated and rapid-fire election campaign late last year that then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, among many promises, assured the people of Jamaica that an extended fund facility with the IMF would be negotiated within two weeks of her new administration. A ridiculous statement then, but it certainly sold the point to a gullible few that the PNP meant business.
We are now nine months into her administration and, at best, we get guesstimates from the minister of finance and other lead members of the administration on the status of a deal with the IMF. Since the change of administration, the major macroeconomic indicators and other economic data have gone off the rails.
The previous administration left the current Government with some serious issues to tackle, but in the very least the People's National Party got a stable economic environment and considerably less baggage. Less of that baggage included the divestment of Air Jamaica and the Sugar Company of Jamaica, which piled on billions of new debt yearly.
Added to that was the plain and simple fact that the previous administration left this Government with very healthy net international reserves (NIR), a stable exchange rate, low inflation, lower and falling interest rates with home mortgage rates dropping to single digit and the economy growing by 1.3 per cent last calendar year.
Beyond that, murders and other major crimes registered significant declines, and several sectors, including tourism, agriculture, education, health, and commerce were heading in the right direction.
The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce's Business and Consumer Confidence Survey, two months ago, showed the largest ever quarterly decline in consumer confidence and a massive decline in business confidence, with most firms expecting the economy to worsen. Added to that are declines in economic growth, pushing the country closer to recession, the NIR collapsing from US$2 billion when the Government took office to US$1.4 billion today, and the exchange rate falling.
On the other hand, despite the worsening economic situation, Mrs Simpson Miller maintains the second-largest Cabinet in history, with 20 ministers of Government in total, costing taxpayers more than J$110 million per year in basic salaries alone, excluding all the perks. Note that, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding's Cabinet cost taxpayers just under $70 million per annum.
To add insult to injury, multimillion-dollar consultants and advisers have been taken on. Oddly enough, the minister of finance has a whopping 12 advisers, consultants and assistants on the payroll, twice that of former Minister of Finance Audley Shaw's six. We should recall the minister of finance, Dr Peter Phillips, telling public-sector workers in his May 24 Budget presentation that they can't "break into an empty shop" and that it "mek no sense to raid an empty cupboard".
It is also important to note that in April 2009, Prime Minister Golding took a 15 per cent cut in salary with government MPs taking a 10 per cent cut. Simpson Miller refused to take a pay cut and her then opposition colleague MPs equally refused.
On top of these issues Jamaica appears to be drifting, with no concrete action on anti-corruption initiatives, including strengthening the Office of the Contractor General, and settling on policy directions for energy.
With the uptick in pressure from rumbling constituents on the ground, social media, and the Opposition, the prime minister began to respond to her critics about her silence.
Her record of performance is there for all to see and it is obvious that the administration is all over the place.
This is a time for mature, competent and dynamic leadership. Not leadership that is given to half-truths, fantasy and populism. Alas, that may very well be wishful thinking.
Delano Seiveright is an aide to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Cabinet. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.