Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's report on last weekend's special gathering of the Cabinet confirmed her Government as floundering in a maze of waffle and mediocrity, unwilling or incapable of taking the bold, decisive actions necessary to drag Jamaica out of its economic crisis.
It is a reasonable conclusion, too, that her finance minister, Peter Phillips, is entrapped either by loyalty to the gang - the People's National Party, which forms the Government - or a persistence in his ambition to lead it. In which event, Dr Phillips prefers to abide with the inertia of the administration rather than insist on its implementation of policies he declared to be imperative to Jamaica's recovery.
Mrs Simpson Miller called the Cabinet retreat out of an awareness of a deepening disillusionment with her Government. No one, of course, believed that decades-old problems would have been solved in 10 months. But Jamaicans assumed that they would have, by now, heard more than palliatives from ministers. They expected to see the implementation of firm policies, of which the Government had assumed full and unambiguous ownership and for which it would ask external partners, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for support.
The key policies have been broadly enunciated:
The restructuring of the public sector to save cost and to make it more efficient;
An overhaul of the tax apparatus to eliminate corruption, and removing discretionary waivers to curb evasion;
Reorganising the retirement scheme for government employees so that they work longer and contribute more to their pensions.
These reforms are among the strategies required for Jamaica to begin to bring under control its national debt, which is at an unsustainable 140 per cent of gross domestic product, and requiring at least 60 per cent of the annual budget to service.
But the policies for fixing the debt problem are not the kind readily embraced by the gangs of Gordon House. They favour populist prescriptions that win elections.
Inevitable Tough policies
Tough policies are inevitable if Jamaica is to move itself from the column of economic failure to one in which its citizens can have faith. The IMF has made these reforms the basis for which it will renew economic support to the country. The Government has offered few specifics on its plans. It appears, despite the presence of some competent ministers, to be waiting on the IMF to provide the details of what is to be done.
Indeed, Mrs Simpson Miller, in another bout of puffery, told Jamaicans that the Fund and the Government were "agreed on the diagnosis of the major problems facing the country and the main strategies to resolve them". This, Mrs Simpson Miller said, "represents real progress".
The fact is that diagnosing Jamaica's problems is not the issue, but the failure of leadership, including by Mrs Simpson Miller's administration, to implement the solutions that, as Dr Phillips warned, will require unpopular decisions.
As finance minister, Dr Phillips has the prime responsibility to pursue these policies. But the job is not his alone. The whole Government, especially the prime minister, must have legitimacy. The support must be open.
If Dr Phillips does not have real support, he should resign. Sometimes, the best route to leadership is by returning upon being called.
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