Horace Fisher, Gleaner Writer
MAY PEN, Clarendon:FINANCE MINISTER Dr Peter Phillips has hit back at his detractors who have heaped criticisms on the Government's handling of the country's economic programmes, especially its protracted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Phillips, speaking at the second staging of the Prime Minister's parish forum, held last week at the Versalles Hotel in May Pen, Clarendon, said Jamaica's immediate challenge is not an IMF agreement, but the country's trillion-dollar debt which, the minister said, went up astronomically in 2007, after the People's National Party's electoral defeat.
"When we took over the reins of government in January of this year (2012), we inherited a massive unsustainable public debt that constituted a millstone on Jamaica's capacity to grow and develop. This public debt, along with our salaries and wage bill, absorbs 80 cents out of every dollar and leaves us with just 20 cents to do everything else in the country," Phillips told a packed audience at the hotel.
Serious set of challenges
"We are, therefore, faced with a serious set of challenges. We have taken control of our finances by paying off our debt, and to desist from borrowing beyond our means to repay," added the finance minister.
Phillips also shed light on the controversial negotiations with the IMF, insisting that the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration, at no time, promised to conclude an agreement with the fund within two weeks after taking office.
The minister also pointed out that the current negotiations will result in a new agreement, and it is not an attempt to restart the Jamaica Labour Party's "crashed" IMF deal.
"Let me clear up a misconception here. While we promised to start negotiating with the Fund two weeks after being sworn in, at no time did we give the impression that such negotiations would have been concluded within two weeks, we aren't mad," he charged .
"Secondly, another misconception that needs clearing up is the popular belief that we are trying to restart or carry on the previous government's IMF agreement. That agreement has crashed, it has derailed and we are negotiating a new programme based on a specific timeline," pointed Phillips.
He insisted, "There isn't a deliberate delay on the part of the Government to conclude the agreement, but we aren't buying a used car here, we are negotiating a programme of development for the people of Jamaica."