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EDITORIAL - The PM's New Year resolution

Published:Sunday | December 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

We don't know if Prime Minister (PM) Portia Simpson Miller makes New Year resolutions. We wouldn't be surprised, though, if she did. In which case, at the top of her 2013 list should be a plan to spend political capital, to which she should keep.

Related to that resolution should be a second - an undertaking to halt the seeming aimless meandering of her Government. In other words, Mrs Simpson Miller must bring coherence to her administration.

These observations are no mere carping by this newspaper, as uncritical, dyed-in-the-wool supporters of the governing People's National Party will likely claim. For should they, and Mrs Simpson Miller, care to look, and be honest about it, they will see a country in deep social and economic crisis and gravely uncertain about its future. Worse, they perceive no clear strategic path out of the problems, and certainly not one that has been clearly articulated.

This is where Mrs Simpson Miller can offer great value if she is willing to tap her personal bank of political goodwill.

The fundamental problems of Jamaica are well known: an economy that has merely limped along for four decades, hobbled by a public debt that, at 140 per cent of gross domestic product, is unsustainable.

Fixing the debt problem is critical to establishing an environment for sustainable growth. The public sector has to be modernised and reformed to bring the wage bill in line with what is affordable. The pension system has to be overhauled so that civil servants contribute to their pensions. The tax system has to be restructured so that more people pay their fair share and eliminate the discretionary power of politicians to allow exemptions.


But these are politically tough actions to take, on which the former administration fudged and whose implementation the Simpson Miller Government could not claim to have been swift about. Indeed, the reform programme is the subject of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the delay in whose completion has limited foreign-exchange inflows into the island and contributed to the recent sharp devaluation of the Jamaican dollar.

The administration tiptoes around the reform programme because of its own lack of confidence to proceed - the result of a failure to confront Jamaicans fully and frankly on the issues. We will, of course, be told of the periodic statements by Peter Phillips, the finance minister, on the state of the economy, and the occasional remarks by the PM.

These, however, do not amount to full, candid and continuous communication on the matter, including a strategic pathway to recovery that is necessary in the circumstance. That conversation has to be led by Mrs Simpson Miller, who not only has the responsibility as the prime minister, but is both personally popular and has a unique ability to connect with the majority of people, whose buy-in is necessary if the reform agenda is to be successful.

We sense, however, that Mrs Simpson Miller is wary of this level of engagement should the programme fail and there be political backlash. In such an event, she would be too closely tied to the reform agenda. Success, however, would belong to HER Government.

What the PM should appreciate is that Jamaica has few other options if it doesn't merely want to drift along.

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