PRIME MINISTER Portia Simpson Miller will take her Government into retreat this week to strategise on the many weighty issues facing Jamaica. The economy, we believe, is foremost of the matters that will be under consideration.
This newspaper has two pieces of advice for the PM and her ministers as they prepare for their deliberations.
First, wherever they will hold up for the sessions, they should stay there until they are sure that they have an implementable programme and the guts to get on with the job.
Second, during the talks, Mrs Simpson Miller should ban any mention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the use of its acronym or any reference to any deal, agreement or pact being negotiated with the fund.
In other words, the administration must, symbolically and in reality, assume full ownership of, and commitment to, the policies and programmes that will underpin the borrowing agreement being negotiated with the IMF. That, in fact, is what the administration and, in particular the finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips, claim to be the case. It is our sense, though, that there is psychological resistance to, or a political fear of being identified with the necessary policies or their implementation.
The Government, as do most Jamaicans, full well knows the fundamental problem that ails our economy that has undergone four decades of mostly sick growth: an unsustainable debt burden. At around 140 per cent of GDP, the Government's debt is in the realm of Greece, about which there is full acknowledgement of crisis. Approximately 60 per cent of the Government's annual budget goes to debt servicing. Further, after the debt is serviced, what is left over from taxes and grants pays a small fraction of public-sector wages. So, unless something drastic is done, Jamaica will continue on an upward treadmill for borrowing.
The Government acknowledges four fundamental undertakings if the debt trajectory is to be shifted:
Some of these undertakings are expressed in the jargon of macroeconomics such as the need for lowering the fiscal deficit and running a higher primary surplus. On some of these, the IMF has demanded prior action from the Government before signing a new agreement.
But, however, you cut it, they are tough decisions around which the Government has waffled. The chatter must end. It is time for action. If the administration is not ready to govern after the retreat, it should stay where it is.
In which case we might advocate the remedy of Craig Beresford, the acting contractor general, but on the grounds of cowardice and incompetence.
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