EDITORIAL - Don't leave the retreat until there is a plan

Published: Tuesday | January 8, 2013 Comments 0

In a broadcast Sunday evening, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller provided her account of the stewardship of the Government in the year since its election. She followed up yesterday with newspaper advertisements in her role as president of the People's National Party.

This newspaper welcomes these initiatives. Reporting to constituents is an important component of leadership.

However, were you not living in Jamaica, judging from the prime minister's statements, you would probable conclude that but for a few niggling issues, this was a country without serious problems.

In the process, Mrs Simpson Miller flubbed an opportunity to begin a serious conversation with Jamaicans about the country's economic crisis and what her administration intends to do about it.

SPARSE MENTION OF IMF ISSUE

More incredibly, as was reported by this newspaper, only once, and towards the end of her television address, did she mention the ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for an economic support agreement - over which many people perceive there to be something of a Mexican stand-off.

She said: "We are committed to pursuing sound macroeconomic policies, not as a condition imposed by the International Monetary Fund, but as the only way out of economic underdeveopment."

She also had a line about economic growth requiring economic discipline.

But on how these translate to policy, implementation of viable programmes, and concrete action, there was nary a word from the PM.

Mrs Simpson Miller and her Government, however, have an opportunity to remedy this clear and obvious failure. The Cabinet begins a retreat on Thursday - the Pedro Cays would be our preferred venue - from which its members should not emerge until there is absolute agreement on specific timetables for the implementation of the macroeconomic programme, which is to be undertaken "not as a condition imposed by the International Monetary Fund, but as the only way out of economic underdevelopment".

It is widely known what these policies are:

The downward adjustment of a public-sector wage bill as a percentage of GDP;

The restructuring of public-sector pensions, to raise the retirement age of government workers and to have them contribute more to their pensions;

The removal of the discretionary authority of the finance minister to hand around tax waivers like confetti and to improve the efficiency of the tax system to bring more people into its net; and

The restructuring of the public sector to make it more efficient and a better supporter of enterprise, job creation, and economic growth.

These undertakings were not fashioned to be merely ends in themselves, but part of a strategy to contain and, ultimately, reduce Jamaica's Greek-style and sustainable debt that is upwards of 140 per cent of GDP and requires upwards of 60 per cent of the annual Budget to service.

With that level of debt, and without the imprimatur of good behaviour from the IMF, or clear action by our Government in doing the right thing, it would be only the most tolerant of fiscal indisciplined, and Shylock's representative, who would lend to Jamaica.

Doing what is right will be difficult, and for a time, painful and unpopular, which Mrs Simpson Miller and her ministers may want to avoid. Ultimately, though, it's easier than answering to Shylock, or having no flesh at all from which to cut.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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