EDITORIAL - Cabinet must be ready to 're-retreat'

Published: Sunday | January 13, 2013 Comments 0

The likelihood is that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will very soon offer a full report on the three-day sessions of the Cabinet at which there was supposed to be a review of the economy and an articulation of strategies to lift it out of its crisis.

Mrs Simpson Miller must be prepared to lead her ministers back into a retreat, and to stay there until they complete the job, if it is determined that what was accomplished last week was inadequate for the times.

This declaration, as well as previous similar remarks by this newspaper, is no attempt to bully, dictate to or to usurp the constitutional authority of the Cabinet or the Government, more broadly. Which appears to have been the assumption of Peter Bunting, the general secretary of the governing People's National Party (PNP) as well as the national security minister in Mrs Simpson Miller's administration.

It is, however, in keeping with what Mr Bunting claims to be - or, perhaps intends to be, going forward - a tenet, a year into its life, of this administration.

"... We are going to, as much as possible, try to be responsive to the constructive calls from the various sectors of the society," said Mr Bunting.

Intentions not withstanding, the Government has, up to now, been unable to muster the will to be really responsive to the most constructive ideas and proposals for solving Jamaica's fiscal crisis. That, fundamentally, is the cause of its failure, so far, to conclude an economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Unsustainable debt

As the Government knows, of the many economic problems faced by Jamaica, the most deleterious is its national debt that at upwards of 140 per cent of GDP is of Greek-like proportions. A debt of that size - its servicing gobbles up more than half the Government's Budget and most of what it collects in taxes and grants - is unsustainable.

It limits the Government's capacity to invest in physical and social infrastructure that supports enterprise and growth. Further, concern about our ability to repay makes it more difficult for the Government to borrow, as it is used to do, to cover fiscal gaps.

The Government, therefore, has to spend less, as well as implement policies to reduce the size of the debt. Our Government says it is committed to such policies, which will include:

  • Reducing its wage bill as a proportion of GDP;
  • Insisting that public-sector workers contribute to their pensions;
  • Ensuring that the bureaucracy is more productive; and
  • Being more aggressive in the collection of taxes and taking way the authority of the finance minister to waive the payment of huge chunks of it.

These are not easy things for politicians to do. They trespass on vested interests and political constituencies. It is understandable that our Government has waffled and procrastinated. The fact, however, is that there is now little space within which to wiggle.

So, if Mrs Simpson Miller and her ministers came out of that retreat without a full blueprint and clear timetable for the implementation of the policies, they must head immediately back to the drawing board.

The administration's self-assessed grades may have been wonderful, but it still has a more robust test to take.

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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