EDITORIAL - No time to waste, PM

Published: Sunday | January 20, 2013 Comments 0

The administration will say that it is merely a week since the special Cabinet session at which ministers seemingly reached consensus on policies for achieving the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) demands for an economic support agreement.

It is unreasonable, therefore, the argument will go, for there to be a strategy for national dialogue on the likely agreement, or for a serious and deep engagement of critical stakeholders that they will be expected to contribute if Jamaica is to satisfy the Fund.

They are too focused on the negotiations with the IMF at this time to find time for much else, they will probably say.

We would say that is a wrong strategy that exemplifies what has been wrong with the Government's so far mostly ineffective approach to tackling Jamaica's economic crisis. Timid administrations failed to explain the depth of the problem, sugar-coated the solutions and, therefore, have struggled to mobilise the society for tough action.

That is the challenge which Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her ministers now face.

The nub of Jamaica's crisis is well known. We borrowed irresponsibly for too long, running up a debt that we can't manage. Its servicing sucks up nearly all of the Government's earnings from taxes and grants and more than half of its Budget. Now, very few people are eager to lend us money.

SPEND LESS, BORROW LESS

We know the basic elements of the solution: spend less and borrow less. There is consensus that should translate to:

Lowering the public-sector wage bill as a ratio of national output;

All government employees contributing to their pensions;

Limiting the ability of the finance minister to waive taxes and having more people pay their taxes; and

If possible, restructuring the debt, which the finance minister, Peter Phillips, suggested is being pursued.

What we have been short on are the specific policies, strategies and tactics for achieving these ends.

For instance, Mrs Simpson Miller, who not only has the greater responsibility for the task, but is also the Government's most effective communicator with the majority of Jamaicans, until last week appeared to have shunned ownership of the tough actions to be taken.

Now, there is no time to waste in mobilising Jamaicans towards the consensus that is required for the policies to be successfully implemented. That demands Mrs Simpson Miller, as is her responsibility as prime minister, getting on the hustings, and all other means necessary and possible, to explain to the people what is to be done, why, and the expected outcomes.

Part of that message must, of course, be about the equitable sharing of the burden of adjustment. That is why the administration cannot be too busy for a serious engagement of all the stakeholders in the process.

Our preferred approach would be to gather all the key players, with an understanding that we are starting with a clean slate, without the encumbrance of blame for the past. Jamaica is where it is. We all contributed to the current state of affairs.

Mrs Simpson Miller must lay out, starkly, the depth of the problem, the limited options that exist, what is required of the stakeholders, and a credible and verifiable programme of reform.

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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