It can't have been without compelling reason that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller decided to miss the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Chile, to which she has dispatched her foreign minister, Mr A.J. Nicholson.
CELAC, we remind, is a relatively new organisation, formally launched in 2010, as a forum for political dialogue between hemispheric states, but without the United States and Canada. In a sense, it is seen by many as something of a counterpoint to the Organisation of American States, a grouping in which America's influence is dominant, to the point of constraining the will and independence of action of the majority of members.
Time will tell if these two institutions can coexist, with each remaining relevant, within the same political space. However, the early signals for the proponents of CELAC - of which Jamaica is to be counted - seem positive.
For instance, Mrs Simpson Miller's absence is not only from a meeting of her hemispheric counterparts. There was also in Chile a summit of CELAC and the European Union, at which several top European leaders were present and investment and sustainable development were the main issues discussed. Additionally, in the margins of these summits was a conference on private investment and capital flows at which many global corporate leaders and heads of multilateral institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Christine Lagarde, were present.
So, whatever it is that kept Prime Minister Simpson Miller at home must have been exceedingly important, critical even, to the functioning of her Government. We can only assume that it has to do with the ongoing negotiations between Jamaica and the IMF for an economic-support agreement.
MAP A STRATEGY
Mrs Simpson Miller is perhaps, at long last, beginning to map a strategy for communicating the issues to the Jamaican people and for mobilising broad national support for the tough actions to be taken - we mean beyond the prefatory manner with which she tends to address the issue.
As this newspaper consistently argues, an agreement with the IMF is not an end in itself. At best it is a short-term palliative, allowing Jamaica some strength to undertake the hard job of fixing its economic crisis.
The Government, by now, understands the underlying cause of that crisis: for too long we have borrowed too much and invested too unwisely to generate the return to service the debt. Now, at upwards of 140 per cent of GDP, that debt is unsustainable. In the past, we would have borrowed some more to roll over the debt that has fallen due, as well as to finance government expenses. But few people will lend to Jamaica now.
An IMF agreement will reopen some lending sources, but, fundamentally, Jamaica has to borrow less and spend less - the latter being the most important of the actions. The Government, if it is serious, will have to:
Reduce public-sector wages relative to GDP;
Cause its employees to contribute to their pensions;
Modernise the public sector to enhance efficiency;
Reform the tax systems to bring more people into the net and to reduce leakages, including by eliminating the authority of the finance minister to grant waivers.
Implementation will be painful. People have to be frankly told not only of the implications, but of the limited choices we face. That, should she choose to accept it, is the PM's job.
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