IN FEBRUARY 2010, Portia Simpson Miller, then leader of the opposition, blasted then Prime Minister Bruce Golding for breaking a promise to disclose the full content of the letter of intent (LOI) before an agreement was signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Golding had decided against holding the debate before the LOI was submitted to the IMF saying the details relating to the programme were so sensitive that public disclosure, or a debate in Parliament on the matter, could delay or even derail an agreement.
Fast-forward three years and Simpson Miller is the prime minister of Jamaica, Golding is history, and the country's economic situation is as bad, if not worse, than when the multilateral organisation was engaged in 2010. One thing, however, that appears unlikely to change is that the Parliament will only be made aware of the content of the proposed pact after the IMF has been presented with a LOI.
The Gavel recalls how bitterly Simpson Miller complained about the fact that the elements of the proposed agreement were kept close to the chest by the Government. Equally disappointed was Dr Omar Davies, then opposition spokesman on finance. He had argued that if the full details could not be disclosed before the IMF signed off on the document, it would mean that the parliamentary discussion would take place in a vacuum.
"What we understood then was that a letter of intent - which contains the commitment of the Government of Jamaica, on behalf of the people of Jamaica, to abide by certain rules - what we understood by a full debate was that we would be exposed to what the elements of this agreement contained, and that we would have the opportunity to voice our views, as well as to make suggestions," Davies had said.
The Opposition, at the time, was consistent with its position. In August 2009, Davies had warned, during a press conference held at the People's National Party's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquarters that the Opposition would not be 'yes men' to any IMF deal.
"The Opposition will not allow Parliament to be used to rubber-stamp Cabinet decisions on these matters simply because of any agreed deadline for submitting a loan application to the IMF," Davis said.
Oh, what a few years can do, especially when your head has become the one wearing the crown!
Simpson Miller and her finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips, will today address the country in a national broadcast on the protracted IMF deal.
Phillips has missed his target to secure an agreement for Jamaica by the end of 2012, but Government insiders say the country is on the brink of inking an extended fund facility with the Fund. When that address comes this evening, we wonder whether Simpson Miller will recall that she was insistent that there should be a full parliamentary debate on the elements of the LOI before it is submitted to the IMF.
No interest in deal
We find it rather strange that the current parliamentary opposition does not seem interested in the contents of the deal. In fact, by the utterances of Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, it would settle for any IMF deal rather than wait for the best deal. This posture is most disappointing; it smacks of throwing caution to the wind, and ignoring a fiduciary responsibility to the Jamaican people. We are not advocating that the Opposition become a stumbling block in the way of the IMF deal.
However, we expect that the Opposition, notwithstanding the fact that it crashed the 2010 agreement, must demand, as far as possible, full debate in the Parliament on the elements of the proposed new IMF deal. While we suspect that Simpson Miller will make the usual announcement today that her administration would be meeting with several interest groups such as the Opposition, the Jamaica Bankers' Association, private-sector groups, and trade union leaders, we expect to hear that the Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the proposals before the agreement is inked.
The Gavel does not buy the line that the details relating to the IMF programme are so sensitive that public disclosure, or a debate in Parliament on the matter, could further delay or even derail an agreement with the IMF, and this Simpson Miller dare not say to the nation today. The last time we checked, the legislature acts as a check and balance on the executive, and this was written into the nation's governance framework to ensure that the voice of the people is heard, by way of the Parliament.
The Gavel will not condone Parliament being used to rubber-stamp Cabinet decisions on these matters simply because of any agreed deadline for submitting a loan application to the IMF.
We know of the prime minister's deep-seated respect for democracy and the primacy of the Parliament, and even though the Opposition is silent, we know she will announce tonight that the legislature will debate the elements of the proposed programme before it is submitted to the IMF. We also know that the members of the House of Representatives will bring all their intellectual agility to the debate, thereby ensuring that the best possible programme is submitted to the IMF for consideration.
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