By Gary Spaulding
The announcement of yet another debt-exchange programme has highlighted a worrying trait that characterises the 13-month-old Government - its propensity to withhold critical information from the populace.
In an uncharacteristic and somewhat candid presentation on Monday night, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller finally acknowledged what has been communicated through the mass media by aptly describing as "a crisis" Jamaica's economic conundrum.
Reality has finally replaced persistent denial, with the prime minister acknowledging that the country "can come out of the crisis by taking extraordinary measures with the urgency that the situation demands".
One of the "extraordinary measures" was the launch of a National Debt Exchange (NDX) - really a second JDX - that has placed the spotlight squarely on the ongoing negotiations of a new extended fund facility with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the implications for the poor and vulnerable in society.
Economists and political pundits have repeatedly suggested that the People's National Party would have known all along what was required for the debt-management programme and had refused to come clean when, in Opposition, it was campaigning for power in 2011.
But after Monday's broadcast, the public remains at a loss, as it still does not have an inkling when the Simpson Miller administration is going to ink a deal with the IMF.
Of some significance is the decision of the Government not to invite the media to yesterday's NDX launch at the Bank of Jamaica. (Our own reporter/photographer had to gatecrash the meeting). Is this part of the Government's strategy - to withhold crucial information and to dish out selective dribs and drabs to a craving public?
When The Gleaner spoke with Edward Seaga, a former prime minister and finance minister, a month ago, he was frank about the inevitably harsh measures: "... Once you sign up and the ball starts to roll, you don't have any choice after that, of moving out of the way. You got to roll with it."
As Jamaicans continue to languish in varying degrees of uncertainty, not the least of which is the fate of public-sector workers, what does state of affairs say about the management of the IMF negotiations?
Why shouldn't Jamaicans be told in specific terms of ALL the precise targets that are required to facilitate the signing of a deal and a time frame within which they are to be achieved? The Government is not doing that in relation to the management of the process.
The Government took 13 months to signal that there was going to be a second JDX - which Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips had all along vehemently denied - and eventually launched the offer yesterday at breakneck speed. The 'economy' minister seems to have been economical with the truth!
MORE SURPRISES COMING?
At no time did Portia Simpson Miller, as opposition leader excitedly gunning for the prime ministership, signal to Jamaicans that the impending harsh measures, to facilitate an IMF deal, might have included a second debt-exchange programme.
It has taken the Government more than a year to inform a beleaguered public of a second round of sacrifices. What else are Jamaicans not being told?
The debt exchange is only one prior action that will secure an IMF agreement. What are ALL the other prior actions that will come into play?
The public is yet to hear of a definitive position on the public-sector reform programme, aside from talk of wage restraint - a malady to which public-sector employees and some private-sector workers have become worryingly accustomed.
When will public-sector reform materialise? How do the poor and vulnerable fit in the plan? Where is the safety net for this group? Are we being told the truth?
With the Government moving to impose what, effectively, is a second tax on pensioners, as well as on holders of deposits and investments whose interest rates will slide, is the State tightening its own belt to cut needless expenditure?
After yesterday afternoon's shotgun tax package, touching the lottery, property, phonecards, and businesses - which Audley Shaw called "massive and iniquitous" - will Jamaicans be blindsided by more surprises?
The Government would do well to fess up now.
Gary Spaulding is a political affairs journalist and winner of the 2012 Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.