WE, TOO, would have liked that the $15.9-billion tax package approved by the Parliament on Tuesday to have have been subject to a broad review ahead of its formal debate.
But we do not agree with the walkout of Parliament by Opposition members of parliament over the failure to get postponement of the passage of the tax package. Both the Opposition leader, Andrew Holness, and the shadow finance minister, Audley Shaw, would have been seized of the urgency of the issue.
In any event, the same points both men made at their impromptu press conference after they left Gordon House could have been argued inside the chamber. Nor did we expect that Tuesday's parliamentary session would have been the end of the matter for a nifty Opposition.
The Government has been criticised for the time it has been taking to conclude an economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the absence of which has sapped business confidence in an already weak economy.
The crux of Jamaica's economic crisis is its oversized debt of 140 per cent of GDP that requires five per cent of the Government's budget to service. The IMF insisted on a debt-reduction strategy before any agreement with Jamaica.
This week, with the IMF's endorsement, the government launched its initiative to restructure J$860 billion of domestic debt to, over seven years, save J$17 billion a year in interest payments. This restructuring is coming ahead of a big maturity later this month.
There was, however, one complication. Even with the debt exchange, there are other prior actions to be completed - to ensure a primary surplus of 7.5 per cent of GDP - before the IMF signs off a programme that will open external funding sources to Jamaica. Among these was Tuesday's tax package. The other, still outstanding, is the agreement with public-sector unions to reduce the public-wage bill from over 11 per cent of GDP to nine per cent.
The timing of the February maturities and the insistence of the Fund that prior actions be undertaken before Jamaica gets an IMF seal of approval added to the crush felt by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips. A delay in the passage of the tax package would, on the face of it, have undermined IMF support for the debt exchange. That would have been detrimental to the success of the debt initiative.
This, however, makes two important statements: one about the price in compromised sovereignty we pay for Jamaica's failure to properly manage its economic affairs; the other is about the nature of our politics.
Dr Phillips, having in the past declared his preference for legislators' scrutiny of revenue measures ahead of their formal tabling, did not feel sufficiently confident to start with this package.
Limited time, notwithstanding, he seemingly feared that partisan bickering would have derailed an IMF deal. That is a failing in our political process in urgent need of repair. There are some issues around differences and debate need not descend to narrow political expedience.
Further, this entire process has demonstrated that when you fail to manage you economic affairs with prudence the adage kicks in: who pays the piper calls the tune. In this case it is the IMF.
There are important lessons here for Jamaica.
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