EDITORIAL - The other side of the IMF agreement
SHORT OF Jamaica quitting its borrowing habit cold turkey, this newspaper is convinced that an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is the only game in town.
We also believe that given our situation, the deal that has been struck with the IMF is on the best terms that we could get. They are tough, but could have been much worse.
But as we have said before, this agreement with the IMF is merely a means to an end - the start of a process of bringing our debt under control, returning confidence to the economy and creating an environment for sustained growth. Such things can't happen when a country's debt - at least that portion that it accounts for - is 140 per cent of national output and the servicing of which consumes 55 per cent of the annual budget.
But while we broadly support the programme, we are yet to be convinced of the capacity of the government to ensure the sacrifices - including the J$68 billion that savers and pensioners will have to give up over the next four years - are worth it in the end. History, including the muffed IMF agreement and the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) of 2010, has taught us, like most Jamaicans, to be sceptical of promises by our government.
In this case, we do not see from the administration a real and concerted effort to put in place the intellectual and management skills needed to get the job done.
Of course, we heard Finance Minister Peter Phillip's announcement of his intention to create in his ministry by April "a coordinating and implementing unit" to ensure that all government departments "get with the programme". That unit will be staffed by persons recruited from inside and outside the public sector.
Then there is the so-called Stakeholder Oversight Committee, members of which are to be drawn from the private sector, trade unions, civil society and the government. They are to monitor the implementation of the IMF agreement and will have, according to Dr Phillips, "full authority to inform the public of their findings".
These initiatives represent an advance of what has been done before. We support them.
But no matter how talented or driven is the unit that operates from Dr Phillips' ministry, it can achieve little more than the talent and management skills in the various government departments and agencies are capable of doing.
Further, the monitoring committee will, essentially, provide after-the-fact reports, not formulate and/or implement policies and projects - although we accept that the transparency they will lend to the process might encourage action on the part of the bureaucracy.
Our view, therefore, is that the initiatives announced by Dr Phillips must be urgently bolstered by something which the government has as policy, but on which it has waffled for too long: genuine public-sector reform.
Removing 3,000 posts from the Establishment and clipping the wage bill as a percentage of GIP are important things. But just as critical is the need to create an entrepreneurial public sector that sees its primary role as facilitator of enterprise rather than as sinecures to longevity. This demands employing highly talented and skilled people to run and work in government departments.
That must happen now, lest the efforts of Dr Phillips' coordination and oversight teams come to naught.
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