Sun | Aug 18, 2019

EDITORIAL - Get moving on reform agenda

Published:Monday | July 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM

We are encouraged by the oversight committee's assessment that Jamaica will meet the targets of its first quarterly test, to the end of June, of its economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But like the committee, this newspaper is concerned about the Government's lack of aggression in pursuing the promised reform of the public sector, which everyone agrees is crucial to encouraging investment and driving economic growth.

Most people understand what the problems are. The most fundamental is that Jamaica's civil service is bloated and inefficient, perceived as corrupt and a hindrance to - rather than a facilitator of - enterprise.

The Government's wage bill is nearly 12 per cent of the country's annual output. The IMF suggests that it should be no more than nine per cent of gross domestic product. Indeed, after paying wages and servicing debt, the Government has little to spend on anything else.

In recent times, Jamaican governments have attempted to ameliorate the problem of the unaffordable wage bill with freezes on wage hikes, which do not address the fundamental issue of aligning the establishment with what is affordable and realise the most efficient delivery of government services.

That requires a fundamental rethink of the State and a realignment of jobs and services. Indeed, that was what was expected of the Public Sector Transformation Unit established by the previous administration and managed by senior civil servant Patricia Sinclair McCalla.

Mrs Sinclair McCalla's office produced reams of paper and generated much talk. Unfortunately, this newspaper can identify little in terms of real achievement from her efforts, and that of an oversight committee which was headed by banker Peter Moses, since the change of government more than a year and a half ago.

Mrs Sinclair McCalla has since retired. What has become of Mr Moses' group is anyone's guess.

It was suggested that Mrs Sinclair McCalla's job would have been assumed by Dr Annmarie Barnes, who recently resigned as the permanent secretary in the national security ministry. That has not happened. There is no sign that the Simpson Miller administration is eager to fill the gap.

The upshot is that an inefficient public sector remains knotted in red tape and bureaucracy. No one, apparently, is keen to untangle the mess. Neither do we sense any urgency in restructuring the Government's business processes, which those who engage in commerce or investment so often complain about.

DIRE SITUATION

As the IMF oversight committee implied, Jamaica's situation is too dire for us to take the minimalist approach to reform, which has become the country's hallmark. The situation requires bold action.

We support the committee's suggestion that a few key objectives should be identified, which the Government should work assiduously towards achieving over the next several months. Tax reform, elements of which are to be rolled out by September, should be among those priorities.

But at the same time, the Government must get cracking on pension reform. The Government's unfunded pension liabilities to civil servants, who do not contribute to their retirement fund, is an obligation that carries the risk, if unchecked, of undermining the administration's debt-reduction initiative.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.