WHILE IT may smart from the third-quarter tumble in business and consumer confidence, the Simpson Miller administration would be wrong if it yields to pressure for an upending of its economic programme.
Rather, the Government must find the guts to stay the course, even as it dramatically improves its facilitation of growth-oriented projects and the articulation and mobilisation of support for its core policies.
And if it took their appreciation of the economic project for granted, it should now be clear to Government that the private sector must be part of the audience to which it articulates the essentials of the programme.
According to the Conference Board's report, confidence among consumers slipped 17 per cent from the second quarter to the second-lowest level in the dozen years it has been doing these surveys.
Consumer pessimism is understandable.
As part of its economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government has raised taxes, frozen the wages of the people it employs, reduced its borrowing, and is spending less. Additionally, since the start of the year, the Jamaican dollar has depreciated by over 12 per cent.
FALL IN LIVING STANDARDS
In other words, Jamaicans are taking a hit on their living standards at a time when jobs are scarce.
Such outcomes are what ought to have been anticipated 10 months ago when the complaints were widespread that after a year in office, the Simpson Miller administration had failed to conclude an agreement with the IMF.
That agreement was critical: with its debt of one-and-half times of national output, few lenders were willing to gamble on Jamaica. They required the IMF's assurance that we would be on our best fiscal behaviour. Fiscal responsibility ultimately leaving capital for the private sector to invest, to grow the economy, and create jobs.
Not only has the theory not yet translated to action, but the pessimism of the private sector is as deep as consumers'. Nearly two-thirds of them have the most negative views of the economy in eight years and there is little propensity to invest. At the same time, there are few authoritative voices in the private sector contextualising the issues.
LACK OF CONFIDENCE
Worse is the absence of a coherent strategy to articulate the essentials of the programme and why they are necessary, exacerbated by its incompetence thus far in handling potential growth-stimulating projects that generate public confidence in their efficacy.
There is, for example, the debacle in the management, by the Office of Utilities Regulation and the energy ministry, of the bids for power plants to deliver 360 megawatts of electricity. The proposal for Chinese firms to develop a logistics hub at Goat Islands, or the management of the information, lacked the deftness and certainty that inspire confidence and support. This is unfortunate, given the need for investment, growth and jobs in Jamaica's largely moribund economy.
A number of other big ideas remain outstanding, including the development/completion of the north-south highway by China Harbour Engineering Company, and the divestment and expansion of the Kingston trans-shipment port.
These have to be handled in a manner that the Government, so far, has not shown itself capable. If it finds a regime to do this properly, that will go a long way in lifting confidence from the levels reported in the Conference Board's survey.
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