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Leadership for the times - IMF boss salutes Portia, Peter for putting Jamaica back on track

Published:Sunday | June 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM
From left: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, and Horace Dalley, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance, at a function at the Office of the Prime Minister last Friday. - Gladstone Taylor/ Photographer

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips have received the endorsement of head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, who has expressed satisfaction with their leadership in implementing the Fund-supported economic reform programme.

"I wanted to pay tribute to Minister Phillips and to his colleagues, under the leadership of the Most Honourable Prime Minister, for what has been a clear change of course, not only in the relationship between Jamaica and the IMF, but a change of course in deciding to tackle the issues head-on and to make the hard choices and successfully complete four reviews," said Lagarde, who left the island yesterday after a two-day working visit.

Jamaica inked a four-year extended fund facility with the IMF on May 1, 2013, nearly two years after the collapse of a standby agreement which was inked by the Bruce Golding-led Government in 2010.

"The story of Jamaica with the IMF has been bumpy, to say the least. Programmes started, pro-grammes suspended, programmes renewed, programmes resuspended, and what I am saying here to the authorities, to the private sector, civil-society representatives, it is important that you stay the course, and it is important that you don't waste the outstanding results that you have already put under your belt in the last 15 months," said the IMF boss.

'SUPERB WORK'

Lagarde described Phillips' management of the economy programme as "astonishing", saying the results thus far reflect "superb work".

She also described as "thorough" a discussion she had last Friday morning with Simpson Miller about what additional structural reform needs to be implemented.

"To be greeted by a woman of that calibre is a rare privilege," said Lagarde in reference to the prime minister.

So far, the Government has had to implement a wage freeze for public-sector workers, a debt exchange, and new taxes, as well as structural reforms such as the passage of fiscal rules to curtail spending, and the depreciation of the currency, which the IMF said was overvalued.

"The track record of Jamaica, let's face it, was not really the best that you could think of," said Lagarde.

Lagarde quoted an African proverb which she says describes Phillips' approach to economic management.

"There is no favourable wind for a sailor who knows where he is going," she said in tribute to Phillips. "You know where you want to go and there will be externalities. God forbid that there is a hurricane in the next few weeks because the season is coming; God forbid that the US economy goes south rather than north, … but you know where you want to go, and I hope you will achieve that journey for the people of Jamaica."

Meanwhile, Lagarde said Simpson Miller is the "best possible advocate" that the most vulnerable Jamaicans could have. She said that owing to the nature of the adjustments required under the IMF programme, the process will be painful and, therefore, the most vulnerable must be protected.

"If anybody can be the best advocate of this requirement, it is the Most Honourable Prime Minister, who is extremely focused on it," she said.

Phillips later told The Sunday Gleaner that the recognition of the IMF and the international markets is an endorsement of Jamaica's ability to undertake corrective action as far as its own economic institutions and prospects are concerned.

"We have to grasp that the essential requirement for any independent country is this ability to manage our affairs with our own resources and to take a place alongside other nations that are doing the same thing," said Phillips.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com