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EDITORIAL - Refresh the Cabinet, PM

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 8:00 AM

A month ago, David Cameron reshuffled his Cabinet partly in response to the dynamics of British politics. His Tories face an election next year, and despite the nascent recovery in the United Kingdom's economy, some of his ministers were decidedly stale. They didn't embody the sense of transformation - the energy or will to drive the country forward.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has a similar problem. Except that her situation is more urgent, though not driven by an election timetable. The elections are not due until the end of 2016.

To be fair to Mrs Simpson Miller, she has presided over one of the most productive periods of structural reform in Jamaica's modern economic history. Having badly managed our economy for decades and enjoying annual average growth of less than one per cent over 40 years, Jamaica became one of the world's most indebted countries, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 150 per cent. Thanks largely to oversight from the International Monetary Fund and tough decisions like bus fare hikes that take effect this week, the debt is on a downward arc. The Government has also begun reforms to the tax system to encourage enterprise and bring more people into the net.

PATH OF GROWTH

There is greater stability in the public accounts. And despite the broadly contractionary nature of the policies, especially in earlier phases when higher taxes and reduced government spending bit hard, there are signs that the economy might be on the path of growth. In the three months to the end of June, real GDP expanded by an estimated 1.2 per cent, the fourth consecutive quarter of growth. Though not robustly, the economy has also been producing more jobs. In April, unemployment, at 13.6 per cent, was nearly three percentage points better than a year earlier and nearly 26,000 more people were in jobs.

Not only is there still much work to be done, but the successes, thus far, remain fragile. They can easily go awry, especially if Jamaicans, perceiving no benefits to them, grow weary of reform. That is a real danger. It requires the close attention of the PM. Accelerating growth, therefore, must be the priority.

First, this newspaper does not support calls for tax breaks and other market-distorting subsidies of picking winners. Nor do we believe that the Government should, in any significant way, be in the business of running enterprises. Rather, we support the idea of an entrepreneurial State, in the sense of a bureaucracy that is robust in its facilitation of the private sector. Conceptually, the Government may support this idea, but it does not behave this way.

Or, put another way, while Peter Phillips, the finance minister, has been steadfast on the reforms, and Omar Davies, the transport and works minister, is energetic in pushing big projects, the administration appears to have no one to champion the broader aspect of reform. No one, for instance, seems to be in the lead in removing red tape, or helping to translate the first quarter's 20 per cent jump in business confidence into actual projects. Derrick Kellier, at the labour ministry, for example, misses the idea that his is a key economic ministry. And no one would notice, or care, if people like Colin Fagan, Luther Buchanan, Natalie Neita-Headley, and others, were no longer in the Government.

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.