EDITORIAL - The PM's pledge
Disregarding the ironies inherent in harking back to Michael Manley's budget-busting populism of the 1970s, and, shorn of its political juvenescence about the so-called missing four years of the recent Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) government, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller came close to giving an exemplary speech at her People's National Party's (PNP) conference on Sunday.
Or, more to the point, halfway through the PNP's term in office, and with municipal elections likely in the first quarter of next year, Mrs Simpson Miller all but gave Jamaicans a solemn pledge that her administration would continue to implement the economic reform programme it agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Launching this project, and committing to maintaining it, is not a politically easy option. For achieving a primary surplus of 7.5 per cent of GDP has meant that the Government has been forced to spend and borrow less. This has meant, among other things, freezing public-sector wages, raising taxes, reducing subsidies - broadly, reducing the size of Government and the living standards of Jamaicans.
We have been driven to these painful policies because of Jamaica's crisis of debt, which reached 150 per cent of GDP and used to require more than half of the Government's annual Budget to service. Moreover, after debt servicing, what was left over from taxes could hardly pay one-fifth of public-sector wages. So, the Government borrowed to meet its other costs, depriving the private sector of capital to invest and create jobs.
This fiscal year, the Budget will be balanced and the slashing of the fiscal deficit over the past two years propelled Jamaica more than 70 places upwards, to 21, on this specific index among the countries on this year's Global Competitiveness Index. That is good!
But as Mrs Simpson Miller acknowledged, there is much more to be done to transform Jamaica into a modern, competitive economy and, as she puts it, the delivery of economic independence.
She said: "That is my mission. We have to sustain economic growth above the average annual growth rate of 0.8 per cent that has existed over many decades. We must reduce our public debt stock, which has consistently been a burden on the backs of the Jamaican people. This debt has held us back as a nation ... . Now, at this point in our history, I am leading a team that has the mission of ensuring that there is fundamental economic, social and cultural change."
We take Mrs Simpson Miller at her word, but are aware, as the prime minister suggests that she is, too, that the economic transformation is a prerequisite only upon which the others are to be sustainably built. And while we agree with the prime minister that progress has, and is, being made, it is important that the process be accelerated if public support for the project is to be sustained.
Estimates that the economy could grow by up to three per cent next year will help - if it is delivered. But with the utmost respect for Mrs Simpson Miller's authority to choose, we feel that it has a better chance of being delivered if the PM trims and refreshes her executive, several of whose members are clearly jaded and don't enjoy, or inspire, the confidence of the public.
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