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EDITORIAL - Worthy gains in business rankings

Published:Friday | November 7, 2014 | 11:00 AM

It is no time for over-the-top celebrations, or an assumption that the achievement is of itself economic growth. Nor should there be any diminishing to Jamaica's big gains in this year's World Bank Doing Business report.

The island's jump by 36 places to 58, among 189 countries, is a big deal and ought to be acknowledged as such. Indeed, it was noted as a signal of the country's bad economic policies, inefficient bureaucracy and poor regulatory arrangements when, over the previous nine years, Jamaica's position in these rankings declined.

It does no justice to the island's performance to suggest that there was a shift in the goalposts that made it easier for Jamaica. Indeed, the 2015 report marks a two-year change of its compilation in which, according to the World Bank, "the emphasis on the efficiency in regulation is complemented by an increase in emphasis on its quality".

shift in methodology

Moreover, as the World Bank points out, the shift in methodology, which should result in "improvements in eight of 10 sets" of basic indicators, was inspired by a review of the independent group as well as input from policymakers and other users of the report.

In the circumstance, the 12 reforms to the business environment that Jamaica - under the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - implemented during the review period were not only a historic high for the Caribbean, but brought the island closer to the "frontier" of global best practices and, thus, higher up the league table.

If is probably of significance, and perhaps an indicator of the worthiness of the reforms undertaken by Jamaica, that despite the changes to the methodology of this year's report, 17 of last year's top 20 countries remained within those ranks, with Singapore still No. 1.

The larger point is that while the range of indices employed in the Doing Business report is not a full measure of the efficiency of a country's economy, they are among the critical signposts to be observed as to whether it is heading in the right direction, including having, or building, the institutions necessary for the conduct of business in a sustainable, transparent and competitive matter.

In this regard, the Government must continue, and accelerate, the economic reforms to which it is committed under its agreement with the IMF. Indeed, it is this newspaper's wish that Peter Phillips' remark in New York last week that the top 10 countries in this World Bank document should be aware that Jamaica is coming for their slots should not be a throwaway line, but a declaration of serious intent.

We'll see what happens next year.

Unaccountable Gov't

We have often lamented the appalling lack of accountability in government companies and other QUANGOs that appear not to give a damn for the ultimate owners of these agencies - Jamaican taxpayers. Inattentive and/or inept government ministers are often enablers, and sometimes the perpetrators of this misbehaviour.

Our columnist, A.C. Countz, has, for months, focused attention on this problem, in particular the failure by state institutions to provide financial accounts in a timely manner, but appears to have stirred no conscience in the Government.

But as bad as we thought the problem was, it is indeed worse - as Countz's latest revelation in this newspaper on Wednesday indicated. A swathe of institutions under the portfolios of Robert Pickersgill, Lisa Hanna and Fenton Ferguson have failed, for several years, to file annual financial reports. If they have filed them, they have not been tabled in Parliament.

That is irresponsible. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, if she is serious about that project of attaining economic sustainability and transparency, must bring these recalcitrant ministers to book.

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