EDITORIAL - Shameful, Mr Shaw
There are many reasonable and rational people who believe - wrongly, we hope - that Audley Shaw, mainly for the sake of self-vindication, wishes for Jamaica's reform agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fail and for the economy to crash and burn.
Among the exhibits they will offer is Mr Shaw's allusion last Sunday to Richard Byles, co-chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), as a "mouthpiece" of the governing People's National Party (PNP), with whose monthly pronouncements on the country's economic performance, in relation to the IMF targets, he doesn't find favour. Mr Shaw didn't call Mr Byles by name, but could hardly deny this was who he meant.
There is context for Mr Shaw's apparent peeve.
He was the finance minister in 2010 when Jamaica entered an economic-support agreement with the IMF that was soon derailed because the Government was irresolute in undertaking the tough, unpopular reforms required under the programme. In the last two and a half years, faced with an unsustainable debt and unwilling lenders, the Government has been implementing the often painful, fiscal and other policies necessary if the country is to bring its debt-to-GDP ratio to manageable levels. It has, up to now, consistently met performance targets, including returning an annual primary surplus of GDP.
Part of the reason for this success is the oversight provided by EPOC. It's a conscience, other than the Government's, capable of seeing things as they are, and will tell Jamaicans the truth in its observations. In the circumstance, EPOC is a counterbalance to the inclination, as governments often resort, to relaxing discipline and surrendering to populism.
So far, the Government has kept to most of its targets - quantitative and qualitative - about which Mr Byles reports, even as he, on the basis of the data, analyses the performance of the economy and the implications of the broader reforms, which he clearly believes are important if Jamaica is to end more than 40 years of stagnation and move to a path of sustained growth.
But Mr Byles, who successfully manages a major corporation, has done more than that. He has, for instance, called for additional strategies to induce growth, warned of the dangers of reform fatigue in the absence of growth, and has told the prime minister that she should shake up her Government and get competent people in key positions.
Reasonable, intelligent people can disagree on elements of the IMF programme's efficacy, although few, we expect, would question the desirability of bringing Jamaica's debt under control. Fewer still, this newspaper insists, would, in the absence of malice, brand Richard Byles as a mouthpiece of the PNP or any other political party.
In that regard, we, like the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, reject and condemn Mr Shaw's ad hominem attack on Mr Byles. What we would suggest that Mr Shaw do is engage in a fact-based, data-driven analysis of the IMF-backed programme and defeat its supporters on that front.
Further, it is important for the Jamaica Labour Party, for which Mr Shaw speaks on economic matters, and the party's leader, Andrew Holness, to state clearly whether they support the shadow finance minister's statement on Richard Byles and their approach, in general, to private-sector people who provide their time and intellect to national causes. Someone like Aubyn Hill comes to mind.