Sun | Jun 20, 2021

Marianne Van Steen and Therese Turner-Jones | Building a foundation for increased transparency and accountability in Jamaica

Published:Sunday | May 16, 2021 | 12:07 AM
Marianne Van Steen
Marianne Van Steen
Therese Turner-Jones
Therese Turner-Jones
1
2
3

Jamaica’s drive to achieve developed country status over the next decade will be a major challenge, further complicated by the struggle to protect businesses and livelihoods in the aftermath of a global health threat. Despite the setbacks caused by this crisis, the Government of Jamaica is in a better position to achieve its Vision 2030 development goals than ever before, thanks in part to the Public Sector Efficiency Programme (PSEP).

Launched in February 2014 and coordinated by the Cabinet Office, the PSEP supported a number of activities that strengthened the transparency and accountability framework of the Jamaican Government in key, sensitive areas.

This, and two subsequent articles, will highlight activities and reforms implemented under the PSEP, which, taken together, helped establish a stronger foundation for Jamaica’s national integrity system: the network of institutions, laws, regulations, and functions that ensure government operates transparently and in the best interest of the Jamaican people.

For government to operate in the people’s best interest, policies and legislation need to be made based on high quality, objective data and information. The fiscal impact of policies and laws, meanwhile, needs to be independently assessed, and government spending needs to be closely monitored. The Technical Research Support Unit (TRSU) and the Independent Fiscal Institution (IFI) were designed within the PSEP to achieve these important objectives.

The TRSU is to be established as a new unit within the Houses of Parliament on the recommendation of the minister of finance. It will provide unbiased, non-partisan research and analysis to parliamentarians on demand, and serve as a knowledge hub for lawmakers and parliamentary committees. This new unit will strengthen the ability of legislators to make evidence-based decisions on behalf of the Jamaican people and enable them to perform their oversight and scrutiny role more effectively.

The seeds for the creation of the TSRU were planted in a 2013 World Bank report, prepared at the request of the Jamaican Government, on parliamentary oversight of public finances. One of the recommendations of that study was the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office to expand public financial and fiscal management advice available to Parliament.

OBJECTIVE INFORMATION

To understand how the TRSU will operate in practice, consider, for example, a proposed bill authorising the construction of a new airport. The TRSU would conduct research to provide parliamentarians with objective information that helps them make a sound decision, whether in favour or against the proposed bill.

As recently as 2019, Jamaica was engaged in a series of economic reform programmes with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). During that time, the IMF provided the requisite analysis and advice which contributed to Jamaica’s compliance with its Fiscal Responsibility Law (FRL). However, following the conclusion of the International Monetary Fund’s standby arrangement in November 2019, the need for continued monitoring of Government’s compliance with the FRL, and its progress towards reducing debt to 60% of GDP by the 2025/2026 fiscal year, became clear.

The Government of Jamaica identified the need to create an IFI that would, publicly and independently from partisan influence, assess Government’s fiscal policies, plans, and performance against macroeconomic objectives, including the long-term sustainability of public finances. The GoJ sought funding from the PSEP to further assess which institutional arrangement would best assist Jamaica in keeping on track towards greater economic independence; the Fiscal Council as the IFI emerged as that mechanism.

The Fiscal Council will be the guardian and interpreter of Jamaica’s fiscal rules, monitoring compliance, reporting on fiscal outcomes and keeping the public informed by providing independent analysis on fiscal policy developments.

Legislation to establish the IFI, The Independent Fiscal Commission Act, 2020, was passed in both Houses of Parliament in February 2021. Prior to tabling, the bill was reviewed by a committee of experts convened thanks to support from the Government of Canada, which has also been a key partner in the creation of the IFI.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Transformation of government entities into more efficient, transparent and accountable organisations is essential if Jamaica is to afford a high quality of life to all its citizens and truly become the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. No individual reform can eliminate corruption on its own – and there’s still plenty of room for improvement; nevertheless, reforms such as those facilitated by the PSEP, in aggregate and complementing one another, will, over time, strengthen the framework for good governance and transparency in Jamaica.

Thanks to the PSEP, Jamaica has taken important steps in the right direction. The challenges ahead are formidable, but Government now has effective tools at hand, an institutional framework built for transparency and accountability, and dedicated public servants responsible for ensuring taxpayer money is used wisely.

The European Union and the IDB are proud to have contributed to the PSEP and will continue to support Public Sector Transformation and Modernisation. Together, we will muster the technical and financial resources needed to meet the challenges of today, while laying the foundation for a better tomorrow. The time is upon us to put our best feet forward, embrace transparency, scrutiny and accountability, and make every dollar count.

Marianne Van Steen, EU Ambassador to Jamaica, and Therese Turner-Jones, General Manager, Country Department Caribbean Group, IDB. This article is the first in a three-part series highlighting reforms carried out under the Public Sector Efficiency Programme (PSEP), implemented by the Cabinet Office.