Editorial - Moving beyond parliamentary dramatics
It would have been grander theatre if the Opposition had 'elected' a speaker and had managed to have the mace in place for its unilateral sitting of the House on Tuesday.
In any event, its gathering in Parliament, facing empty government benches, was dramatic. It effectively highlighted its demand for a debate on the macroeconomic programme that was fashioned in support of the Government's case for a US$1.2-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Daryl Vaz, the information minister, however, accused the Opposition of disingenuity and of behaviour calculated to create panic. After all, he argued, they had previously been told that Parliament would be reconvened from its Christmas break on January 19 when the debate will be entertained.
"We will not be rushed," said Mr Vaz.
Except that Prime Minister Bruce Golding had indicated that there would be a debate on the economic programme after its broad parameters had been established and before it was transmitted to IMF directors for approval. The assumption was that the Opposition, and presumably civil society groups, would be able to influence the document prior to its final consideration by the fund.
That will not be the case if, as Mr Vaz said, the letter of intent is all but complete and will be forwarded to the IMF by next week.
That is unfortunate, we feel, notwithstanding Mr Vaz's assertion of the Government's right and responsibility to take critical economic decisions. All is not lost if the Government has the will.
The matter at hand is greater than either the Government or the Opposition or the Jamaica Labour Party or the People's National Party (PNP) from which, respectively, they spring. After years of economic underachievement, the current global recession and the recent bungling on taxation, Jamaica faced, perhaps, its worst crisis ever. The country will have to undergo a painful adjustment, which was signalled by the December tax package of nearly $22 billion.
As we have said before, in an environment with low levels of trust and extremes in political competition, as is the case in Jamaica, implementing difficult programmes is not easy. That is why we backed the idea of attempting to build consensus on broad economic policy, although we knew it would be hard work.
Indeed, that it is an idea not only of this newspaper. Early in the administration, even when the Government was downplaying the likelihood of Jamaica being seriously impacted by the global economic crisis, Prime Minister Golding had declared in favour of developing such a partnership, involving all stakeholders, including the Opposition. Despite the PNP's dramatics of this week, the idea remains worthwhile and the initiative, the social-partnership agenda, should be pursued by the Government.
Christopher Zacca, who we had expected to be Mr Golding's point man with the private sector when he was named the PM's top aide towards the end of last year, should make the jump-starting of the social-partnership discussions his top priority. Those discussions should be convened now, and need not undermine a parliamentary debate. It would be up to the PNP to stay away, if it dared, from these talks and explain to the Jamaican people why.
If the Government lacks the will to get the discussions going, the private sector may just have to intervene.