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EDITORIAL - Imperative of dialogue on the way forward

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Prime Minister Golding, we have been told, warned his ministers, during their weekend retreat, that there would be no room for error in implementing the programme that the administration hopes will lead to economic recovery.

Mr Golding also reiterated what we have known for a long time, that the adjustments that Jamaicans will be asked to bear over the next few years will not be easy.

Indeed, we already have a sense of what is at stake given Finance Minister Audley Shaw's $40 billion in new taxes so far this fiscal year, including the Christmastime hike in the rate of the general consumption tax and the Government's proposed higher take from people who earn over $5 million a year. These measures are part of a fiscal compression programme and other conditionalities that have to be met in exchange for a US$1.2-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Debt-management programme

Among the schemes will be a debt-management programme under which the Government will redeem some of its debts held by domestic financial institutions. These debts will then be reissued at lower interest rates, thereby easing debt-serving costs, which is the Government's biggest single expenditure accounting for over 60 per cent of the Budget in the current fiscal year.

While Jamaica has had IMF programmes and very difficult economic periods in the past, there is no gainsaying that this time, the country is entering uncharted territory.

Indeed, the information minister, Daryl Vaz, remarked after last weekend's retreat by the Cabinet that the circumstances demand national consensus.

"It has to be something that is fully supported by all," he said.

Mr Vaz is, of course, correct. Which is why in the face of this recognition on the part of the administration, we remain surprised at the weakness of its effort to fashion this consensus.

Indeed, Prime Minister Golding had promised that there would be a parliamentary debate on the outline of the economic programme to be pursued by the Government soon after its outline was drafted and ahead of the transmission of a letter of intent to the IMF. As it now stands, based on the statements by Mr Vaz and Minister Shaw, that will not now be the case.

The letter of intent and the policy documents will be with the fund before Parliament reconvenes on January 19. It is unlikely any critique of the programme by the Opposition and civil society, therefore, will find its way into the documents that will be ruled on by IMF directors.

We suspect, however, that there will be room, within the actual implementation of the programme, to accommodate new ideas and suggestions, so long as they do not undermine the overarching goals. In that context, we believe that a broad discourse on the programme and the effort to build national consensus remains desirable. The Opposition has a responsibility to be engaged in any such process.

But, as we have said before, this is not only an issue for the Government and the Opposition and the respective political parties that support them. It is critical, therefore, that Mr Golding keep his promise of convening a serious dialogue of the social partners to arrive at a broad agreement on critical economic and social policy.

If the Government continues to dither, maybe the private sector should help by convening the talks and inviting the other partners.

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