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WASTEFUL! Phillips says economy is badly managed, outlines vision for recovery

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

New Shadow minister for finance, planning and the public service, Dr Peter Phillips, has outlined his broad vision of what is needed to rescue Jamaica's economy even as he castigated the Bruce Golding administration of being irresponsible, wasteful and lacking in vision, on its economic management over the past three years.

"It (the economy) has been badly mishandled despite the hype that has been placed on it now," Phillips declared in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.

Stressing that his focus is on his new responsibilities and not on the presidency of the People's National Party (PNP) he described as friendly, his relationship with Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller.

Phillips also served notice that while he would be soliciting advice from his predecessor, Dr Omar Davies, among others, he would be stamping his own authority on the challenging portfolio.

"Part of the benefit of changes of responsibilities is that people are looking at the problem with a new set of eyes so that you can see aspects of it from a different perspective that are sometimes revealed as possibilities and issues that the previous set of eyes didn't see," said Phillips.

"But as much I will listen to him (Davies) and a lot of others, I will be forming my own views and I am certain that it will be possible to call upon him from time to time," he added.

He said he has already spoken with Davies. "We are going to talk some more as I am interested in hearing his most up to date views on the economy.

"We have discussed these matters from time to time but we are talking now in more detail to obtain a sense of his perspective of the problems and specific challenges as he sees them," said Phillips.

In respect of the top post in the party that he had twice failed to secure over a two-year period, Phillips said the questions about his political ambitions keep popping up.

"People keep asking the question over many years and I have said then as I say now that my primary purpose in life is just to see how I can serve in whatever capacity I am in at the time," said Phillips. "There is no vacancy in the party and it is not an issue that is in my mind."

Of the finance portfolio, Phillips said, like all the other assignments he has had in political life, he will be venturing into it with a determination to do his best.

"I have had a long period since university days where issues of development, economics and political economy have been a part of my academic training," said the man who holds a doctorate in international, political economy and development studies.

"So I have that level of interest and I have continued to focus on it in my career in government, by keeping abreast of the issues," Phillips added.

Day-to-day administration

Now saddled with the responsibility to shadow the Finance Minister Audley Shaw, Phillips conceded that he would need to intensify the level of focus to give an intimate grasp of all the issues that arise in day-to-day administration.

"The fact of the matter is that the basic strategic equation for Jamaica is well known," said Phillips. "We have to grow, we have to live within our own resources; we can't continue to mount up a debt in the expectation that we can borrow our way out of our problems."

He said his focus will, therefore, be the creation of an environment which facilitates and encourages enterprise at all levels.

Phillips stressed that a major focus of his is the creation of an equitable environment.

"A major part of our big problem is the feeling in the minds of the people that there are two Jamaicas and there is not an equal treatment for both as the bulk of the resources are being kept in the hands of a favoured few," suggested Phillips.

"We have to find a way to eliminate that perception and it can only be done by ensuring that it is not so," he stressed.

Stressing that in the near term, focus must be placed on ensuring prudence by avoiding the temptation to spending more than the country earns, Phillips accused the Bruce Golding administration of failing to focus on growth.

"In fact, they made the situation much worse than it had to be by profligate spending between 2008 and 2009," declared the opposition spokesman on finance.

Phillips cited the public-sector wage settlements that were promised and settled for.

He charged that Shaw had promised to double the wages of nurses and that of the police and teachers (in the lead-up to the 2007 general elections).

To exacerbate matters, Phillips said the Government came with the settlements that were not lower that Shaw had promised while in opposition but what was higher than what the administration could afford.

"And what you had was the debt going through the roof over a very short period; inflation skyrocketing and when the (financial) crises came, our ability to respond was less than it could have been."

Phillips charged that the Government's responses were delayed because it had misread the signs, predicting that the crisis would have been good for Jamaica.

"The adjustment not only took away what freedom of manoeuvre they had but the adjustments were very slow in coming," he contended.

"Even the IMF agreements were slow in coming and there are questions that can be asked about the snail's pace in arriving at those agreements, which caused all kinds of problems, including the removal of a governor of the Bank of Jamaica."