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EDITORIAL - PM must show courage on economic front

Published:Thursday | May 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

IN HER Time magazine tribute to Portia Simpson Miller on being declared by the US publication as one of the world's 100 most influential, Yvette D. Clarke predicted that this country's leader "will have a profound impact as she strives to be a transformational figure in Jamaica".

Ms Clarke, a member of the US Congress from New York, has, we believe, far more than a passing sense of our prime minister. She is of Jamaican parentage. Her mother is Una Clarke, the Jamaican who served as a New York City councilwoman.

In her appreciation of Prime Minister Simpson Miller, Ms Clarke noted the PM's backing of republican status for Jamaica as well as her promotion of "full civil rights for gays and lesbians".

Like us, Ms Clarke holds the PM's stance on gay rights to be courageous, given Jamaica's "violent history of homophobia".

Tax/economic matters

However, there is a far more immediate and courageous act to which Mrs Simpson Miller is called, which Congresswoman Clarke did not mention and on which the prime minister has been strangely silent. We refer to the tax/economic reform matters that ought to be high on the government's agenda, but of which the administration appears to have neither a coherent nor cohesive position.

Jamaica's crisis of debt is widely known and globally acknowledged. Our government owes nearly J$1.7 trillion, which is around 131 per cent of gross domestic product.

Our debt profile may not be quite as bad as Greece's. We are, nonetheless, up there with, and worse than, most of the other European economies whose problems have caused rating agencies to downgrade their bonds, continue to threaten the existence of the euro and have forced them into economic austerity.

Jamaica dithers.

Indeed, the previous administration's failure to aggressively pursue tax, pension and public-sector reforms all but squandered the gains it contrived from a restructuring of the domestic debt. The policy impotence was a big contributor to the collapse of a US$1.2-billion standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The tax-reform precondition for a new deal with the IMF has not gone away. The finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips, talks eloquently and consistently, but in macro terms, of what is to be done. His, however, is a lonely voice.

Government green papers

Dr Phillips' Cabinet colleagues, notably the charismatic PM, are mostly silent - including on the offering of government green papers. Indeed, the non-Cabinet proxies of the government's dominant populist wing are largely hostile to tax-reform initiatives of the Private Sector Working Group (PSWG).

There is, of course, nothing inevitable or sacrosanct about the PSWG's proposal. What is unassailable, though, is that Jamaica cannot afford to do nothing - unless, that is, Mrs Simpson Miller intends to preside over an economy that will, at best, stagnate, but whose greater likelihood, given a looming fiscal deficit, is free fall.

Mrs Simpson Miller, as Congresswoman Clarke noted, has the capacity for courage. She now has the opportunity to be really transformational on the economic front.

There are admittedly tough decisions to be taken. No one in government or the private sector possesses Mrs Simpson Miller's capacity, or capital, to explain to the Jamaica people the gravity of the situation. The issue is whether she wants to be the difference.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.