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Portia's government: A hundred days and beyond
Written by AL Edwards (Jamaica Observer Posted On: Friday, 27 April 2012
The government now has to reside in the realm of reality and set Jamaica on a path of sustainable development and fulfilment.
It must now endeavour to inculcate effective leadership, address the moral deficit that hinders the country and remove the cancer that lies in the body politic while at the same time ensuring its citizens can enjoy a reasonable quality of life and that their children in turn can go on and succeed perhaps even more so than the preceding generation. This was never going to transpire in a hundred days.
The more cynical will point to a lack of traction with JEEP, that an impending deal with the IMF is still shrouded in mystery rather like a Masonic lodge meeting -- you know it takes place but know very little about it. Then there are the much needed reforms as prescribed by the IMF, tax reform, pension reform and public sector wage reform where little progress has been made. There are those who point to the postponement of the budget as an ominous sign and the rapid increase in criminal activity that took place at the start of the year. Then there is, of course, the fiasco surrounding the 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations which in itself, some say, is symptomatic of the failure of the country over the last 50 years.
Then again on the other hand, the Prime Minister has allowed her respective ministers autonomy to run their portfolios and has remained largely unobtrusive. There have been no major scandals save and apart from the national flag minus its green debacle. The government is still basking in its glow as a result of obtaining an overwhelming majority and practically breaking the back of the Opposition.The electorate has given it a clear vote of confidence and awaits its performance. There is no sense of evident national disgruntlement over the pace of the government's efforts and the Prime Minister enjoys the love and support of her people.Rather than hasten to address the country's economic woes with short term populist measures, she appears to have decided to undergo a fulsome assessment and weigh her options before seeking to effectively implement meaningful prescriptions.
This thinking can be borne out by the move to not solely rely on the multi-lateral agencies but to prepare to make forays onto the capital markets -- you have to have a back-up plan.
With a clear mandate, Portia Simpson Miller has an opportunity to forever change the economic landscape of Jamaica while at the same time redefining its social and moral fabric and establish new parameters for what it means
to be a Jamaican and what
a Jamaican can expect
This will not be achieved in a 100 days. She has to be prepared for a long innings at the crease and be mindful of colourful flashes around the offstump.
However she must be mindful of not be stymied by inertia. She must impose her will and clearly indicate to the country how she intends to navigate it out of its treacherous waters. She must clearly point the way.
Milton & Rose Friedman in their book, The Tyranny of the Status Quo, say "There is a political generalisation that has repeatedly proved valid: a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity. Further changes come slowly or not at all, and counterattacks develop against the initial changes. The temporarily routed political forces regroup, and they tend to mobilise everyone who was adversely affected by the changes, while the proponents of the changes tend to relax after their initial victories."
The Friedmans go on to make a salient point that Portia Simpson Miller must heed if she is to establish a lasting legacy and take Jamaica to new heights.
"This generalisation has a corollary: a candidate for head of state who hopes to make a real difference has to do more than get elected; he or she must have a detailed program of action well worked out before the election. If a new head of state waits until after the election to convert a general policy position into a detailed program, the program will be ready too late to get adopted.'"
One of the great proponents of this thinking was the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher. At the end of the seventies Britain was a basket case. It had to go cap in hand to the IMF, the country was racked by strikes and low productivity and was regarded as the sick man of Europe. Under Thatcher's tenure, she rolled back the role of the state insisting on home ownership. She encouraged individual liberty and economic prosperity. She reduced inflation and enforced monetarist policies lowering top rate tax from 95 per cent to less than 50 per cent. She oversaw the denationalisation of the British economy and restored Britain as a world power all in 11 eleven years. One of the hallmarks of the Thatcher era was that she sold to the British people that the state would no longer be a universal provider and that Britons would have to prosper by their
own enterprise. She transformed Britain through an ideology centred on self-reliance and enterprise.
Thatcher hit the ground running, determined to drag Britain kicking and screaming into a morally and financially stronger position while at the same time making the country more competitive.
To date there are some encouraging signs with the Simpson Miller Administration. The minister of energy Philip Paulwell has insisted that the reduction of high energy prices will be expeditiously dealt with. He wants to see it fall from US40 cents per kilo-watt hour to US20 cents per kilo-watt hour and to implement an energy mix that includes renewables, coal and even nuclear. He has set about the task with determination, vim, vigour and vitality.
The Minister of Finance Dr Peter Phillips is currently on an overseas junket in search of funds at reasonable rates. He has to find a way to incase the primary surplus from around three per cent of GDP to six per cent of GDP. Making his task more onerous is contending with a fiscal deficit in excess of 6 per cent and ever decreasing revenues. He is engaging the multi-lateral agencies and they remain in cordial and open dialogue but his team is now looking to supplement inflows from the capital markets.
He must also look to increase more investments in the country, both locally and internationally. It has been said ad infinitum, Jamaica must endeavour to be more investment friendly.
The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) has made a number of recommendations that should help in framing a workable tax reform working document. The country's current tax system has been a bone of contention and is regarded unfavourably by the IMF. It is high time it is addressed and the government must move on this quickly with the help of the PSOJ. Special interest groups must put the welfare of the country first and at the forefront of their thinking. They should be arriving at an equitable solution to this problem, one that is just and does not see the ordinary and the less fortunate carrying an inordinate share of the burden.
The Minister of National Security Peter Bunting is holding hands with the police force in attempting to break the back of crime. They seem to be at one accord here. Bunting has declared that crime cost the country dearly, some say six per cent of GDP. He argues that reducing it, in fact helps the economy and bolsters revenues. As of March of this year, Bunting is reporting that crime is below where it was last year and this augers well going forward.
He has made it clear that his aim is to reduce murder from three per day to less than one per day over the next five years. This means that the murder rate must fall from 41 per 100,000 (as of last year) to 12 per 100,000 by 2017. He is actively looking to strategically deploy police personnel in hotspot communities while vowing to bring down kingpins and follow the money. Bunting will need support here but he is on the right track, one that should produce discernible results.
The minister of justice Mark Golding in his quietly effective manner is assiduously looking to simplify the legal system , reduce the backlog of cases and see more trials going through. This will be a work in progress and most agree he is the man for the job.
The 50th year of Independence celebrations must go off well. Although the country could have done better over that period, it must herald the next 50 years as a period of development and a golden age for Jamaica. The country must not limp into the next phase with a sloppy, half-baked celebratory effort. Already the Minister of Culture, Lisa Hanna is financially constrained having to reduce the budget for this momentous event from some $3 billion to just $690 million. Rather than both her and her predecessor throwing political mud pies at each other, this provides the perfect opportunity for a joint effort on the part of both ladies to pull this thing off and send Jamaica into the next 50 years in style. Come on girls you can do it! What a great example you would set and how refreshing it would be to see party lines being crossed for the betterment of Jamaica.
All in all the Prime Minister can go into the next few months confidently and sure of purpose. She must exhibit will and fortitude and lead Jamaica into a new and better dawn.
Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Portia-s-government--A-hundred-days-and-beyond_11347361#ixzz1tFIrUEDc
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