Jamaica's big challenge at a critical phase

shadiasimpson, shadiasimpson@nationnews.com

Added 23 October 2012

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THERE ARE growing fears that Jamaica will once again have to face the serious consequences of a confrontation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), even though not to the extent of what transpired in the 1970s when the Michael Manley administration felt compelled to walk away from that institution’s fiscal reform prescriptions. After last weekend’s cabinet retreat, there surfaced even stronger doubts that a promised new agreement between the Fund and the Portia Simpson-Miller administration could be reached before yearend as promised.   Ironically, there is the amusing scenario in 2012 of the signal from an administration in Washington of “willingness” to provide “technical assistance” to the government in Kingston to help arrive at a new agreement, while the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is warning against any initiative involving “political support” from the United States. At the same time, as if to further dramatize the contradictions and challenges facing the country, while the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition was accusing the government of being in a state of “policy paralysis”, the Private Sector Organization was offering some comfort by suggesting that it might be better to delay, if necessary, concluding a new IMF accord in preference for a “better agreement”. What’s at stake points to a grim picture for a nation virtually sandwiched between endemic criminality and skyrocketing unemployment, and reeling under the burden of a national debt of about JAM$1.68 trillion and a debt ratio at 140 per cent of gross domestic product. There is clearly an urgent need for national consensus, however challenging such a route may be for the government and parliamentary opposition, with structured inputs from the private sector leading civil society organizations and the labour movement. Such an approach, for which there may be no precedents anywhere within the Caribbean Community, should certainly be preferable to depending on a promised goodwill gesture by the United States State Department to help in influencing the IMF. For a start, such “friendship assistance” cannot be seriously treated as “bankable assurance” for Jamaicans. After all, as Barbadians are aware, there is the recent reminder for Jamaica of elements within the same Washington administration attempting to influence the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to remove countries like Barbados from receiving low-interest loans for social and economic development. Thankfully, the IDB has made clear that this is a non-starter. If, as seems, Jamaica is indeed at the crossroads with a government less than a year old and saddled with unresolved IMF negotiations initiated by the previous JLP administration, then resorting to a unique initiative for national consensus could well prove much more beneficial, in the longer term, for Jamaica than gambling with a foreign input, however tempting the offer.

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