The power of bench­marks

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - 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

AN AP­PAR­ENTLY para­dox­i­cal, but sig­nif­i­cant, fact of Ja­maica’s new standby ar­range­ment (SBA) with the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF) is its in­clu­sion of a num­ber of crit­i­cal, though seem­ingly non-economic, re­forms to which the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion has com­mit­ted it­self.

An ex­am­ple of this is the un­der­tak­ing to, within a year’s time, ta­ble a law re­plac­ing the one that now gov­erns the Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force to sup­port the trans­for­ma­tion into “a mod­ern, in­tel­li­gence-led po­lice ser­vice that en­sures cit­i­zen se­cu­rity, with stronger sys­tems of ad­min­is­tra­tion, man­age­ment, and in­ter­na­tional dis­ci­pline”. At the same time, a law will be passed to es­tab­lish the Ma­jor Or­gan­ised Crime and Anti-Cor­rup­tion Agency (MOCA) as an in­de­pen­dent lawen­force­ment body, while the sin­gle an­ticor­rup­tion agency should be­come a re­al­ity.

These, and sev­eral oth­ers, are not struc­tural bench­marks, which is to say, they are not among the for­mal cri­te­ria for which fail­ure to ful­fil could lead to penal­ties un­der the pro­gramme. They are im­por­tant, how­ever, in two fun­da­men­tal ways.

This, in part, is some­thing that Ja­maica has long known about it­self: We are a so­ci­ety with high lev­els of cyn­i­cism and low lev­els of trust in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies. Peo­ple don’t be­lieve that their gov­ern­ment will do what it says, to go about its obli­ga­tions with hon­esty. Based on the history of be­hav­iour, peo­ple have good rea­son for this.

In this re­gard, there is a propen­sity for ex­ter­nal over­sight and for­eign val­i­da­tion such as comes with the im­pri­matur of the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund. Which un­der­lines our sec­ond ob­ser­va­tion. It is a rea­son­able in­fer­ence that by specif­i­cally list­ing these non­bench­mark cri­te­ria in this pol­icy ma­trix, the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion is of­fer­ing a trans­par­ent dec­la­ra­tion that they will be done within the spec­i­fied time frame.

Such an un­der­tak­ing has added im­port. As odd or per­verse as it may seem at first glance, they have a cen­tral place in any di­a­logue on the national econ­omy. Myr­iad stud­ies have shown that Ja­maica’s high lev­els of crime an­nu­ally de­prive the coun­try of up to seven per­cent­age points of economic growth. Fur­ther, the per­cep­tion of cor­rup­tion is a dis­in­cen­tive to in­vest­ment, job cre­ation, and, ul­ti­mately, economic expansion.

MACROE­CO­NOMIC STA­BIL­ITY

In­deed, the Gov­ern­ment’s Economic Growth Coun­cil (EGC), hav­ing de­clared the main­te­nance of macroe­co­nomic sta­bil­ity a given, has made achiev­ing cit­i­zen se­cu­rity and jus­tice the most im­por­tant com­po­nent of its growth agency.

There is con­sen­sus that shift­ing this par­a­digm must in­clude an over­haul of a con­stab­u­lary that is widely re­garded as cor­rupt and in­ef­fi­cient, not struc­tured for the time in which it ex­ists, but re­sis­tant to change. For the bet­ter part of two decades, it has en­ter­tained re­form in fits and starts but with­out fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion. Two and a half years ago, when the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion es­tab­lished MOCA as a semi-au­ton­o­mous agency, we ar­gued that it should have gone all the way at once. We pre­sume they feared the po­ten­tial political back­lash.

Cir­cum­stances, per­haps, are more pro­pi­tious now for po­lice re­form and for the merg­ing of the anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies. Hav­ing them in an IMF agree­ment adds con­fi­dence that real change will hap­pen – as has been the case with the macroe­con­omy. What peo­ple now need to see are the specifics of the pro­posed changes. That di­a­logue must start im­me­di­ately.

Clar­i­fi­ca­tion

In Sun­day’s ed­i­to­rial, we in­di­cated that in the 2010-11 fis­cal year, the Gov­ern­ment’s wage bill was 23 per cent of GDP. It was, in fact, 10.7 per cent of GDP and pro­jected to reach 10.5 per cent in 2013-14 and pro­jected to hit 9.0 per cent in 2015-16. It, how­ever, was es­ti­mated to be 9.6 per cent of GDP this fis­cal year and fall to the 9.0 per cent tar­get in 2018-19.

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