In praise of trans­parency

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THE GOVERN­MENT has ap­prox­i­mately taken on board this news­pa­per’s sug­ges­tion that it keep in place the Eco­nomic Pro­gramme Over­sight Com­mit­tee (EPOC) as a fis­cal watch­dog and es­tab­lish what­ever new group nec­es­sary to mon­i­tor other as­pects of its standby ar­range­ment (SBA) with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF).

So, this week, Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness an­nounced the es­tab­lish­ment of the Pub­lic Sec­tor Trans­for­ma­tion Over­sight Com­mit­tee (P-STOC), chaired by trade union­ist Danny Roberts, to join EPOC, as well as his Eco­nomic Growth Coun­cil (EGC), led by banker Michael Lee-Chin.

There is sound logic be­hind this ap­proach, de­spite the ar­gu­ments of those who had ad­vo­cated the dis­band­ing of EPOC, or its trans­for­ma­tion into a broader, more en­com­pass­ing body to re­flect the de­clared wider fo­cus of the new IMF agree­ment. We dis­agreed.

For while re­form­ing the pub­lic sec­tor, to cre­ate an en­tre­pre­neur­ial bu­reau­cracy that fa­cil­i­tates the private sec­tor, is crit­i­cal to ex­pand­ing the econ­omy, we are clear that macroe­co­nomic sta­bil­ity is sine qua non to sus­tain­able growth, and this fis­cal mis­chief, for which govern­ments have a propen­sity, is the great­est dan­ger to this.

Over the past four years, EPOC, un­der the lead­er­ship of its then chair­man, Richard Byles, has proven it­self to be a non-par­ti­san, frank and trans­par­ent ar­biter of the Govern­ment’s man­age­ment of the fis­cal ac­counts, which, in no small mea­sure, helped the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, and this one, be­have closer to their bet­ter selves.

EPOC’s new chair­man, Keith Dun­can, the CEO of the JMMB Group, has a dif­fi­cult act to fol­low. He might es­cape be­ing branded by the Op­po­si­tion as a mouth­piece for the Govern­ment, but he might well be called worse, and he should be aware that the des­ig­na­tion could come from ei­ther side of the aisle. If he does his job well, he can ig­nore these slurs.


Our sug­ges­tion to Mr Dun­can is that de­spite the quar­terly in­dica­tive bench­marks and hal­fyear IMF re­views un­der the new pro­gramme, EPOC should con­tinue to de­liver monthly analy­ses of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fis­cal per­for­mance, whose con­tex­tual pre­sen­ta­tions need not ap­pear to crowd the Govern­ment and im­pinge on its broader ob­jec­tives.

We look for­ward to the other mem­bers of Danny Roberts’ com­mit­tee – which will in­di­cate the ro­bust­ness with which it in­tends to go about its as­sign­ment – and how he pro­poses to struc­ture its work. While we ap­pre­ci­ate that the re­quire­ments from P-STOC and, there­fore, its analy­ses, will be more qual­i­ta­tive than quan­ti­ta­tive, we be­lieve that EPOC has pro­vided a tem­plate which is ad­justable to its own needs.

There are pos­si­ble ar­eas of over­lap be­tween P-STOC and the EGC, al­though we suspect that their em­phases might dif­fer. In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, how­ever, in this ven­ture there can’t be too much trans­parency.

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