Phillips & P.M. Spot on!

Marcia Forbes PhD

I distrust hearsay and second hand reports, preferring to see and hear for myself, especially when politics is involved. So I dropped everything to sit in front of the TV for the Parliamentary debate on terms and conditions of the IMF Deal. Additionally, a media house had billed it as offering “fireworks” and I love a good display. One Minister rushing to Parliament said, “there may be fireworks, but hopefully no fire.” Well what I caught was good. Dr. Peter Phillips and the Prime Minister were in fine form.

Phillips was devoid of overacted drama. Stressing the importance of symbolism, he insisted the Prime Minister delivers on his reduced cabinet promise. I hear it will come but awaits the Public Sector Transformation Committee’s report. That will guide decisions regarding how Ministries and Agencies can be consolidated so as to effect proper functioning while reducing the burden on the public purse. With consolidation of Ministries some State Ministers should have some real work.

Dr. Phillips spoke about the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) in a manner which resonated with me. I have been “chawing fire” about it. Having diligently worked, saved and invested, I now feel exposed and vulnerable to the vagaries of politicians who, without stringent controls and measures, may just decide to “run wid it” once again and leave hard working Jamaicans to pick up the tab. Listening to the new Financial Secretary recently confirmed my fears of figures being manipulated and massaged to meet IMF conditionalities.

It is precisely because I realize “creative accounting” can be used to satisfy the IMF that at a meeting with one of my bankers I insisted on the Financial Sector playing an important role in keeping the Government honest. One day after that conversation I noticed Keith Duncan expressed similar sentiments. “If fish from riva bottom seh shark down deh, believe him.” Keith Duncan and Wesley Hughes know infinitely more about high finance than I do. Listening to them I need to be assured that this Government will not make me a pauper before I die.

Why should those of us who struggled to scrimp and save now seem to be penalized? I could have holidayed on the French Riviera, gone skiing in Switzerland or rolled the dice in Vegas. Instead I choose to engage in less expensive, albeit less glamorous, pass times and despite having visited Vegas several times have only gambled once, with the extent of that being slot machines. At my family business of almost 30 years we practice fiscal prudence and reinvest company profits and interest earnings to stay ahead of the competition. Not all of us who bought Government papers simply stayed home and read our bank statements.

This brings me to the matter of THUST of which Phillips spoke in an insightful manner as he noted the negative effects of the JDX on investor confidence. The JLP will find no mercy if it erodes the trust of the people of Jamaica. While the cerebral part of me understands that the JDX is a necessary evil, the emotional part warns me to watch out! In watching, I await the Cabinet cut and other reductions in government expenditure. Government officials frequently find ways to “beat the system” and operate in the shades of grey to line their own pockets and live large and lavish.

Even as I applaud Dr. Phillips for his thoughtful and mature presentation, the Prime Minister was not to be outdone. He set the right tone by quickly quieting his “rabble”. Noticeably, the Opposition Leader too had to quiet her “noise makers”. Too often the cross talk in Parliament is counterproductive and important matters get trivialized. Giving a perspective which spanned 37 years, the PM correctly laid out the context, so critical to objective analysis.

Listening to the way he framed the discourse gave me hope, but only a glimmer. Politics is about winning elections and sometimes what seems to me a non-politician like unacceptable compromises are made in the greater interest of electoral victory. In submitting to the desire to win, everything else becomes secondary with truth and trust as mere inconveniences. Dr. Phillips is right. We need to “collectively grasp the challenge to find a new way”. Somehow I am not convinced we will.

In a similar manner that the Prime Minister’s instinct tells him some will choose to score political mileage at the expense of the greater good of Jamaica, so it is with my own instinct about the Cabinet downsizing. The ones who should be axed will likely remain and perhaps even get promoted. I look forward to being wrong and to experiencing a groundswell of trust and substantially more than a glimmer of hope for my country. The Prime Minister is quite capable of delivering on this.