'Butch', Azan bullish at end of IMF deal

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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Two of the island's leading businessmen, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of the Sandals and Appliance Traders Group of Companies; and chairman of Bashco and MegaMart, Gassan Azan, have applauded successive administrations for successfull completion of the financial arrangements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Jamaica said goodbye to the IMF last week, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness describing it as “a major milestone in the country's economic history, for which all Jamaicans can be proud.” Stewart and Azan both agreed.

“I couldn't help but listen to the prime minister last night (last Wednesday) where the IMF programme has come to an end. This is great because all the years that we have borrowed from the IMF … we have lived a life of trying to keep rolling it over, trying to expand on it, [but this time] we have gone further, we have gotten rid of the IMF from around our necks,” said Stewart.

“It is a miracle. I don't think any of us took it seriously [when it was announced that Jamaica would be leaving the IMF] because we have become accustomed to borrowing money from the IMF … and a lot of people saying great things of what they plan to do.

“This is the first time that dream has actually come true. So to get rid of that burden over your head and being footloose to go and improve the economy [and] improve the per capita income is fundamental,” added Stewart.

He was supported by Azan who said the successful completion of the IMF arrangement had left him upbeat.

“In my lifetime I don't think I have never not heard the word 'austerity', so for me at 58 years old, to hear that the IMF programme is complete and that we are now moving into a different stage of development, I feel very bullish on Jamaica,” said Azan.

“I fell very bullish on areas that I feel are sustainable,” added Azan at the official launch of an $11-billion agricultural project in Lakes Pen, St Catherine, which he is spearheading.

At a press conference held at the Office of the Prime Minister last Wednesday after the IMF complete its sixth and final review mission under the Precautionary Stand-by Arrangement, the prime minister noted that Jamaica is now being viewed internationally as a country which has successfully executed difficult economic policies.

“We have worked consciously, deliberately [and] with transparency. We have worked diligently to ensure that we meet all the targets that we have set for ourselves and this is a major achievement in our economy and our development generally,” said Holness.

“I feel a sense of accomplishment. The nation should feel proud of what we have accomplished. The unions have sacrificed, the private sector has sacrificed, the people of Jamaica have sacrificed and we are now seeing the fruits of it, but there is still much more work to be done,” added Holness.

According to Holness, the accomplishment was also due, in part, to the fact that the country had ownership of the programme.

“We have passed our tests because this was Jamaica's programme. This was put together by the Jamaican authorities and we agreed with our partners, the IMF, for their assistance, technical or otherwise and for them to speak truth to us when we deviated,” said Holness.

He expressed confidence that “with the IMF now out of the room” the Government can maintain the fiscal discipline that the country has committed to over the last 10 years.

Jamaica's current programme with the IMF is scheduled to officially end in November. The country will, however, continue to benefit from technical assistance, and the fund's office in Jamaica will be maintained for two years.

Jamaica's latest relationship with the IMF started in 2013, under a People's National Party Administration, when the country entered into a four-year US$932-million Extended Fund Facility.

This arrangement ended in 2016 when it was replaced by a US$1.6-billion Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement under the Holness Administration.


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