Some bipartisan suggestions


Sunday, March 18, 2018

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In his inaugural budget speech as shadow Minister of Finance, Opposition MP Mark Golding made some important suggestions that should not be lost to the typically adversarial parliamentary process.

In a section entitled “Our philosophy on inclusive growth”, he noted that “both political parties must be involved in this process for it to be successful, and for that to happen will require authentic bipartisanship deliberately fostered in the national interest.”

He further observed “Authentic bipartisanship means honest dealings with each other, both in meetings where the public is not present and in the public domain. Mere lip-service will achieve nothing positive. Nice sounding words are too often undermined by behaviour that remains tribal and divisive. Both sides are guilty of that. We must turn the page and move beyond that approach to our politics.” We agree.


His starting suggestion was to broaden the conversation about growth.

“We see the drive for growth as part of a broader vision of national development involving the active participation by all stakeholders who make up our society. The small businesses, the farmers, the trade unions, the transport operators, the public service, the churches, the entertainers who are so influential over the minds of our youth. All of these groups need to be brought into a truly national drive for higher levels of economic growth, as part of a strengthened participatory democracy.”


Golding notes the current IMF programme will come to an end next year, and that the country has benefitted greatly from the establishment of EPOC, which has monitored successive governments' adherence to the fiscal targets under the IMF programmes since 2013.

EPOC provides regular detailed reports to the public on Jamaica's fiscal and economic performance, which promotes transparency and encourages governments not to go off-track, and has built a credible reputation by providing objective non-partisan analysis based on factual data provided to it by the relevant government agencies. It has broad representation, which has helped to bring the whole country along through the challenging implementation of major economic reforms.

He therefore recommends — echoing a suggestion by Richard Byles at a recent IMF conference in Jamaica — that whenever Jamaica ceases having an IMF programme, a body modelled on EPOC should simultaneously be established in law with the statutory mandate to monitor and report to the public on the government's adherence to principles of sound fiscal management.

“This will help to maintain the people's confidence, and the confidence of local and international investors and observers, in Jamaica's economic management. It will make permanent what has become an important national institution in ensuring that Jamaica never slips back into large deficits and mounting debt. It will continue to complement and enhance the Fiscal Responsibility Framework that is already enshrined in law.”

I would note that strengthening the already existing social partnership with the force of law (whether it is called the partnership for progress, Jamaica, prosperity, or anything else) a proper secretariat would be the best mechanism for achieving both these two objectives.


He also supported a call for the tax threshold for being required to register as a GCT taxpayer be substantially increased from its current level of sales of $3 million a year.

“We need to reduce the cost of tax compliance imposed on the small business sector. These small entrepreneurs often cannot afford to hire accountants to prepare monthly GCT returns.”

He argues that the likely fiscal cost of this measure will be relatively small, but it will be of great assistance to the small business sector.

“It will relieve them of this burden until their businesses have grown to a size where it is reasonable for them to come on board. Those who opt in should be permitted to do so, but it should not be mandatory unless and until their annual sales have reached a substantially higher level.”

This would also seem to make sense, and the move to $3 million a number of years ago was supported by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce at the time, amongst others, for exactly the same reasons.

He advises that the PNP is rethinking the LAMP programme, which he notes they started (this has continued across multiple administrations but at a glacially slow pace), which Golding admits when he advises it “has only scratched the surface” as 700,000 parcels of land in Jamaica have no registered title. He promises radical “profound legislative and administrative changes” to what he describes as “complex and structural impediments”.

Any suggestions to speed up this ridiculously slow process would be welcome, and hopefully we would not have to wait for a new government for their implementation.


He argues a national programme to engage and reorient the lives of unattached youths is essential (we have been advised that they number approximately 140,000), “to put them on a pathway of hope for a better life for themselves and their families.”

He notes, “They need mentorship, life skills, the building of self-esteem and a sense of citizenship, vocational training, and a chance at remedial education, and an opportunity to know what it is like to have a job.”

My take — many such programmes have been started in Jamaica by both government and private sector (Jamaica Chamber of Commerce's Sameer Younis Foundation, YUTE, various hotel group programmes, etc) but their funding has neither been consistent nor has covered more than a small fraction of those in need, with the obvious consequences. Also, as Golding further adds, the programmes need to “be holistic in their approach”.

He also correctly observes that the financing of tertiary education needs to be transformed. Even of those who enter, many are not able to complete their degrees. “We need to explore ways of fixing student loan payments to a reasonable percentage of their earned income over time.”

This proposal, which I support, is similar to one floating around in the UK when he was at Oxford University, but was not implemented by the then Conservative government of the time.

Finally, he reviews the increase in the national security budget, which requires a much longer conversation, but if there was ever an area for cross party consensus at this time, this should be in first place.

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