EPOC supports independent fiscal council... and people power

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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Co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Keith Duncan has welcomed the establishment of an independent fiscal council, but is insisting that analysis of the effectiveness of public expenditure be on the forefront of the new council's agenda.

“One of the most important things about fiscal council is communication and credibility. There's a lot of noise around effectiveness and efficiency of public spend, and in order for us as Jamaicans to feel comfortable that all the checks and balances are in place in relation to getting value for our spend, we need to ensure that government and public expenditure is being directed in the right areas,” he told journalists during the quarterly press briefing for the month ended March. It was held at JMMB's Kingston headquarters.

Duncan noted that whether through the efficiency of government spend on recurring programmes, educational outcomes or the delivery of services, continuous analysis of public expenditure would engender confidence among taxpayers. He suggested that the Government looks at setting up a unit within the Ministry of Finance or engage professionals from the Bank of Jamaica or audit services to develop analytical capabilities needed for the council.

Last month the Holness Administration approved the legislation of a fiscal council to replace EPOC when the current agreement with the International Monetary Fund comes to an end in 2019.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke said that given the success of the five-year engagement with the fund and the likely prospect of Jamaica graduating from a relationship with the fund, it's important to consider the institutional arrangement that may assist Jamaica in keeping on track towards economic independence.

Duncan reasoned that since the approval has now been granted, Jamaica needs to ensure that tax dollars are spent effectively with minimum waste. He added that while Minister Clarke has indicated that the fiscal council will be a consultative process with stakeholders across the economy to determine what the council looks like, Jamaicans must bring their voices to the table in creating an independent council.

“We need to ensure that government and public expenditure is being directed in the right areas, where we get a great return for our people... the Government has that right to determine that within the fiscal constraints,” the EPOC co-chairman said.

According to Duncan, while the independent fiscal council's focus on forecasting, pricing policy options, analysis and assessing are important functions, an independent view must be taken when decisions are made.

“For example, $1.5 million, that would be the price that would be a function of the fiscal council, but it depends, because some fiscal councils internationally will price election promises. They will actually price them and look at the implication of the promise.

”Will this be the remit of the fiscal council in Jamaica? Let's see. We can push for it and remember, it's people power,” he said.

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