Better fiscal numbers boost Jamaica's competitiveness, but...

Thursday, September 04, 2014

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On the face of it, Jamaica vaulted a further eight places up the Global Competitiveness Index.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked the country 86th out of 144 economies in its latest report. Jamaica was ranked 94th last year.

Mostly, the improvement was due to other countries scoring worse in the ranking.

Jamaica improved its score and surpassed Trinidad and Tobago in the rankings, even as the twin-island republic climbed up the ladder, albeit, not as fast.

The highlight of Jamaica's improved performance was the Government achieving a fiscal surplus and a lower public debt.

On the other hand, inflation rose two percentage points to 9.4 per cent last year, while the gross national savings rate fell from 14.3 per cent of GDP to 10.3 per cent.

Nevetheless, the public sector budget balance had a bigger impact on the competitiveness score than the other macroeconomic indicators, such GDP per capita, which fell from US$5,540 per person living in Jamaica in 2012 to US$5,130 last year.

The country's overall infrastructure scored higher due to quality of roads, mobile telephone penetration, and available airline seats. The quality of Jamaica's port and air transport infrastructure both scored worse this year than the year before.

Health and primary education was the other area to see a notable improvement in the WEF's latest ranking.

This was primarily due to improvements in the quality of primary education and enrolment levels -- net enrolment increased from 82 per cent of the children of primary-level age to 92 per cent.

PSOJ CEO Dennis Chung was hardly surprised by the numbers.

He figured that significant improvements in the customer service at Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) and tax reform measures, such as the removal of discretionary waivers, played a big role in the country's recent promotion.

But greater focus needs to be placed on creating employment opportunities and growing the economy, said the PSOJ CEO.

"We also need to put in greater accountability in terms of performance," he told the Caribbean Business Report. "The public sector needs to be introduced to the culture where you don't get promoted or pay increases because of seniority and tenure, but rather based on performance.

"If we do that, efficiency will naturally find its level," he added.

Overall, Jamaica's score for efficiency enhancement did not improve this year.

Poorer grades for hiring and firing practices; pay and productivity; the country's capacity to retain talent; availability and affordability of financial services kept the efficiency enhancement score down.

Since the interviews which informed the latest report were done in early 2014, "more positive things would have happened, like the reduction in the unemployment rate, the passing of another International Monetary Fund (IMF) test and the stabilisation of the exchange rate," according to Chung.

Crime and theft remain a major challenge. It was considered to be the most problematic factor for doing businesses ahead of inefficient government bureacracy — 16.9 per cent of people identifed crime and theft as the biggest problem faced by business compared to 15 per cent who said it was red tape.

Corruption and taxes were third and fourth on the list, the same as last year.




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