The deconstruction of the deep state: A road map for Jamaica

Roger Brown

Friday, March 10, 2017

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Cast adrift on a sea of discontent, the institutional elites that once dominated the old world order are clinging to their life rafts, buffeted by the populist storms howling across the globe.

South Korea’s president has been impeached, South Africa’s ANC is on its last legs, Brazilian legislators are heading to prison, the American elections were won by the Russians, France is in populist ferment, and even the usually stoic Dutch have become unruly.

To many it would seem that the world is descending in a dangerous spiral, beset by political upheaval, climate change, terrorist fears, and economic uncertainty; it’s not a pretty picture, but beyond the chaos, a new political architecture is emerging that has begun to systematically shape a brave new world.


White House senior strategist Steve Bannon cogently defines this disruptive modality as ‘the deconstruction of the deep state’, wherein established power elites and their crony networks are swept aside, liberating the bureaucratic yoke and empowering independent freedoms.

This is bitter medicine for the entrenched status quo and its sprawling nexus of administrative agencies that have dictated the terms of their own entitlement for generations. But a tipping point has apparently been reached, beyond which there is no going back..populist disenchantment with rigged political and economic systems has gone viral, and the old guard has lost the plot.

A scary scenario perhaps, but also a generational opportunity to effect profound change by effecting new methods of governance and modes of engagement; amidst crisis, opportunity lurks…one just needs to know where to look.


In Jamaica’s case, one need not look too far: a bloated bureaucracy seeks to bankroll its retirement on the taxpayer’s dime; the political aristocracy uses a revolving door while the electorate stays home; capital projects are deferred, and unemployment remains high.

The current administration could well tear a few pages from the Trump playbook and replicate emergent trends in disruptive governance, changing the game for good. In focusing on the immediate interventions that would resonate beyond their time, the big fish are state pension reform, public sector liposuction, and electoral overhaul.


Incredibly, all GOJ employees are exempt from pension contributions, hence their pensions are subsidised from the public purse; future GOJ pension costs will soon outpace Jamaica’s debt costs, threatening to implode the Consolidated Fund.

It is against this backdrop that the proposed pension reform programme is being launched, requiring a fixed five per cent employee contribution, a five-year salary averaging, and the extension of the retirement age from 60 to 65, reflecting international norms.

No doubt this will result in union threats of national Armageddon, which must be rejected no matter how bleak the optics; in the coming test of political will, it is imperative that the GOJ not blink and let this pivotal moment pass.


A reset of the target GOJ payroll threshold is also beyond urgent; the current target of nine per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) does not begin to redress the long imbalanced allocation of limited state resources. A revised GOJ payroll target of six per cent, phased within four years, would provide the critical fiscal space to accelerate both debt reduction and capital investment.

For too long, state payrolls have been padded by political patronage; to really cut the fat, zero-based budgeting and merit-based criteria must be applied across all state agencies to realise a more efficient, affordable, and responsive public service.

These achievable measures would permanently plug the gaping pension hole, provide moral equity for taxpayers, ensure sustainability for state pensioners, generate a deep pool of long-term investment capital, and restore fiscal sanity to state spending.


Jamaica’s parliamentary system places the electorate at the whim of the dominant party, while generational patronage results in political strongholds that re-elect inept party stalwarts on a systematic basis…the result is bad for governance and sad for society.

It would behove the PM to send a strong signal to the nation that the time for real change has come by fixing the next election date from now, as a basis for parliamentary consensus on Fixed Election Date legislation. Time and again, the economy and the society have been held hostage to political tacticians who place party above country…to relinquish this dangerous tool would be masterful statecraft.

A corollary initiative would be the introduction of a two-term limit for any elected official, and the prohibition of their engagement as a business agent/government liaison for five years after demitting office. This measure would strike at the heart of state corruption, an embedded cancer that has afflicted Jamaican governance for the past generation.


Fundamental change in the halls of power never comes easy, because the few are so strongly invested in dominating the many; transformational leadership thus requires more than fresh vision... it demands real courage to break the bad habits of political welfare.

It also helps to have a focused plan of attack and the time to action it; ironically, the seven per cent fiscal straitjacket and the single-seat majority do not readily provide a sound basis for risking an early election, thereby enabling the PM’s sustained focus on the deconstruction of Jamaica’s own deep state.

Government pension reform, public sector liposuction, and electoral overhaul are major systemic challenges, but they are not beyond the reach of a dynamic Jamaica House. In an accelerating world, true governance entails embracing disruptive change for the greater good, and leading from the front.

Roger Brown is the Managing Director of Panama-based Risk Control SA, which provides real estate investment advisory services to an international clientele. He is also a Business Observer feature contributor on the political economy of emerging markets.


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