WHEN governments and international organisations are engaged in negotiations they have to strike a delicate balance between confidentiality and keeping the public informed with accurate information. How that information to the public is handled can affect the negotiation; indeed, if badly handled, it can destroy the negotiations.
The crucial negotiations between the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are a case in point.
The Government has taken so long to complete the negotiations that the country, its creditors and the private sector are in a state of anxiety. Part of the problem is that there is no clear reason being given for the protracted talks.
In this type of environment, misinformation or misinterpretation of information can transform anxiety into panic with devastating consequences for the already struggling economy. Therefore, information provided to the public about the GOJ-IMF negotiations must be handled with extreme care by both sides.
In a recent interview, Mr Gene Leon, the IMF representative in Jamaica, stated: “We have some prior actions for this programme that have not yet been discussed and agreed upon.” He compounded this faux pas by indicating that an agreement between the GOJ and the IMF might not be reached until next year.
His pronouncements are in contradiction with statements of Dr Peter Phillips, the minister of finance, in Parliament and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who have both said that there are no fundamental differences between the GOJ and the IMF and that the negotiations are on track for completion by the end of this year.
What Mr Leon has said also differs from the carefully worded statement of the head of the IMF team at the end of its last mission. Mr Leon’s utterances contradict those of the Government of Jamaica and his superiors at the IMF and could disrupt the negotiations. This is a dangerous game which could be detrimental to his career.
Mr Leon appears to be somewhat of a wild card afflicted with an apparently incurable case of “foot in mouth” disease, because since his posting he has made indiscreet statements and has even dared to publicly lecture the previous Jamaica Labour Party Government on what policies Jamaica should and should not undertake.
At that time we called for the GOJ to have him restrained. Mr Audley Shaw, the former finance minister, will have to explain why he did not have him withdrawn and replaced with a more experienced and responsible representative. We await the action of Dr Phillips in having the local IMF representative muted or removed.
The IMF negotiations are too important to allow irresponsible statements to disrupt them and send potentially destabilising signals to the financial markets.
It’s the same principle reason that diplomats refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of the countries in which they are posted.