Now that the Economic Recovery Report has been tabled...


Now that the Economic Recovery Report has been tabled...

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

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Last week, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke tabled the anxiously awaited Economic Recovery Report that is supposed to be a roadmap to rebuild the country after the devastating blow from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document contains many recommendations to restore the main economic drivers of the economy, with a clear acknowledgement that we are still a long way off from reaching recovery. Despite this difficulty, the report expresses a firm resolve to raise our ambition higher than just trying to claw our way back to how things were before COVID-19.

The report is just the first step in a complex yet urgent campaign to agree on the changes that we must embrace if we want to finally increase productivity, which has been flat for four decades.

Until we break out of the low productivity trap, we will not be able to compete or grow. The task force is suggesting a heroic attempt to design a new path that leads to prosperity and real social mobility.

The minister reminds us that it normally takes Jamaica more than a decade to recover from major economic downturns. His desire to cut this to just three to four years is not only welcome but is also an imperative.

Time is of the essence to conclude each of the various reforms and to get them implemented. However, the undisputed need for speed should not be used as an excuse to skip over the vital step of ensuring ample and sincere consultation with all stakeholders.

For the reforms to be effective there has to be sincere and deep national ownership of the process for formulating them and the implications of their implementation. The disruption of business as usual will create both winners and losers. The key is to agree on reforms that make most of us win.

The next step is for each of the subcommittees to transform their respective recommendations into cogent and comprehensive proposals which will provide a solid foundation for the final legislation and then implementation of the changes.

We note that the task force says that its conclusions are based on inputs from a diverse group of stakeholders, and that, through the subcommittees, it co-opted individuals and engaged in consultation with civil society, the private sector, and public health leaders.

The report of the task force is welcome. However, fundamental change is seldom championed by the guardians of the prevailing status quo. The sort of reforms that are needed to put Jamaica on a new development path are not easy and there will be inevitable clashes between interest groups. For that reason, the basic principle of putting the social partnership in the driver's seat makes sense.

The shock delivered by COVID-19 has widened pre-existing cracks in our social and economic structures. The painful, but highly successful macroeconomic stabilisation programme has given us much stronger buffers to survive the economic downturn, but we must not squander them.

The fact that this is taking place in the midst of the run-up to a general election significantly increases the difficulty of the task and could compromise the consensus needed to make important changes.

This is Jamaica's most important challenge. We encourage the various interest groups to agree on the social and economic imperatives that can be excluded from the normal mudslinging and delays.

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