BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau email@example.com
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Former Prime Minister P J Patterson, while accepting that "negotiations of this kind cannot take place in public", has joined those calling on the Government to be more open with the public on negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
"While the corn is growing we must make sure that we are not left in a disarray of uncertainty," Patterson, Jamaica's longest serving prime minister, who retired in 2006, told the annual awards banquet of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce at the Golf View Hotel on Saturday night.
"We have to find a way of lifting the current veil of uncertainty about what this agreement forebodes and we have to restore the level of confidence which is essential to take the country forward and the only way we can do it is a steady flow of information to the people of Jamaica. The people have a right to know...," said Patterson.
Economic analysts, business leaders and the political opposition have strongly criticised the one-year-old Portia Simpson Miller Government for not speaking more openly about ongoing and protracted discussions with the IMF. An IMF loan apart, the multilateral lender's seal of approval is urgently needed to restore the flow of loans and grant funds from multilateral and other external sources, economic experts say.
Uncertainty surrounding the negotiations is said to be triggering a loss of confidence in the Jamaican economy. Simpson Miller recently took heavy flak for failing to mention the IMF negotiations in a summation of her Government's first year in office.
However, in a progress report on Saturday, regarding a three-day Cabinet retreat, Simpson Miller told the nation through the Government's information arm, Jamaica Information Service (JIS), that "an update on matters related to aspects of the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund" will be provided today. The JIS said the Cabinet "examined... issues with a view to taking decisions as to the final shape of the upcoming budget, against the background of the Economic Reform Programme and discussions with the International Monetary Fund".
Patterson told Manchester's business leaders on Saturday night that the Government's provision of information on the IMF negotiations should be "underpinned by a meaningful process of consultation" with "key stakeholders" including private sector, organised labour, investors, financial houses, the church, NGOs, community organisations, academia, and the media.
This was crucial, he said, because success would not depend on the Government alone, but on the contribution of all sectors. Care had to be taken that the situation did not descend to that of a 'Tower of Babel' given that everyone "has an opinion", but the Government should so organise itself so as to be able to "pick sense out of nonsense", Patterson said.
But even as he urged openness, Patterson who metaphorically sketched the IMF as an "elephant in the room", warned that it would be unwise for the Government to rush the signing of an agreement without giving careful thought to all aspects.
The "bewildering tempest in the international financial system and the turbulence in the global marketplace" which had assailed the fragile economy in recent years meant Jamaica had no choice but to approach the IMF's borrowing window, said Patterson.
However, "it cannot be any agreement, for the sake of it, oblivious of its terms and likely consequences... There is no merit in quickly inking an agreement which dooms us inevitably to the failure of future tests or which does not provide for sufficient and sustainable growth in an acceptable timeframe to get us out of our present difficulties," he said.
He also reminded Jamaicans that in assessing IMF conditionalities, the Government "must never forget the poor and vulnerable and the impact it has on them..."
Patterson, who guided Jamaica away from a borrowing relationship with the IMF in 1997, told the jam-packed room that when "I said au revoir, ta ta, and goodbye to the IMF... it was not political grandstanding..."
Rather, he said, "the route for our departure from the IMF borrowing window, after 18 long years, was charted by well-conceived policies and clearly articulated steps" which enabled successful completion of "the course by passing 14 IMF tests".
He boasted that relations between Jamaica and the IMF were at their best after departure from the borrowing programme, and he pointed to a report from the multilateral lender in 2007 which described the nation's economic performance as "remarkably strong".
Emphasising that the IMF was not a panacea "for all our economic woes", Patterson said Jamaicans could only achieve economic recovery by "earning more than we spend..."
He urged Jamaicans across the political divide to look to the National Development Plan, Vision 2030, which had been developed on a totally bipartisan basis as the "blueprint" for the society and economy going forward.
The former prime minister said urgent action should be paid to danger posed by deterioration of the social fabric.
"I speak of the intolerable levels of crime and the disregard for human life, the abuse of our children, the vulgarity reflected in so many forms of cultural expression, the coarseness we display to one another, the road rage, the mob assaults, the disrespect for our women and the disrespect for the elderly, the prevalence of praedial larceny, and the dishonest practices in several business transactions," he said.
It was time to "stop it" he said, for such a road would lead "to our destruction as a people".