Dr Nigel Clarke, the brilliant, blinkered, Machiavellian minister of finance and the public service, in a piece titled “With patience let us allow daylight to finally emerge” published last Sunday, delivered a masterclass in spin, obfuscation and denial.
I do not propose to waste my time and yours with a detail critique of the minister’s article. I will just mention a couple things.
First, the minister completely hides the fact that the fiscal anchor, the objective of the compensation restructuring exercise is the achievement and maintenance of a target of eight-nine per cent wage-to- gross domestic product (GDP) ratio. In other words, the goal is to achieve the International Monetary Fund “structural benchmark” — the ridiculous and arbitrarily determined public sector wage bill. Not once in his glorious spiel does the minister mention this fact. Yet the IMF has consistently insisted, most recently in its Article IV statement issued in February, that reform of the public sector to reduce the wage bill to no more than nine per cent of GDP is a sine qua non of the IMF/PNP/JLP economic reform programme.
Secondly and relatedly, the obfuscating minister did not make the connection between compensation reform and the fiscal surplus-generating, debt-reducing, tax-cutting, neoliberal policies that he and his Government with support from the IMF and collusion from HMLO, have rigidly implemented since 2016.
He quite conveniently chose not to mention, not even once, his sacrosanct 60 per cent debt to GDP ratio. Of course, he alludes to it. On one occasion, he claimed that there was great concern by the Government and “elements of non-public sector civil society that opening the door to this reform, after more than a decade of steely containment, does not inadvertently send false messages that lead to runaway expectations that threaten hard-earned fiscal sustainability and macro-economic stability.” I wonder who those elements would be? His puppet masters? The market? He didn’t say.
The reality is that after more than a decade of reform, the public sector has been shrunk through divestment, privatisation and attrition to meet debt-reduction targets and on the basis of false claims that it is bloated, inefficient and archaic. State institutions are hollowed-out, and battered, demeaned and belittled public servants have had their salaries frozen, their benefits reduced, their pensions slashed, accused of sabotage, and now being intimidated and shamed into accepting the ginnalship that is “compensation review”.
In his article, Dr Clarke wrote that, “a most fundamental principle [of the reform of public sector compensation] is maintaining sanity in the trajectory of Jamaica’s public finances as erosion of this would only undermine the sustainability of these reforms.” As he had previously put it and then more lucidly, the guiding principle of the restructured compensation system is that it must be “fiscally consistent with the debt reduction objectives enshrined in [the] fiscal rules.” Come hell or high water, strikes and social upheaval, the steely Dr Clarke is not for the turning.
Dr Clarke wants to continue milking the cow while refusing to properly feed and compensate her. She is attempting to kick over the pail. He says she should be patient and patriotic. By daylight him wi mek har hold a food. Emerging from the dark are the gelded, toady unions, rope in hand fi tie up har foot.
Ambassador Emeritus Audley Rodriques served as Jamaica’s senior envoy to Venezuela, Kuwait, and South Africa.