• Feature
    Outgoing International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative for Jamaica, Dr. Constant Lonkeng Ngouana, speaks to JIS News in an interview.
    Photo: Donald De La Haye

    Story Highlights

    • Outgoing International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative, Dr. Constant Lonkeng Ngouana, says his three-year tenure in Jamaica has been “very rewarding”.
    • Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana, whose stint ends on August 31, took up the Resident Representative post in July 2016 at the time of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) and continued through the current precautionary Stand-By Arrangement (SBA).
    • He tells JIS News that he very much welcomed the unique opportunity to consult with a wide cross section of Jamaicans and various stakeholders on the country’s Economic Reform Programme (ERP).

    Outgoing International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative, Dr. Constant Lonkeng Ngouana, says his three-year tenure in Jamaica has been “very rewarding”.

    Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana, whose stint ends on August 31, took up the Resident Representative post in July 2016 at the time of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) and continued through the current precautionary Stand-By Arrangement (SBA).

    He tells JIS News that he very much welcomed the unique opportunity to consult with a wide cross section of Jamaicans and various stakeholders on the country’s Economic Reform Programme (ERP).

    The IMF Representative points out that “talking with policymakers, farmers, private-sector representatives and students, and getting wide-ranging perspectives have been among the main highlights of my tenure”.

    “The engagement with the policymakers has been characterised by very constructive discussions, reflecting the unprecedented programme ownership by Jamaica. Even when we did not agree on specific points, the discussions were always conducted with a high level of professionalism. Additionally, the interaction with people from all corners of the society shows their keen interest in what is happening in the economy,” he adds.

    Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana says the feedback from these interactions suggests that a significant number of Jamaicans appreciate the economic progress achieved over the last six and a half years.

    He notes that while the country is “not out of the woods yet… the fact that the Jamaican people are plugged in and engaged in the policy discussions will contribute to safeguarding the sound economic policies being developed and instituted by the Government”.

    Meanwhile, Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana remains confident in Jamaica’s ability to manage its economic affairs in the post-IMF era, following the conclusion of the current SBA in November.

    Outgoing International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative for Jamaica, Dr. Constant Lonkeng Ngouana, speaks to JIS News in an interview.

     

    “Jamaica is absolutely ready. It’s been a gradual process, with six and a half years of sound policymaking with broad-based social consensus. We believe that the building blocks that will ensure a smooth exit from the IMF’s financial support have been or are being put in place,” he tells JIS News.

    These institutional reforms include the Bill currently before Parliament to make the Bank of Jamaica independent and focus its mandate on inflation targeting primarily, and on financial system stability; and establishment of the proposed Fiscal Council, which will serve as the “watchdog” for Jamaica’s Fiscal Responsibility Law, which stipulates that the debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio should be no higher than 60 per cent by 2025/26.

    There are also the Government’s initiation of a natural disaster risk financing policy, the special resolution regime for financial institutions, and the strengthening of the macro-fiscal capacity at the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

    Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana further reiterates that the Jamaican economy has undergone a remarkable transformation and turnaround, based on achievements recorded over the last six and half years under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility and precautionary Stand-By Arrangement programmes.

    These include a reduction in public debt from 147 per cent of GDP at the end of March 2013 to 95 per cent at the end of March 2019; significant foreign reserves, which have risen from less than US$1 billion to more than US$3 billion; declining inflation, which has fallen from double to low single digits; and unemployment, which fell from 16.3 per cent in April 2013 to 7.8 per cent this year.

    The IMF Representative maintains that while growth is “not where we all want it to be”, Jamaica can, over time, achieve higher levels of sustainable inclusive growth through an aggressive structural reform agenda.

    “We believe that if structural impediments relating to crime, weak resilience in agriculture, and private sector access to credit were to be resolved, or partially resolved, growth could be much higher in Jamaica,” he adds, noting that steps by the Government to address these are under way.

    Meanwhile, Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana says the IMF will have some relationship with Jamaica after the financial support concludes in November, as the country is one of the 189 member states of the global institution.

    “It is going to graduate to an advisory/consultative type role. We do consult with member countries, whether or not there is a programme or lending arrangement in place. We will continue to be a strong partner to Jamaica and provide our policy advice and technical expertise/assistance, where needed. The latter is actually one of the main functions of the IMF,” he tells JIS News.

    “We believe that helping countries to strengthen their economic institutions will enable them to institute sound policies, in order to raise the living standards of their people,” he adds.

    Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana is encouraging persons at all levels to remain steadfast on the journey embarked on under the Economic Reform Programme.

    He says the sacrifices made by all Jamaicans to turn the country’s economic fortunes around have been “far-reaching”, adding that “Jamaica has come too far to allow for any reversal on the progress made thus far”.

    “I really encourage the Jamaican people to stay the course. We believe that as the Government continues on this path, with the support of the private sector, Jamaicans will feel the effects of the transformation much more. I believe sustaining the course will help Jamaica deliver a brighter future for its people. I put my trust in the Jamaican people to continue on the path that they started on,” he emphasises.

    As Dr. Lonkeng Ngouana prepares to return to IMF Headquarters in Washington, DC, in the USA, for his next assignment, he will also take with him fond memories of time spent watching the cream of Jamaica’s high school athletes in action at the annual Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium.

    “When I was moving to Jamaica, I looked forward to watching some of the country’s fastest sprinters on earth closely. ‘Champs’ has given me an idea as to how and why Jamaicans run so fast… it’s the culmination of a process. It also shows what can be achieved when a country puts its mind to doing something and sustaining the efforts,” he tells JIS News.