The Cabinet yesterday concluded a most fruitful two-day Cabinet Retreat at Jamaica House. The Retreat had two major agenda items.
The first major activity of the Retreat was the assessment of the progress of each Ministry and determining whether they had been meeting the commitments made to the Jamaican people that are outlined in the Peoples National Party's Manifesto, the blueprint for government policy. In keeping with this, The Cabinet also reviewed the progress of programmes that were presented by each Ministry in the Parliament during the Budget Debate earlier this year.
The second major item on the agenda was Cabinet's discussion of the ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, and in particular the recently held talks between the IMF and the Jamaican government in Kingston.
Regarding the IMF, the Government is working as hard as possible to conclude an agreement, but agreements of this sort exist between two parties. The timetable is, therefore, not ours alone to set. The process is a very difficult and complex one. The negotiation requires us to do the best we can to ensure that we get an agreement that is in the best interest of Jamaica.
An agreement is very important for addressing the critical economic and social problems that the country now faces. The agreement must ensure that we not only carry out strategic reforms, but also lay the foundation for sustainable growth. This is the only sound and sustainable basis on which we are going to deal with our very serious public debt situation.
In the last two weeks the GOJ negotiating team and the IMF staff have been able to achieve a number of important advances.
1. The IMF has accepted Jamaica's Medium Term Economic Programme as a viable starting point for negotiation. The multilateral agency has endorsed the objectives set out in the plan. This includes the government's objective to make the economy more resilient to shocks, reduce the burden of debt, improve social protection, and achieve faster economic growth.
2. The IMF and the Government also agreed on the diagnosis of the major problems facing the country and the main strategies to resolve them.
This represents real progress in these areas and we are confident that we work towards an agreement. Discussions on technical matters are on-going. These relate to the pace and sequencing of measures. We have however, reached the point of discussing a draft Letter of Intent that will embody all the Government's commitments during the period of a new agreement.
I know that many Jamaicans have been anxious about the speed of the process and the existing concerns about the content of the agreement and how it will affect our lives. The Government is fully committed to completing a good agreement that will be in the interest of the country. To do this we have to engage in hard bargaining to ensure the interest of the country is fully protected.
Coming out of the Cabinet Retreat, a programme of work has been developed to be implemented over the coming weeks to advance work on the following key areas that will impact the agreement. These include:
1. The wage negotiation with the public sector unions;
2. Action on tax waivers to severely reduce the amount given up by the Government and to limit the discretionary powers of the Minister in this area;
3. Defining an acceptable time frame for achieving the desired debt ratio;
4. The Bank of Jamaica will also continue to focus on reducing inflation and supporting financial system stability. In doing so the Central Bank will conduct monetary policy within the existing framework of a managed floating exchange rate regime which aims at maintaining the competitiveness of the Jamaican dollar while using its instruments to ensure stability in the money, credit and foreign exchange markets and maintaining adequate levels of foreign reserves.
Regarding the review of Ministry projects and programmes, these are in keeping with the national growth agenda being pursued by the Government, while it seeks to honour its commitments to protect the vulnerable.
The following were among the projects that are currently in progress that were reviewed at the Cabinet Retreat:
1. The construction of 50 Basic Schools and over 600 dwellings for low income families as the result of a partnership between the Government and Food for the Poor;
2. The JEEP programme, which has exceeded its targets in Phase 1 and is certain to exceed it again in Phase 2;
3. The handing over of land titles to Jamaicans across the island. Cabinet agreed that this programme would be accelerated;
4. The implementation of major private sector investments in the hotel, ICT and agricultural sectors to increase employment by the end of the fiscal year;
Progress was welcomed on the steps towards dealing with loans for tertiary education.
The Retreat also emphasized the importance of energy conservation and the use of technology across the system. The value of operating a joined-up Government was also identified as an aid to efficiency, exemplified in major projects such as the Logistics Hub and the Port Expansion as well as the social issues affecting children and women.
I am making the commitment to Jamaicans at home and overseas that there will be increased communication of matters of governance. I have given my Ministers the charge not only to be energetic and effective in the running of their Ministries but to have constant communication with the sector groups and communities most directly impacted by the programmes they undertake.
I want to assure all Jamaicans that we are continuing to build partnerships and to use our best efforts both to deliver on the commitments that we made and also to arrive at an acceptable and workable IMF agreement on a programme necessary for our future development.
We will continue to share with the nation as matters arise. I am confident that despite our present constraints and challenges – which we can expect to be with us in the near term as well, we will overcome.