Wednesday 11 December, 2019

Duncan mulls the matter of election promises ahead of fiscal council

Speaking at EPOC’s quarterly press briefing on Thursday, Duncan said he welcomed the policy position of enhancing Jamaica’s fiscal responsibility framework through the concept of an independent fiscal council. (Photo: Collin Reid)

Speaking at EPOC’s quarterly press briefing on Thursday, Duncan said he welcomed the policy position of enhancing Jamaica’s fiscal responsibility framework through the concept of an independent fiscal council. (Photo: Collin Reid)

Will the proposed fiscal council look at the implications of election promises?

That’s an area that could be considered, according to Keith Duncan, co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), which the council will replace when the current agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) comes to an end in 2019.

Fiscal councils are permanent, independent, non-partisan institutions, staffed by experienced and technically proficient persons to help to promote economically sustainable policies across political cycles, and are created by legislation.

Speaking at EPOC’s quarterly press briefing on Thursday, Duncan said he welcomed the policy position of enhancing Jamaica’s fiscal responsibility framework through the concept of an independent fiscal council. But he argued that the council must play a function in analysing the efficiency and effectiveness of public expenditure that would engender confidence for taxpayers.

“There’s a lot of noise around effectiveness and efficiency of public spend,” Duncan said. “We hear it all the time around roads, we hear it all the time around contracts. And Jamaicans, I don’t believe, have the confidence that we are getting the value that we can receive for our funds.”

“But there is now the independent view of that work to be taken by the fiscal council, the analysis, the pricing policy options, assessing, forecasting etc,” Duncan said.

With regards to pricing policy options, Duncan said: “For example, the looking at the implications of $1.5 (the $1.5 million tax break threshold promised by the current Government during the elections) would be a function of the fiscal council. But it depends. Some fiscal councils internationally, will price election promises.”

He questioned: “Will this be the remit of the fiscal council in Jamaica? Let’s see.”

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Duncan went on to remind that Finance Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke, said the process to set up a fiscal council would be a consultative one, getting the input of stakeholders across the economy to determine what the council looks like.

“We must bring our voices to the table to say this is what we want for the people, which is an independent, non–participant council,” Duncan said.

He added that, “We can push for it you know, and remember, its ‘people power’.

“I was in the corner at Nannyville, and a young lady said to me, the Government is people power, so we have to own our power.”

Nonetheless, Duncan agreed that there were certain areas that EPOC in its current state could not address, which was necessary for enhancing Jamaica’s fiscal responsibility framework, and to achieve economic independence.

EPOC consists of persons from the private sector, the public sector and civil society who receive and review information from the Government on the progress of implementation of the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies over the life of the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

“As the finance minister said, we all work full-time elsewhere, this is voluntary work,” Duncan said.

EPOC also assists in ensuring that the agreed targets are achieved, and advise the public through the media of any concerns or developments.

“The added focus of forecasting is important. We don’t do forecasting at EPOC, we have an economic programme that we are tracking and monitoring against programme target. The IMF does a significant amount of analysis, which they will continue to do,” Duncan said.

He went on to note that work during the post-IMF period has to emanate from within the Ministry of Finance, the fiscal council and the Bank of Jamaica.

As it regards Jamaica’s performance for fiscal year 2017-2018, the country met all its quantitative indicative performance criteria, Duncan indicated.

Meanwhile, all seven macro-fiscal structural benchmarks for the November 2016 to April 2018 period were met. The GOJ has also met the 14 structural benchmarks for the public sector transformation, public bodies and public service reform through to the end of April this year.

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