Above: Jamaica PM Portia Simpson Miller
By the Caribbean Journal staff
Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and the country’s cabinet concluded a retreat held this weekend at Jamaica House, the Prime Minister announced in a statement Sunday night.
The retreat covered two major areas: one, assessments of the progress of each ministry, and two, the country’s ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund — particularly, recent talks with the IMF held in Kingston.
“The government is working as hard as possible to conclude an agreement, but agreements of this sort exist between two parties,” she said. “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 best interest of Jamaica.”
On the subject of the IMF talks, the Prime Minister said an 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,” she said.
The Prime Minister pointed to several “important advances” made in the course of talks over the last two weeks.
First, she said that the IMF had accepted Jamaica’s Medium Term Economic Programme as a “viable starting point for negotiation,” and endorsed its objectives, including debt reduction and improved social protection. Second, she said, the two sides had agreed on the diagnosis of the major problems effecting the country, both echoing the IMF’s recent mission report.
“This represents real progress in these areas, and we are confident that we work towards an agreement,” she said. “Discussions on technical matters are ongoing. These relate to the pace and sequencing of measures.”
She said the two sides had reached the point of discussing a draft “letter of intent” to embody the government’s commitments during the period.
“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,” she said. “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.”
According to Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s government will be working over the next few weeks to target certain areas that will impact the agreement, including wage negotiation with publics sector unions, action on tax waivers, defining an “acceptable” time frame for lowering the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio, and the Bank of Jamaica’s work to combat inflation and provide stability to the financial system.
Outside of the IMF talks, the Prime Minister said several ongoing projects were reviewed at the retreat: the construction of 50 schools and 600 dwellings for low-income families; the JEEP emergency employment programme; the handing over of land titles to Jamaicans; private sector investments in the hotel, ICT and agricultural industries and university student loans.