Can Dr Phillips, given the sordid history between himself and the prime minister, carry on effectively in his job? It doesn’t seem likely. Vocal support from the prime minister is essential. Prime Minister Simpson Miller must take the lead, get her Cabinet on board and give her finance minister the confidence to do what needs to be done for the country’s sake.
The Ireland experience is a good example of what cooperation really means. A Gleaner column titled ‘From Celtic Tiger to Carib Tiger’ by Financial Analyst Keith Collister 10 years ago looked at how Ireland’s government in 1987 after years of stagnation, poor prospects and a grubby economic crisis decided that enough was enough and moved collectively in addressing the challenges. Through social partnership, significant expenditure cuts, fiscal discipline, comprehensive tax reform and a raft of effective government policies, Ireland boomed. This was not possible, however, without the strong support given to Finance Minister Ray MacSharry by Prime Minister Charles Haughey. In a 1987 letter to Cabinet ministers from the prime minister, he stated:
“Dear Minister, It is imperative that that we carry further the progress we have made so far this year in getting public expenditure under control. Unless we achieve further significant cuts in expenditure the growth in public sector debt will continue to be a burden on the economy, inhibiting economic growth and employment and making it impossible for us to get development under way. We must begin to identify the specific programmes and expenditures for further cuts now if we want to get results for the remainder of this year and next. The proposals must have the effect of achieving a significant reduction on your department’s present level of spending. They may cover capital as well as current expenditure. A radical approach should be adopted and no expenditure should be regarded as sacrosanct and immune to elimination or reduction. We do not want a series of justifications of the status quo or special pleadings”.
The letter was subsequently published in Ireland’s newspapers for maximum effect.
The prime minister’s unequivocal and public support of the finance minister, in part, led to Ireland’s economic transformation from “the sick man of Europe” into a wealthy high-growth economy, “the Celtic Tiger”. Despite the challenges today brought on by the 2008 global economic crisis and the Eurozone crisis, Ireland is still in good shape.
Prime Minister Simpson Miller’s government has a strong mandate with a healthy hold on the majority in the House of Representatives and full control of local government. Her party and Government also have strong fraternal support in civil society, media and the trade unions. And most importantly, Simpson Miller is as strong as she has ever been as president of the PNP. It is for her to decide when she retires. Ireland had a minority government in 1987 and managed to carry through the tough reforms with the party managing to retain power for umpteenth years after. We all want the best for Jamaica and the Simpson Miller-led administration with all the natural advantages should have acted with intelligent alacrity last year. If they continue to fumble, the bitter medicine will now become poison, collapsing any credible hope for medium- and long-term success.
So what to do? Albert Einstein said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” Let’s keep doing that and pray that good sense prevails sooner rather than later.
The Government is in a strong position to do what needs to be done. They have nothing to lose.