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Placing the performance of the Government in context — Part 1

Monday, December 31, 2018

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THERE are three principal ways in which the performance of a government should be evaluated:

(a) actual performance relative to planned performance (focusing on key performance indicators);

(b) management of crises and unexpected events; and

(c) the exercise of discernment and display of judgement in decision-making and strategy formulation.

I wish to focus my attention on the Government's planned performance in the areas of the economy and crime and its display of judgement in strategy-making. I would make the passing comment that, in relation to crisis management, the Andrew Holness-led Administration's handling of an unending series of scandals — some rooted in corruption, among them the $8-million phone bill, abuse of access to grass, de-bushing, and Petrojam — I doubt that there is a single Jamaican, even die-hard supporters of the Government, who would say that these scandals were handled properly.

THE MIRAGE AND MYSTERY OF '5 IN 4'

One of the most telling commitments the Holness Administration gave during the 2016 election campaign and upon assuming office was that it would grow the economy like has never done before. My distinct recollection is that the government promised five per cent growth each year over four years. An April 29, 2016 story in the Jamaica Observer reported:

“The Jamaica Observer correctly reported that Lee-Chin's projection was for a five per cent annual GDP growth rate. However, it had been reported in other media that he had announced an aggregate increase of five per cent over the next four years (2016 – 2020).

“ 'It is not accumulative, it's annual. Right now our GDP growth rate is less than one per cent per year,' Lee-Chin confirmed yesterday to the Caribbean Business Report.”

Any logical reading of Lee-Chin's statement can only leave one conclusion, that it is five per cent each year over four years, starting in 2016, and not “five per cent cumulative growth in four years” or “five per cent growth in year four of administration”.

Now it seems that the Government's performance is clearly below the five per cent target, even though in mid-2018 some members of the Cabinet were touting 10 per cent based on what they were seeing. The Government is engaged in some form of revisionism.

I sought clarification from the Government on what “5 in 4” meant. Below is an extract of what a government official told me:

“The first thing to recognise as a fact is that this was Mike Lee Chin's target in his capacity as EGC [Economic Growth Council] chairman… It was not a GOJ target. GOJ targets are proffered and announced by GOJ entities. There is no GOJ entity (PIOJ, MOFPS, BOJ, STATIN) that, to this date, has spoken affirmatively of 5 in 4… This was an aspirational target announced by a businessman on a stage…”

The official clarified that the Government's targets are outlined in its medium-term fiscal policy paper which projected 1.3 per cent growth for 2016/17, two per cent for 2017/18, and 2.5 per cent for 2018/19.

But the public was left to believe that five per cent was an official target until it became clear that this was not achievable. While aspiration and inspiration have their place, I contend that the Government has been less than forthcoming in how it has handled communication in relation to targets. This is a pattern.

The same confusion was created in relation to the infamous ($1.5-m threshold), whereby even people who were not working thought they would be getting $18,000 per month. The performance of the Government relative to its official targets and the “5 in 4” is shown in Table 1.

I submit that it amounts to political shooting in the foot for the Government to have an equivocal relationship with the EGC that it established and to make it appear that the council is independent of the Government, and worse for the government to not openly own or openly disavow the targets and acknowledge publicly and repeatedly that its official targets are the meagre to modest figures that are in the fiscal policy paper.

The fact is that economic growth has eluded both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) over several decades, and the victim of this challenge is Jamaica. The last time there was mentionable growth of three per cent was in 2006/07. See Table 2.

Cumulatively, growth in the years under the PNP was 4.5 per cent, while under the JLP -3 per cent. The three years of negative growth under the JLP were during the global recession, though the then Finance Minister Audley Shaw had said that the world recession would be good for Jamaica. The aspirational target set by Lee-Chin would, if realised, be the kind of harvest which compensates for the lean years, bearing in mind that over the period of four decades since the 1970s Jamaica had averaged one per cent growth.

The threat that now faces Jamaica is signalled by the UN-ECLAC Economic Report which projects that in 2018 Jamaica will return the third lowest GDP growth rate (1.5 per cent) of 13 Caribbean states, and the 10th lowest of 33 Latin America and Caribbean states. In 2019, the Jamaican economy is expected to grow by a mere 1.8 per cent.

MANAGING CRIME

The year 2017 was the second bloodiest year in Jamaica's history with 1,616 murders reported, representing a 19.4 per cent increase over 2016 (eclipsed by 2009 at 1,680). St James was the most notorious in 2017, accounting for 335 murders or about 20 per cent of the total. At 335 in 2017, St James was recording a near 30 per cent increase over the 269 murders recorded in 2016. In that context, strong and decisive measures needed to have been taken, which the Government did by declaring a state of emergency in January 2018. When the state of emergency ends the Government can still have a full security presence of the streets of St James, according to part II, section 9, subsection (2) of the Defence Act. It a false and politically-laced argument to suggest otherwise.

But murders are a problem in Jamaica, not just in St James, and a comprehensive assessment of the Government's performance in managing murders cannot focus only on St James in which we have seen a spectacular reduction in murders, in the region of 69 per cent, with 294 as at November 24, 2017 compared to 91 as at the same date in 2018. Despite this pattern of performance in a single parish, the national picture remains troubling as Table 3 shows.

The table shows that while there has been a reduction of 21 per cent in 2018 over 2017, year to date, the figure for 2018 is 28 per cent above the year to date figure for 2014, four per cent above 2015, and almost neck and neck (97%) with 2017. That wider context must be taken into account when evaluating the Government's performance. In other words, while the previous year (2017) is the closest historically, the best measure of how effective the Government has been in fighting crime cannot be by comparison with the results of the worst year, but by one of the better years, the closest of which is 2014.

Speaking to members of the Diaspora in September of this year the prime minister referenced a benchmark of “below 500 per year”. The last time Jamaica recorded a rate below 500 was 1989, at 439. Let us see if this can be realised. So “under 500” is the target. Will Holness stand by his or later pretend he did not say it? We had better not, for Jamaica ranks 137 out of 140 countries on “homicide” and 134 out of 140 on “organized crime”, and in 2017 was the sixth most murderous place on the Earth.

JUDGEMENT & DISCERNMENT

I made the point earlier that the Government's responsibility for crime is not just in St James (or the other areas under enhanced security measures) but the entire Jamaica. One cannot help being curious, though, about the Government's and police's tactical decisions.

One would expect that if murders and other crimes are on the rise in any area then measures would be taken to stem these. But let us look at the parish of Westmoreland. According to police data, 115 murders were reported in 2016 and 147 in 2017, an increase of 27 per cent, almost the same percentage increase as bloody St James. Despite this, there is no state of emergency in Westmoreland.

By comparison, in St Catherine North there were 146 murders reported in 2016 and 134 in 2017, a reduction of eight per cent, yet there is a state of emergency there. It is to be recalled that when the first zone of special operations was declared, the prime minister, using flawed and inaccurate statistics, asserted that Mt Salem selected itself.

AN INDIFFERENT PUBLIC?

Despite factually poor performance using its own benchmarks in the areas of crime and the economy; a long list of scandals; probative analyses by Wykeham McNeill, chair of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, so too by Peter Bunting on his programme Probe; and other exposures led by Julian Robinson, Fitz Jackson, and Phillip Paulwell, the Government seems unmoved. In addition to the scandals are the botched implementation of public infrastructure projects which have inconvenienced commuters and businesses greatly. With all of that, in the absence of public polling, it seems that a majority of Jamaicans are unmoved and there is the distinct possibility that the latest scandal, Petrojam, will pass and we move to the next.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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