Tue | May 28, 2024

Editorial | What of National Partnership Council?

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2024 | 12:08 AM

It isn’t clear if the government has completed drafting the formal institutional arrangements for the operation of the National Partnership Council (NPC), which it promised by the end of the fiscal year. The status of that project has not been disclosed.

But while this newspaper fully believes that clear, transparent and predictable mechanisms should be in place for how NPC members are chosen, how it organises its work and the frequency of its meetings, the fact that these aren’t yet formalised shouldn’t be a hindrance to the functioning of the institution. Indeed, the council, as it exists, and in its many previous iterations, has done good work, not least by providing a framework that has delivered significant achievements for Jamaica.

That is why this newspaper is concerned by the seeming long stretch recently between meetings of the NPC and hopes that it is not a sign of the government becoming too distracted with other matters to focus attention on the council, or is losing faith in the arrangement, despite relatively recent declarations to the contrary.

Jamaica’s efforts at using broad participatory, non-governmental vehicles to forge consensus in critical national issues stretches back for decades, but became publicly apparent in the mid-1990s attempt by P.J. Patterson’s administration to arrive at a social partnership agreement with the labour movement and the private sector, primarily with respect to wages. That effort collapsed without agreement.

However, the ACORN group of private individuals, private sector executives, civil society activists, trade unionists and government employees – operating in their individual capacities – quietly kept the consensus-building initiative alive, leading to the first formal national partnership agreement in 2009, and others in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2022. The latter agreement came after a two-year hiatus between the expiry of the previous arrangement and the new one.

LATEST AGREEMENT

The latest agreement – between the government, the opposition, the private sector, trade unions and civil society organisations – calls for a document that, among other things, specifies who can be members of the NPC, who appoints them, the frequency of meetings and the quorum for meetings.

The agreement also pledged a level of transparency about the work of the NPC, including the issuing of press statements after its meetings “and an overall media and community engagement”.

Little, if any, of this has happened since the signing of the agreement in September, 2022. However, last October, Dana Morris Dixon, the minister who oversees the work of the NPC, said the formal terms of reference would have been ready by now – that is, the end of March, or the conclusion of the fiscal year.

“As the coordinating minister, my commitment remains unwavering – to foster an environment where these partnerships flourish, where every voice is valued, and where our shared objectives lead to the betterment of all Jamaicans,” Dr Morris Dixon said.

Indeed, there is ample evidence of the value to Jamaica when the principle and approaches outlined by Dr Morris Dixon are adopted. Not least of these is the sharp reduction in the national debt as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) and the relative macroeconomic stability enjoyed by the island over the past dozen years.

TAX PACKAGE

That started with the imposition of a massive tax package (J$19.4 billion) just to initiate loan talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and subsequently running the world’s highest primary balance of 7.5 per cent of GDP.

When Greece’s fiscal circumstances required to run a primary surplus of around half of Jamaica’s there were major demonstrations and political instability in Athens. Jamaica proceeded with its tough reforms in relative calm.

This was possible not only because the government was committed to the fiscal reform project, which, of course, was a sine qua non for the success of the project. Yet it couldn’t have happened without broad national consensus, represented by what was then a unique structure in global financial arrangements – the Economic Partnership Oversight Committee (EPOC), a broad-based group that monitored and helped to keep on track the fiscal targets.

But long before EPOC, Jamaica transformed its troubled electoral system, in which there was declining confidence, by placing it into the hands of a regime that included representatives of political parties and highly trusted independent members. Post-EPOC there have been similar partnership/oversight mechanisms that have operated with varying levels of success. None can be categorised as a failure.

The bottom line: partnership arrangements work. We shouldn’t allow the current one to falter.