Public Affairs - The Government, Gleaner and economy
Delano Franklyn, Guest Columnist
Not surprisingly, and only 10 months after the People's National Party (PNP) formed the Government, The Gleaner has started in earnest an aggressive and persistent campaign against the Government, and particularly, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
On Sunday, October 21, 2012, The Gleaner's editorial accused the Government of being 'flaccid', going on to conclude that the Government 'was in chaos'.
These uncomplimentary remarks were in relation to The Gleaner's perceived views on how the Government has been handling economic issues, and in particular, the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Beneath The Gleaner's editorial is usually printed the words: The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner.
The characterisation, therefore, of the Government as being "flaccid" and "in chaos" is that of the principal owners and managers of The Gleaner Company.
In order to create maximum effect, The Gleaner extrapolated words from the said editorial and carried it on its front page, along with a photograph of the prime minister, and the following statement and question: "The prime minister must lead. Will she?"
On the following day, October 22, 2012, The Gleaner carried on its front page the bold headline: 'Gov't paralysed'.
This was its backhanded version of words used by the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) which accused the Government of being in a state of 'policy paralysis'.
The JCSC was responding to a statement about the economy, issued by the prime minister the day after a retreat held by the Cabinet.
The statement dealt with the IMF and the issue of the debt, which The Gleaner's editorial criticised the Government as not having the stomach to address. The statement is very clear: "The IMF has accepted Jamaica's medium-term economic programme as a viable starting point for negotiation. This includes the Government's objective to make the economy more resilient to shocks, reduce the burden of debt, improve social protection, and achieve economic growth."
Despite this declaration by the Government, The Gleaner grudgingly carried the full statement of the prime minister on page four, and gave pride of place to the JCSC's on its front page.
On Tuesday, October 23, 2012, the editorial continued its relentless campaign against the Government.
That editorial, citing the statement issued by the prime minister after the retreat, accused the Government of "floundering in a maze of waffle and mediocrity".
The editorial went on to argue that the Government was "unwilling or incapable of taking bold and decisive actions necessary to drag Jamaica out of its economic crisis".
The said editorial went on to identify the issues as the restructuring of the public sector, tax reform, pension reform, and reduction of the debt. These are the same issues which are at the centre of negotiations with the IMF and which the Government has been giving its considered and focused attention.
These are not issues which the Government can unilaterally determine. They impact on people's lives. The take-it-or-leave-it approach, as demonstrated by the last Jamaica Labour Party Government, should have taught The Gleaner, by now, that negotiations cannot be undertaken in that manner.
The Gleaner, for example, has a unionised workforce, and The Gleaner cannot unilaterally determine its workers' wages. Such wages are negotiated until a settlement is arrived at.
Where there are a number of stakeholders involved in a matter where there are differences of opinion, the best approach is to seek a compromise by all parties before a decision is concluded. The days of implementing polices, including economic polices, by arrogance and fiat, run counter to the expectations of an enlightened population.
The said editorial also tried to stoke a non-existent fire. Clutching at the proverbial straw, the editorial implied that Prime Minister Simpson Miller and the minister of finance, Dr Peter Phillips, were pulling in different directions with regard to the Government's economic policy.
Having accused the prime minister of "floundering in a maze of waffle", it went on to assert "that her finance minister, Peter Phillips, is entrapped either by loyalty to the PNP ... or a persistence in his ambition to lead it".
On the op-ed page of October 22, The Gleaner, under the subhead 'Online Feedback', attempted to demonstrate the overwhelming support it received from online readers by extrapolating sections of nine online responses, all of which were in support of the editorial.
GLEANER PREDICTED DEFEAT
Readers must not forget that this is the same Gleaner which predicted, in December 2011, just before the general election, that the JLP would have won.
The people never bought The Gleaner's electoral call. Having called wrong, The Gleaner now labels the Government and prime minister as being "flaccid".
On October 17, 2012, the prime minister, in the first of a series of planned town-hall meetings, engaged hundreds of citizens from St Catherine at the José Martí Technical High School to discuss community and national issues.
The people who were there represented the real civil society. They were very vocal. They spoke openly, frankly and sincerely, and they asked more than 50 questions.
Neither the people who were there nor the members of the Government who were present at the meeting in St Catherine were in 'chaos', nor were they 'flaccid', nor were they in a 'state of paralysis', nor did they 'waffle' or demonstrate any form of 'mediocrity'.
As they did on December 29, 2011, the people, while cognisant of the social and economic difficulties facing the country, approached the issues in a different manner from that of The Gleaner. Probably that's the primary reason why the town-hall meeting was not given any reasonable coverage by The Gleaner.
THE ECONOMY MATTERS
At the October 17 meeting, both Prime Minister Simpson Miller and Justice Minister Mark Golding spoke extensively about the economic challenges being faced by the country and the measures being pursued to deal with these issues.
Both spent a long time going through the issues as they outlined why it was important to get an IMF agreement. This included the fact that an IMF agreement is important to improve investor confidence and to unlocking millions of foreign exchange inflow from a number of international agencies and multilateral institutions.
There is no doubt that one of the greatest challenges facing the country and, by extension, the Government, at this time, is the state of the economy.
An economy which has had an average annual economic growth, each year, of less than one per cent, for more than 40 years, has a fundamental problem. A country which experienced, as we did in the 1960s, an average yearly economic growth of five per cent, and during the same period unemployment doubled, has a serious problem.
In confronting the current economic challenges, the readers must never forget what this Government inherited 10 months ago.
In 2007, poverty was 9.8 per cent. That was the lowest ever. Under the JLP, in four years, it grew to approximately 20 per cent.
The country's debt moved from $980 billion to $1.6 trillion in four years. In other words, the national debt grew by almost 60 per cent under the party which The Gleaner predicted would have won the last election.
The JLP administration failed to implement a number of the preconditions it had agreed to in order to get the IMF loan in 2010.
These preconditions included pension reform, tax reform and the reform of the public sector. None of these things was implemented.
The present Government is committed to an IMF which will be in the interest of Jamaica. In these negotiations, the Government will continue to be tough but balanced. Let those who are in the pavilion telling the batsman how to bat put forward credible alternative economic proposals for consideration. I bet not one will be able to put forward a proposal which excludes the IMF.
The Gleaner has the right to determine the content of its editorials, as well what it prints or does not print. The Gleaner has my full support in exercising its freedom of expression.
In the end, however, it is the people, including the hundreds who gathered in St Catherine on October 17 to dialogue with the prime minister, who, as they did on December 29 last year, will decide who they believe is best able to lead the country.