Jamaica and the IMF: Leadership challenges

Over the weekend, I read the latest IMF Staff report on Jamaica. The basic message was that the country has stayed on track during the first few months of the current arrangement. This we knew from optimistic comments made by various local officials. The tough part, like in most things, is not making a fast start but good running throughout plus a strong finish. My time as a Fund economist led me to understand that the start of programs tend to be attainable.

Jamaica has a poor reputation of not staying the course with the IMF. That’s always puzzled me because much of the financial support needed over the years was always dependant on staying the course. So, deviations meant naturally that a new financial hole was being dug.

People generally have a low opinion of our national political leaders. That’s not to say that the political figures are feckless, but they’ve shown so many signs of faltering under pressure or not fulfilling promises that they’ve made. This can now come back to bite Jamaica when leaders need to convince the population that more sacrifices need to be made in the form of more austerity. Telling someone to prepare for more pain is not easy.

The IMF isn’t on Jamaica’s list of best friends forever. That’s no big surprise. The Fund is usually there to take a battering for policy choices governments have to make but often find difficult to sell to the local population. Jamaicans have been given plenty of fodder to dislike IMF prescriptions, in particular with a currency that has depreciated sharply. But, local political figures have rarely explained well the arithmetic that is behind the movement in the exchange rate. I think most people would get it. Now, they may not believe that a further slide of the Jamaican dollar will do much more than raise the local cost of living. But, the way the program is being put over to the nation doesn’t strike me as compelling.

Perhaps, I’m delusional to think that a more engaging approach is possible. Maybe the decades of disappointing prospects have taken their toll. You may not be able to sell economic policies like a TV program but delivery of the messages need not be dull. I’m interested to see if the ‘face time’ to talk up the program gets ramped up in coming months.