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I was struck by an Editorial in The Gleaner on May 23, ‘Good Initiative, Mr Duncan, But …‘ noting (my emphasis) that Keith Duncan, co-chair of the Economic Policy Oversight Committee ‘has taken his show on the road. He is on an education exercise, going into communities, attempting to break down the seemingly arcane ideas of finance into the language of the people and show the relationship between achieving the IMF targets and people’s live.

The Editorial noted that many more Jamaicans that would have been the case otherwise will have a better understanding of the targets the government is committed to achieve under the IMF programme. That should make for better buy-in from the nation.

But, the Editorial saw ‘a risk, should he not be careful, of the blurring of the lines between the committee’s job of monitoring performance, based on the empirical analysis of a specific set of data, and the responsibility of political leaders to enunciate policy and explain to constituents the basis on which competing priorities are resolved.’ Further, the Editorial argued ‘Mr Duncan should be wary of being perceived as usurping the role of Government. We are quite happy with policing the implementation of the programme, rather than being drawn into social engineering.’

My view is this perceived risk is that it is not that great. Many agencies and commentators can and will attempt to help others understand what government is doing, and their stipulated roles are usually kept fully in view. If there are issues in certain interpretations, part of a good democracy would be that government can express its displeasure, if it amounts to that, or conversely express its thanks because sometimes others are better at the process of explaining policies. In fact, that’s one of the key features of a free press/media. Also, government’s explanations of what it is purporting to do can often be self-serving, not least because politicians like to give the best impression of what they do, seeking to extract credit and minimize blame.

Today, I spoke on this topic on Facebook live. You can watch the video here: https://www.facebook.com/dennisjonesasiseeit/posts/1386788341414056

During the talk, I drew attention to the other recent attempts to explain better parts of government economic policies, as undertaken by the Economic Growth Council through its public forums, and the think tank, Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), with its recent public forums (on the 2017-18 Budget and this week on ‘Strenthening Integrity through Innovation’). All of these events try to draw the public more closely ‘into the tent’ and be part of the dialogues that are going on.

My view mirrors that expressed by educator and advocate Carol Narcisse:

“The economic programme is not going to be successful if we the people don’t understand it, don’t participate in it, don’t think it is a good thing, don’t see how it is going to benefit us, and if we don’t have an equitable way in which to both participate and benefit from the results of it.”

I would agree, also, with the complementary view she expressed: ‘EPOC going ‘On the Corner’ is an example of participatory democracy and is an extension of its responsibility to provide oversight.’

Credit to The Gleaner, who introduced the ‘On the Corner’ series, in the lead-up to the 2007 general election. A cynic might wonder if The Gleaner Editorial was not being somewhat disingenuous, in that the role of explaining policies and many other elements of government is often a function well performed by the media, and The Gleaner might really be seen as trying to protect a little of its own turf. But, surely, they wouldn’t be doing that, now, would they? Would they? 🙂

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