The Citizen’s Guide to the 2019-2020 Budget: a good start, but…

First, let’s be happy about what the Minister of Finance is trying to do in making the annual budget something that more people can understand and relate to. That latter aspect is important because it raises the chances that policies will go in the desired direction. For the first time, there is an attempt to put a non-technical document out to the public “in an easily understood format”. It’s close, but has a few steps to go, I’d argue.

Amongst those steps are ‘how will more people get to read the document?’ We’re long past the days when pamphlets about government policies were only available at official outlets and in paper form. So, a pull-out supplement in a Sunday paper is welcome. But, we know that many don’t have or want their access limited to this format. So, while the website address to the ministry of finance is prominent on the front of the document, a visit to that site doesn’t offer an electronic version of the guide. Why not? Worse still, the site listed under ‘Resources’, http://MOF.gov.jm/documents returns a ‘404 error’!

Put out the document in electronic form across the many social media platforms that now exist.

Economics is not a subject that is short of jargon but its use should be minimal when describing things. Also, simpler terms are better, I feel: ‘used’ is better than ‘utilized’, ‘aids’ is better than ‘facilitates’, for example. Plain language goes over better.

Graphs and charts are good, so use them more.

Accuracy is important but understanding doesn’t demand precision.

At the least, the decimal places could be dropped and the numbers rounded, eg J$274,447 millions. That should make for easier reading, at least.

Consistent simplification is needed. It’s great to see a heading like ‘Where does the money go?’ but why should we then have to translate ‘compensation of employees’? Couldn’t it be ‘What money staff get’ or similar?

There are some ‘inaccuracies’ that can be confusing: ‘bilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank’ is wrong–they’re multilateral institutions. That difference can be explained simply, if needed, by pointing to bilateral institutions (citing the bilateral partner country).

While the guide doesn’t ask for feedback, I’ve offered it! However, I think feedback should be sought explicitly. After all, it’s better to hear how well citizens feel about the guide.

Just some thoughts. 🤔

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

One thought on “The Citizen’s Guide to the 2019-2020 Budget: a good start, but…”

  1. For years we have heard politicians tlking over the heads of the common citizen through the budget debate. Sure, those with a college degree in economics can understand.

    However, for the majority of tax payers, these figures make no sense. They are brought to us in way that most cannot comprehend.You have given great suggestions as to how this can be improved.

    I hope to see the day when at least most of us can make sense of the budget.

    Like

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