Tue | Nov 21, 2017

Byles wants EPOC-type oversight of Jamaica's programmes, policies

Published:Wednesday | November 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Director emeritus of Sagicor Group Jamaica, R. Danny Williams (left), congratulates Group Chairman Richard Byles on being inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Hall of Fame at a function at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Monday. Looking on is William Mahfood, chief executive officer of Wisynco.

The new inductee into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Hall of Fame, Richard Byles, is recommending the establishment of an Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC)-type arrangement to provide surveillance over the broad economic and social affairs of the country.

He says the concept of shared leadership, which EPOC represented, is a viable path to greater success in decision implementation for Jamaica, noting that the efficacy of the suggestion can be seen by the undisputed success of the model in Jamaica's International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.

"Jamaica made a remarkable turnaround, moving from being locked out of international financial markets due to a lack of confidence in our capacity to manage our own affairs, to becoming the poster child for the IMF," Byles told the audience gathered to witness his induction at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Monday night.

Downplaying talk of over-reach, Byles, who is chairman of Sagicor Group Jamaica, said, "Some persons may consider these proposals as trespassing on the responsibilities of government, but in about two years, the current IMF agreement comes to an end and so will their monitoring of our economic development. We need continued strong oversight. We've come too far and paid too high a price to make any mistakes in the future."

 

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He says such an EPOC-type committee must draw on the best talents in Jamaica from all sectors as the way to go in managing the country's affairs and protecting the gains of recent times.

"Oversight committees, comprised of government and non-government members, headed by strong, proven leaders who are willing to put their most valuable asset at risk, their reputations, certainly, it worked for us," he said after remarking on the seven areas that assisted the work of EPOC that he co-chaired with Bank of Jamaica Governor Brian Wynter in the four years leading up to 2016.

Byles said that included having a strong minister of finance in the form of Dr Peter Phillips and a well-crafted, time-bound IMF programme that had rewards such as capital market access and draw-downs. He also said the establishment of an efficient coordination and implementation unit aided by the private sector ensured that the various government departments fulfilled their obligations in a timely manner.

Byles, former president and chief executive officer of Sagicor Group, said the emergence of EPOC as an honest broker served to instill confidence in the IMF programme across political lines, ensure transparency and holding the Government accountable.

Noting that all the macroeconomic indicators continued to be positive and that the table is well set for growth, Byles warned, however, that it was easy to slip back into old ways.

"In such an environment, we may find it easy to forget how we got into this debt trap and how important it is to remain vigilant," he said.

The Hall of Fame inductee noted that in 2012, Parliament adopted the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which guards Jamaica against spending excessively and requires governments to continue the journey to a 60 per cent debt-to-gross domestic product ratio, suggesting that the auditor general requires assistance to ensure Jamaica meets the target.

"I believe that the management of that potentially powerful instrument should be shared between the auditor general, which the law puts in charge of this, and a broad oversight committee," Byles said.

EPOC consists of persons from the private and public sectors, as well as civil society, who receive and review information from the Government of Jamaica on the progress of implementation of the memorandum of economic and financial policies over the life of the IMF's four-year extended fund facility, as well as under the current standby agreement. EPOC's role was to assist in ensuring that the agreed targets are achieved and advise the public, through the media, of any concerns or developments.

Byles also suggested that as Jamaica moves towards establishing an independent Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), careful consideration should be given to the composition of the board. He said that, as far as he is concerned, it is important that the BOJ board include a number of independent-minded Jamaicans from civil society.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com