Sunday, April 14, 2024

EDITORIAL: No time for politicking


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IN ANY DEMOCRACY, power and accountability are like Siamese twins, even if they are not conjoined at the hip. The buck stops at the very desk where power rests, and no amount of politicking can obscure that reality.

The people elect politicians who are answerable to them, and technocrats, however learned and prominent, are not the first call when things go wrong in the business of the State.

The recent observations of the governor of the Central Bank are important comments on the state of the economy that we must all take seriously. His is a report on the factual position of the country, and is rooted in his professional training as an economist and central banker.

It may be a tale of inconvenient truths, but he has given his diagnosis. The prescription and medicine, whether bitter or not, must now be dictated by the policymakers who are elected to exercise such power and who are accountable to the country when the medicine does or does not work at all, or does not work properly. The earlier policies have not quite done the job, and in a manner of speaking, the economy is not yet out of the woods.

The governor is reassuring when he tells us that the dollar is safe now and that we are a long way from devaluation but equally candidly, he makes it clear that if we continue on the current path that “we will get there”.

But we have had the earlier assurances with statements from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Leader of the Opposition making it clear that they all agree with the country’s overwhelming view that  devaluation is not a solution to our problems.

The Government has a responsibility to tell the country what medicine it proposes to use to get the country well again. Dr Worrell is clear that the Government is living beyond its means, and in effect that it cannot afford the lifestyle that it is practising. Put bluntly, he is telling us that the country is spending more money than it is earning, and he instances the size of the monthly wages bill. Cutting employment, however, has unpalatable implications.

Obviously the projected inflows of foreign direct investment as well as the injection of proceeds from the sale of BNTCL will help to bring some welcome assistance to the management of the foreign reserves, but over and above these developments the difficult, and some would say, structural problem of too much spending on current account has to be tackled.

With the parliamentary term expiring in just over a year, there may be a temptation to politick. We suggest that this is not a time for politicking. The interests of the country are paramount, and while we have to be vigilant we do not support any notion of indulging in hasty measures.

The answers and solutions remain for the judgement of the Minister of Finance and his colleagues in government. They must decide how they can contain current expenditure and conserve and build foreign exchange at a time when political reality suggests but does not compel a less than iron grip on the purse strings.

Dr Worrell’s opinions are of course timely and valid, but we are equally conscious that Ministers, because they are elected and accountable, must also take into account the wider aspects of the political economy. Uneasy lies the head.


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