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Byles confident-Gov't to maintain targets, resist spending

Featured RICHARD Byles, the co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) RICHARD Byles, the co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC)
RICHARD Byles, the co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) which monitors the Government's budgetary performance, expects the Government to maintain its targets and resist the temptation to spend extravagantly ahead of a general election.

Byles indicated that his position reflected more reality than optimism.

"Sometimes I am described in the media as the chief optimist. But I must tell you I am even more optimistic," he said at the monthly EPOC media briefing, held at the Sagicor head office in Kingston on Thursday.

Previous governments have run deficits leading up to elections. Critics argue that it is done in order to improve infrastructure deemed necessary to sway voters.

His cause for comfort includes a commitment given this week to EPOC by the finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips that the Government would maintain budgetary targets leading up to an election.

"He made a pledge that neither a general election, which is due in the next 18 months, nor the current public sector wage negotiations will be allowed to derail the economic programme," he said, adding that it represented a big confidence booster.

The next general election in Jamaica is constitutionally due in December 2016. The prime minister, however, can call an election before the date is due.

"If Dr Phillips says that to me, then I am inclined to accept that pledge," he said in response to a media query. "He has built up a lot of credibility in the last two to three years, and it would be severely damaged if he didn't live up to that."

Byles added that his additional optimism comes from other improvements to the macroeconomy. These include the recent rating upgrades for Jamaica by Moody's and Standard & Poors; the 29 per cent rise in the Jamaica Stock Exchange index year to date; the rise in business and consumer confidence; the rise in the island's Doing Business ranking from 85 to 58 in the world; inflation at 4.0 per cent or a 45-year low; the slowing of currency depreciation; and tourism arrivals up 4.5 per cent year to date.

"I say that if we were confident before, we should be even more so now," he suggested to media.

Last month, a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited to assess the island under its 8th quarterly review.

Data provided by EPOC show continued improvement to the country's indicators in April. The primary balance of central government stood at negative $5.9 billion better than the negative $6.0 billion budgeted. Tax revenues stood at $27.1 billion compared to $26.8 billion budgeted. The fiscal balance of central government stood at negative $13.3 billion compared to negative $14.1 billion budgeted; and net international reserves stood at US$2.4 billion in May.

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