Phillips Confident Of Jamaica’s Progress On Eve Of IMF Talks

Jamaican Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips said his country’s economy is doing better than expected.

His comments came on the eve of next week’s talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A team from the IMF is set to arrive on the Caribbean island over the weekend to begin talks on Monday about a new economic program with Jamaica.

Phillips said in a press briefing following Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting that the six percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) primary surplus target set in the budget has been exceeded.

He noted that revenues appear to be about one percent short of target, but attributed the shortfall to an error in measurements.

Phillips said he expected the figures to rank where they were expected to when a review is done.

In the meantime, the finance minister is commending public sector unions for their cooperation, as the government seeks to contain expenditures on wages, as is required for going forward with any new IMF deal.

He said he will be meeting with union leaders this week, ahead of the talks with the IMF representatives.

This week, the government removed 3,000 posts from the public service, with Phillips saying that more jobs will be cut before the end of the year.

The IMF team will be on the island until October 5.

Roughly four months ago, the IMF said Jamaica’s debt had reached 140 percent of its GDP, 10 percentage points higher than the figure cited by the government, and suggested that it could climb higher unless the government immediately pushed through fiscal reforms.

As of the close of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the country’s debt stood at $1.7  trillion (US$19.5 billion) or $600,000 (US$6,900) for every resident of  Jamaica. The island’s stock of public debt remains high even now, while economic growth has been anemic.

Strategies to tackle the high debt and low growth will be broad-based ones, ranging anywhere from dealing with banking and insurance regulation to lower-than-anticipated tourism numbers to the soaring numbers of the country’s unemployed youth.

Rising food prices, however, could pose a substantial challenge for Jamaica, given its high dependence on global markets for food.

Next week’s IMF gathering will include finance ministers and central bank governors from all member states of the Caribbean Community, from British overseas territories, as well as delegations from the World Bank, International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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