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No more false starts—reforming public finance in Jamaica

by Therese Turner-Jones

123Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips (seated left), in conversation with Inter-American Development bank (IDB) Representative in Jamaica, Therese Turner-Jones (seated right), before signing copies of Public Sector Efficiency Programme agreements on Tuesday (February 18) for the provision of US$31.65 million by the IDB, People’s Republic of China; and European Union (EU), to finance the government’s Public Sector Efficiency Programme. Observing the proceedings are: Deputy Financial Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Planning, Wayne Jones (left); China’s Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Dong, Xiaojun (centre); and Head of Cooperation for the EU Delegation in Jamaica, Jesús Orús Báguena.

 

I admit to borrowing the “no more false starts” in the title from the fiduciary specialists working in Country Office Jamaica when asked to describe the state of play in the country on public financial management (PFM). I imagine most people can identify with the metaphor given Jamaica’s outstanding achievements on the track. I was captured by this image this week during a presentation to the donor community on PFM progress since the Ministry of Finance and Planning started reporting to us some two years ago.  I listened attentively to what I was expecting to be another run of the mill power-point outlining thousands of to do items in need of financing.  I was stunned by what was actually presented and how it was being presented.

Context: PFM refers to all matters related to the government’s budget—the calendar, the planning, budget execution, the collection of revenues, the spending on every item needed to support financing the public sector (wages, goods, services, interest on debt, and investment).

First observation: The Financial Secretary (FS) opened with some talk on how the Ministry was in the midst of a complete overhaul, was setting a standard for reform in the public sector and was using change management agents, including a dedicated Advisor on behavioral insights to drive the process. This got me thinking that the FS was describing a case study in a Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Second observation: All hands on deck. The FS called on various team members to explain each piece of the budget process that was being revamped given the new Fiscal Accountability Act and what it all means. There was discernible buy-in and enthusiasm shared by those who got up to share their views. I was excited to hear that 80 percent of large taxpayers in Jamaica are using e-filing to pay their corporate taxes. No more paper pushing, finally using technology to streamline and make the system more efficient, especially against the backdrop of needing to improve corporate compliance rates to meet revenue targets. This is refreshing.

Third observation: Getting the public involved. A public communications campaign to raise awareness of the PFM reforms, why they are needed and ongoing is up and running—beginning creatively with a song that may be hard to dance to, but surely gets the message across: https://soundcloud.com/mofp/a-fi-wi-bizniz

Last observation: Jamaica is on the right track on PFM reforms—no more false starts and on the way to winning the race for frontloaded, deep and important improvements in managing public finances. Very encouraging and others need take note.

 

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