Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Possible Conflict May Arise Over Jamaica’s Stand-by Agreement with IMF Over 5% Tax Cut in Fuel

Jamaican Gleaner: IMF Open to New Standby Agreement with Jamaica
Business Content Jamaica: Jamaica Shaves 5% Off Controversial Gas Tax
Business Content Jamaica: 1.2% Decline in Jamaica’s Economic Growth

On April 12, 2011, the Jamaican government successfully avoided protest by opposition party, the Peoples National Party (“PNP”). The PNP, had originally scheduled the protest to oppose the Jamaican government’s implementation of a 15% tax increase on fuel. Consumers had already been hit hard by the international increase of fuel prices and the 15% tax increase would have only increased costs for cash-strapped consumers. Currently Jamaican motorist pay more than $4.40 per gallon for gasoline. The 15% tax increase would have sent the price of gasoline to over $5.00 per gallon, something the PNP was unwilling to accept. In response to the possible protest, the Jamaican government agreed to reduce the tax by 5% and successfully quelled the party’s protest.

Although the Jamaican government avoided the immediate fear of political protest, reducing the fuel tax has only created another imminent fear for the Jamaican government. The 15% increase in tax fuel was one of the conditions negotiated in a medium-term economic stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund. This agreement between the Jamaican government and the IMF provides the Jamaican government with a 3-year $1.27 billion dollar loan in order to help the government implement new economic reforms and cope with the global downturn. However, the agreement comes with conditions and clearly states that the Jamaican government must meet certain markers and goals for ensuring greater fiscal discipline. One of these markers included increasing cash supply through increased taxation, which the 15% fuel tax increase was supposed to be a part of. The 5% decrease assented to by the Jamaican government, will now force them to explain an unexpected budgetary cost of 3.5 billion Jamaican dollars (roughly $41 million U.S. dollars) to the IMF. It is clear from the terms of the stand-by agreement with the IMF, that Jamaica faces possible legal sanctions for failing to meet these markers. Already identified as a government with a “terminal point problem,” or a problem with failing to meet financial and structural markers, the Jamaican government is unsure if this decrease in tax fuel will have a legal affect for the country. However, in the February review of the agreement, IMF technocrat Trevor Alleyne said the IMF is working with the Jamaican government to ensure that resort to legal sanctions is avoided.

Although some support the stand-by agreement between the IMF and the Jamaican government, critics point to Jamaica’s 1.2% GDP contraction in the 2010 year as an indicator that the reforms imposed by the terms of the agreement are not stimulating growth. Alleyne contends that increasing GDP was never the major goal of issuing the loan, but providing insurance for banks in case of a sharp demand for loans during a debt exchange shock, or fallout, was. Maintaining the economic confidence of companies is crucial toward the growth of the country, Alleyne stated.
However, when a sharp GDP contraction in Jamaica’s September quarter, did not send companies running to the bank for cash bailouts, critics viewed the loan as an attempt to swindle the Jamaican government into paying interest on a overly excessive loan, since $950 million of the $1.27 billion loaned by the IMF had been allocated for such a shock. Alleyne contends that the loan was created to prepare Jamaican banks against the worst possible scenario, not as a reflection of the IMF’s belief that the worst case scenario would actually happen.

Despite criticisms of the loan, the Jamaican government will continue to work with the IMF to make improvements in their fiscal planning. If nothing else the existence of the loan will encourage much needed cheap budgetary support from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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