• Opinion
  • August 16, 2018
  • 7 minutes
  • 3

What to do when ambitious reforms falter: nine lessons from Jamaica

Opinion: The country has fallen behind on nearly half its national development targets

To enable its people to live, work, raise families and do business successfully, Jamaica’s government has established several key development objectives for the coming years.

Critical among these are maintaining macroeconomic stability and pursuing debt reduction, improving citizen security, access to finance and the business environment, stimulating asset use, building human capital, harnessing the diaspora and accelerating strategic projects.

The government’s plan to achieve these goals is outlined in Vision 2030, Jamaica’s National Development Plan, which details the sweeping reforms that will be necessary. The plan aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it was developed through extensive consultations with the public sector, private sector and civil society, including gender and environmental groups.

However, ambitious reforms are no easy matter. An assessment for the 2009 to 2014 period found that almost half of all targets (48%) showed no improvement or worsened over the period compared to the baseline year of 2007. Only 20% of the targets were fully met, and 26% showed some improvement.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt — as Director of the Investment Branch at the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation — from the challenges and successes of Jamaica’s reform process so far.

Understand impact

Crucial to the implementation of sustainable policy reforms is first understanding their effects on different groups. Public servants’ jobs and responsibilities will be affected. And external stakeholders — users of government services, businesspeople and the wider community — will all be impacted by changes to regulations in areas like utilities and the environment. To improve overall economic welfare, a package of reforms must be optimally designed to balance competing interests. For example, reformers may have to balance public sector demands for increased wages with other stakeholders’ demands for lower-cost government services.

Share ownership

The general public and public sector employees must also be involved in the design of reforms to promote their long-term sustainability. Many will have in-depth knowledge of particular issues that external experts or consultants may be unaware of. Specific clusters of stakeholders should take ownership and responsibility for specific reforms: if ownership of the process is spread too broadly, accountability might suffer.

Accompany reforms with targeted training

To be active participants in the reform process, stakeholders will need support to address skills’ gaps. They will need to be able to use new technology, such as ICT systems, and to perform new activities and take on new responsibilities, such as enterprise risk management and monitoring and evaluation.

 Find champions

One way to ensure reforms don’t falter is to identify and consult with key people who can either lead or block the process. The people who are — or who can influence — important decision-makers can make or break a policy, and if they are on board they can become champions and lead the process.

Prioritize carefully

Reforms should be prioritised based on impact and achievability within resource and timeframe constraints, and early efforts must be focused on the most critical reforms. Easy reforms that are “low hanging fruit” are tempting, but won’t necessarily bring key intended results.

Build support

Reforms could result in loss of jobs, need for homes to be relocated, or increased fees for certain public services. Measures should be designed to ameliorate negative impacts, and reforms need to be effectively communicated and explained to gain understanding and support.

Manage risks

Many risks are inherent in broad national reform processes, and we have found that risk assessment of individual policies is critical to successful implementation. Analysis of impact and likelihood should form the basis for determining how identified risks should be managed and for establishing policies and procedures for effective response.

Monitor and evaluate

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation is critical — even after the end of the reform process. Ideally, the status of each reform can be indicated by “stop light” colour-coded indicators, easily understood by all, so that problems can be quickly identified for focus and action. Green indicates that the reform is on track, yellow that it is outside of timeframe and budget and red that the reform needs serious attention or rethink. 

Dialogue and oversight

The establishment of mechanisms that encourage dialogue among public and private sector representatives, like oversight councils, can break down siloes and improve implementation. For our business environment reforms, Jamaica established a National Competitiveness Council (NCC), chaired by the responsible minister. It has overseen significant improvements; Jamaica is now ranked 70th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2018 report. The country’s highest rankings were in starting a business (5th) and getting credit (20th).

By following these nine lessons, by 2030 Jamaica — and other countries far beyond — may be able to report that most sustainable development targets have in fact been met. — Omar Chedda

(Picture credit: Flickr/Thomas)

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