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Cablegate: Jamaican Finance Minister Not Ready to Quit (Yet)

VZCZCXYZ0004
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKG #1423 2021552
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 211552Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY KINGSTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3243
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L KINGSTON 001423

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAR (MCISAAC)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/18/2016
TAGS: ECON EFIN PGOV PINR PREL JM
SUBJECT: JAMAICAN FINANCE MINISTER NOT READY TO QUIT (YET)


Classified By: Ambassador Brenda Johnson, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Minister of Finance and Planning Omar Davies
will not/not resign just yet, despite widespread media
reports last week indicating that Davies was preparing to
leave the cabinet, his Parliamentary seat, and
representational politics. Embassy contacts had confirmed
that his rumored departure was true, and were surprised when
Davies announced that he would remain. One contact believes
that this is merely a delay to give time to find a successor,
and to take the PNP through an impending general election
without disruption. His replacement is likely to be one of
two businessmen: Richard Byles or Peter Bunting. End summary.

2. (U) Widespread media reports last week indicated that
longstanding Minister of Finance and Planning Omar Davies was
preparing to resign from the cabinet, his Parliamentary seat,
and from politics. Many expected Davies to make the
announcement when he met with constituents on Saturday, 15
July. Instead, Davies was returned unopposed as the
candidate for the St. Andrew South constituency, and he
announced that he had no intention of resigning his
Ministership. He did note, however, that he would cease his
People's National Party (PNP) duties as a Regional Chairman
in order to devote more time to solving the crime problems
that are plaguing his community.

3. (C) Two Embassy contacts - both of whom are close to
Davies - noted on July 14 that the rumors that Davies would
step down as Minister were true, and both were surprised by
the sudden reversal at Saturday's meeting. One source, who
worked on the Davies campaign for PNP leader, claimed that
new Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Davies were at
odds over spending: Davies has been known for his tight
fiscal policy and spending restraint, while Simpson Miller
has built her political career on social spending. The other
contact claimed that the crime and violence in his community
were the driving factors behind his rumored departure. He
also remains convinced that Davies' departure as Minister is
simply being delayed until after the General Election (which
appears likely before October).

4. (C) According to PNP activists, there are currently two
likely replacements being suggested privately as successors
to Davies at the Ministry of Finance and Planning (MFP):
Richard Byles and Peter Bunting. Byles is a former socialist
who has been "born again." He has accumulated large
shareholdings as the CEO of Pan Jamaica Investments, and also
serves as CEO of the Life of Jamaica Insurance Company,
Chairman of Pan Caribbean Financial Services, Director of Red
Stripe, and Chairman of the National Water Commission. Byles
holds a degree in Economics from the University of the West
Indies, and a Masters degree in National Development from the
University of Bradford, England. Most think that he has the
technical expertise to run the Ministry in the Davies mold -
running large primary surpluses as a way to reduce the
country's crippling debt burden. Bunting is a partner in the
investment firm Dehring, Bunting and Golding. He has been a
staunch supporter of Davies for many years, and the PNP has
always been a party that rewards loyalty. Nevertheless, he
is less well regarded because Byles has the stronger academic
background, and is closer to Prime Minister Simpson Miller.

5. (C) Comment: Rumors have persisted for a long time that
Davies wishes to leave, but he is clearly concerned about his
legacy and wishes to groom the incoming replacement. Post
expects that whoever is selected will join MFP in some
capacity - likely as Minister of State - so that Davies can
shepherd him into his role. Contacts also indicated that PNP
heavyweights such as Foreign Minister Hylton prevailed upon
Davies to remain both as Finance Minister and as Regional PNP
Chairman, to avoid any semblance of disunity in a PNP that
has been rocked by crises recently. In any event, spending
is almost certain to increase as a result of impending
elections, as well as Simpson Miller's natural propensity
towards assisting the poor. It seems that Davies wishes to
ensure that the careful work he has done over the past decade
to bring down the debt-to-GDP ratio, and to improve Jamaica's
standing with the international financial community, is not
threatened after he steps down. End comment.
JOHNSON

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