Friday 19 January 2018

Shooting from lip is no way to give information

ECONOMIC data on exports, credit or house prices are so confusing these days that it is often difficult to know whether the data represents good news or bad news.

Fortunately, help is at hand for those trying to decipher the Department of Finance's releases; Good news is released early in the day while bad news is released late in the evening.

Really bad news is reserved for Friday evenings when the economists have left for home and the news cycle ensures that there will be as little scrutiny as possible in a modern democracy.

No pesky Dail questions. No serious programmes on the broadcast media for 48 hours.

Last Friday evening was a code red day. It saw the release of Ireland's Stability Programme Update which included, among many other nuggets, a significant downgrade of the Government's forecasts for growth.

The Stability Programme Update is undoubtedly one of the most important documents published by the Government every year.

Unlike the Exchequer Returns, it paints a detailed picture of the real state of the economy and the assumptions that underpin Government forecasts.

Now that the December Budget consists of little more than the confirmation of November's leaks, there is a good argument for saying that the Stability Programme Update is the single most important document to be published by the Department.

A Finance Minister who was serious about communicating with the public would notify people of publication in advance, publish the results early in the morning and then hold a press conference with senior officials to explain the contents. Instead, we get the detail late in the evening and a few anodyne canned quotes.

This was probably pleasant for Michael Noonan because it allows him to escape real scrutiny but it erodes his authority in the long-term.

Announcing Government policy on the doorstep, as he did this week with his foolish threat to impose a harsh Budget in the event of a No vote, is no way to run a country if you want to bring the public with you. It is time Mr Noonan faced the music.

Indo Business

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