Who says politicians don’t have a sense of humour? When Dr. Peter Phillips stood up in front of Parliament and other Jamaicans to declare that
he doesn’t subscribe to a ‘take it or leave it’ policy, but will instead be implementing cost-effective measures and waiting for a process of natural attrition
when speaking about the high cost of public sector wages, I actually laughed out loud while reading the Final Budget Presentation online. While I’m paraphrasing, you can see for yourself: he actually does use the term ‘natural attrition’.
But my grouses with the Minister began with his bold declaration of this Final Budget as ‘A New and Binding Covenant…’. Aside from being a really awesome movie, the word ‘covenant’ has strong religious connotations. This is not an attack on Jamaica’s church/state issues, however I am strongly of the opinion that religion should have no bearing on the financial affairs of the country. The PNP consistently uses religious-based tactics in an effort to win over the layman, and I think it’s a dirty trick that sullies religion with the likes of politics.
The Minister then goes on to explain how exactly we got into our current fiscal morass, all the while playing a moderately subdued version of the national pastime: The Blame Game.
The bulk of the presentation seems concerned with defending the proposed austerity budget. Because the Minister’s very pressing problem is telling the Jamaicans who thought they’d be eating steak and oxtail that they be getting a wider tax net instead. The PNP spent their campaign playing good cop to the JLP’s bad cop, but what the voting public failed to realize was that the end result of either gimmick is the criminal (read: public) ending up in custody.
Which is exactly where we are, financially speaking. Under an austerity budget, the goal is to increase taxes (aka revenue) while decreasing expenditure. And when it comes to the latter, the buzzword is privatize. Dr. Phillips seemed especially proud of the private sector’s interest in owning government agencies like schools and hospitals. But the part that really gets to me is that the Minister is planning to sell Jamaica’s 20% share in the Jamaica Public Service Company Instead, they are looking to invest in alternate sources of energy, like solar power but the Minister said nothing about the wind farms already in existence. (They are also planning to sell their shares in Caymanas Track Ltd., a valuable investment considering the recent lobbying to host races on Sundays).
In all seriousness, however, this budget does not seem at all effective in stemming the major fiscal haemorrhaging that we’ve been seeing for basically my entire life. Dr. Phillips stresses that 70% of our annual earnings are funnelled back into repaying debts, leaving a measly 30% for national development, but in my opinion he does not present any long term plans to get this loss under control. Measures like taxation are only short-term fixes, and decreasing government expenditure by privatisation can only last so long. And as for the much-touted ‘every Jamaican child has a debt of $600,000 as soon as he is born’ as an example of why we need to stop borrowing, I’m pretty sure we’re still incurring new debts every year.
I’m not a political scientist, and I certainly don’t have the answers to our financial problems. But I’d like to think that the people we’re paying to run our country can come up with better ideas for sustainable development than taxing books and selling out our electricity.