Same script, different cast (politics wi a pree)

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.

Pax.

The Price of Literacy

It now costs 16.5% more than it did last year for the average Jamaican to read a book. Thank you, Jamaican Government.

While my first instinct is to lambaste this tax reform as a dick move by the government, I will restrain from using bad words from delivering my initial reaction and instead try to create some semblance of a rational reply to this ridiculous measure.

But first, enjoy a few statistics:
Jamaica ranks 63rd (of 163) in the world with our literacy rate of 86.4 {source}.
Girls and women have higher literacy rates than boys and men (6% and 10% differences respectively)
In 2009 the average literacy rate of youth was 95.17
In the same year for adults, 86.36
{source}

This is the kind of educational climate in which Dr. Peter Phillips sees it fit to impose a tax on printed material, with the exception of sloppily defined ‘textbooks’ (which includes children’s colouring books and of course the Bible, because Jesus would upset the temple of the moneylenders all over again if they dared to tax His Father’s book).

And besides, he adds flippantly, the Ministry of Education already provides the basic texts through the book rental programme. In HIGH SCHOOL.

And what of those students whose required readings fall outside Dr. Phillips’ nonchalant demarcations of “textbooks”? What of university students (like myself) whose books already cost more than some people make in a fortnight (and that’s just ONE book). What about people who read for leisure?

NO.

Therein lies the source of my greatest displeasure. In a nation, nay world, where young people already eschew the written word in favour of mp3’s and mp4’s taxing printed material is akin to dropping the axe cleanly on the chopping block. We readers had pretty much been confined to the gallows before but now our feet are dangling above the gap and instead of a clean break (like, say, censorship) we are faced with the pain of a slow death by asphyxiation.

I am not being melodramatic.

Even you, reader of blogs; if you are honest with yourself you can realize this. When was the last time you picked up a book that wasn’t required for school or work? If you can answer yesterday, last week or even last month, congratulations, you are among a happy and dying minority. If like most Jamaicans, the last thing you read was your Lotto ticket (or light bill), then you will be right at home in Peter’s new world order.

I of course plan to boycott this capitalistic censorship by buying books for as cheaply as possible as often as possible. Feel free to join me. I’ll be the one chaining myself to a bookstore and reading.