Thu | Jun 20, 2024

Gordon Robinson | Budget debate? Or sideshow?

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2023 | 12:27 AM

Independent member of parliament George Wright sitting in the Opposition Leader seat during the finance minister’s presentation at the budget debate on March 21 after members of the Opposition walked out.
Independent member of parliament George Wright sitting in the Opposition Leader seat during the finance minister’s presentation at the budget debate on March 21 after members of the Opposition walked out.

Now the budget debate is over, we can take a comprehensive overview of the entire process.

The overwhelming impression each year is one of a political circus rather than any representative assessment of the estimates of expenditure. To begin with, the batting order is unfairly skewed in favour of Government. Fairness would dictate PM's address should come before Opposition Leader's so PM's traditional Christmas-in-March gifts can be addressed.

 

Step right up, hurry, hurry,

before the show begins, my friends.

Stand in line, get your ticket,

I hope you will attend.

It'll only cost you fifty cents to see

what life has done to those like you and me

Serious content was sparse. Nigel, in his opening, made several grand announcements of projects yet to get off the ground. He began by blaming outside influences “not under the control of anyone in Jamaica” and “our dependence on foreign imported food and Energy” for Jamaica's economic fragility. If true, this would render him and his Government redundant. He rescued the narrative with a strong acknowledgement “we must take responsibility for our own vulnerabilities and prepare for them.” Then he claimed we'd done so.

Have we?

Almost immediately, Nigel contradicted himself by prescribing future action which included “reduce our dependence on imported food and energy.”

I agree. We aren't helpless. We are dependent. We must emancipate our minds from that. Michael Manley tried self reliance (1972-1976) but was defeated by a combination of desperate Opposition politics and his own vocal exuberance. If we'd stuck to those policies, Nigel wouldn't now be forced to call for a restart by a different name.

He emphasised the indisputable need to continue to reduce debt and protect economic gains. Then he recycled EPOC (renamed Fiscal Commission) to “provide an informed second opinion on fiscal developments and….play a constructive role in informing the public and, incentivizing adherence to Jamaica's fiscal rules.”

Holy smokescreen Batman!

While announcing grand projects, Nigel appeared oblivious to some fundamentals. His presentation seemed preoccupied with macroeconomics without relating that to citizens' welfare.

This was the thrust of Julian Robinson's clinical reply. He's an impressive representative of the people despite the system's many temptations. He opened with deference to democracy:

“Most importantly, I'd like to recognise the citizens of South East St. Andrew. I'm keenly aware of the great privilege it is for me to be here representing your interests. Whether you voted for me or not, I thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

That's every MP's sole purpose. As one of Julian's non-voting constituents, I thank him for always acknowledging this in word and deed.

Julian brought us back to micro-economic realities namely “runaway murder rate; massive corruption, theft and misuse of public resources; worrying number of students who leave school illiterate and innumerate; spiralling cost of living; and struggle of workers to earn a liveable wage.”

 

See the man

who's been cryin' for a million years;

so many tears.

See the girl

who's collected broken hearts for souvenirs.

Julian cited no Local Government Election budget as basis for accusing Government of failing to listen to the people. But it's worse. The people are silenced so Government doesn't need to listen. Government doesn't care what we have to say!

Julian spoke on behalf of “working poor” (unemployment rate six per cent but 11 per cent living in poverty). He proved need but seemingly failed to recognize the problem as long standing and solution long term.

Julian's “Liveable wages” in an economy as dependent as Nigel described is a moving target. The only solution to raising “working poor's” living standard is free, radically reformed education. Meanwhile, Julian's call for more attention and resources to PATH is appropriate.

I also endorse Julian's condemnation of Government transport policy as depreciating public transport while forcing taxpayers into high cost, undisciplined, often unlawful private transportation.

I can't put it any better than Julian:

“the goal of purchasing 200 new buses over three years alone won't turn around [JUTC] fortunes when [JUTC] needs 400 new buses. Reducing public transportation costs is a way to reduce cost of living for all. JUTC needs to be properly managed... It's not enough to [try to] increase the number of passengers…from expected 18 million this year to 31 million in the upcoming fiscal year...because the bus service carried over 61 million passengers in 2015/2016. [JUTC's] state speaks to disinvestment in public transportation.”

Unfortunately, Mark Golding's contribution was from a different world than Julian's. Mark probably made good points but they were relegated to oblivion by an idiotic assertion that Government's no new taxes claim was a “samfie” because more taxes would be collected in 2023/24 than 2022/23.

This heralded a record low in parliamentary debate and single-handedly handed the budget debate “win” to Government. Tax collections increased every year for decades. A transformative TAJ is committed, disciplined and efficient. It is proactive but courteous and helpful. This drives higher collections allowing Government to avoid burdening citizens with new taxes.

Maybe Mark doesn't understand what a “new tax” looks like so here are some examples recognizable by most kindergarten students:

• Transfer Tax introduced 1971;

• GCT introduced 1991;

• Asset Tax introduced 2003;

• Minimum Business Tax introduced 2014

 

It's more exciting than a one-man band;

The saddest little show in all the land.

 

Some argue tax rate increases (e.g. Government increased GCT rate to 17.5% in December 2010) are “new taxes”. But that's a revised tax measure NOT a new tax. Not even that transpired. So it's incontrovertible that, for six years, this government, commendably, has introduced no new taxes yet collected more annually.

Did I say the “samfie” argument was a record low? Well that record lasted a whole week before Nigel shattered it. He'd been going along nicely until he lost control of his moral compass; flipped his wig; and called the Opposition Leader “Massa Mark”.

Lookie here, nobody enjoys creating nicknames, especially for politicians, than I. I've even got one for Mark based on his approach to and, in my opinion, unsuitability for, political leadership. I call him CryBaby Mark. I doubt he's happy about it but I think it's cute.

Nigel's. Slavemaster. Slur. Was. Not. Cute!

 

See the man with the broken heart,

you'll see that he is sad

He hurts so bad.

THAT insult was beyond uncalled for. It was so uncharacteristic of a man of Nigel's intellect and habitual civility I wondered if Warmonger Warmington possessed him. I've met Nigel. I like him. A lot! He's much better than this.

Time come to face the elephant in the room. Mark Golding was born into privilege. His father came here from England and, like most Englishmen before and after, became a big fish in a little pond. Mark wasn't involved!

John Golding gave his life to Jamaica's public health. Soon after his arrival, Jamaica faced a devastating polio epidemic. John's contribution to Jamaica's response went above and beyond the call of duty. His continued commitment to orthopaedic rehabilitation was iconic.

Mark was born in Jamaica; educated in Jamaica and England; and has also given legal, political and social service to Jamaicans regardless of status. He's a good man. He isn't a natural politician but circumstances have conspired to thrust him into political leadership.

His policies and performance are up for criticism. I've often grasped that opportunity. That's ok. What's NOT okay is abuse of parliamentary privilege to propagate innuendo denigrating Mark's heritage or personal sensitivity. It's particularly galling coming from a party whose former leader, Edward Seaga, suffered similar smears despite established compassion for and service to Jamaica's poor and vulnerable.

Why this harkening back to politics' darkest days by someone who doesn't need lowbrow calumny to win an argument? Maybe recent poll numbers rattled JLP. Don't know. Don't care! THIS travelled well beyond the pale (no pun intended); over the line; and descended mouth first into the gutter.

In my opinion, Nigel owes Mark an apology

As usual, PM spoke at length. He started strongly with a crucial admission that macro-economic success hasn't affected the micro economy. But, thereafter, his speech rambled from one political goodie bag to another. His claims of “spacial” development to ensure connectivity with surrounding areas were hilarious. While he was boasting of “using cutting edge technology….to make decisions about the spatial development of our country”, recently reconstructed (for “connectivity”) Paddington Terrace collapsed; a western police station sank in a swamp; and high-rise apartments flooded at the first sign of rain.

Let the sideshow begin.

(Hurry, hurry)

Step right on in.

Can't afford to pass it by;

guaranteed to make you cry.

No worries. The sideshow (written by Vinnie Barrett/Bobby Eli; recorded by Blue Magic) will soon be taken on the road.

Peace and Love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.