Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Land of inequality

Published:Friday | January 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

"All animals are created equal but some animals are more equal than others"

- From Animal Farm

by George Orwell

One of the things we Jamaicans are passionate about is equality. There is nothing that evokes cries of "injustice!" more than when one group of persons seems to be favoured more than others. I suppose this is a gut reaction born of memories of slavery, when some were owners and others were owned.

Of course, inequality did not end with Emancipation and Full Freedom. Those who had power and capital before Emancipation retained it, and the newly freed persons began with almost nothing. Those gaps remain to this day, and statistically, Jamaica is one of the most unequal countries in the world. In a ranking of 141 countries, only 37 are more unequal than Jamaica, including Haiti, Rwanda, South Sudan and South Africa (see the CIA World Factbook at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/21

72rank.html). It is not an accident that those who have, get more; and those who have not, get proportionately less.

What is troubling is that new types of inequality continue to be created. I will never forget the parting shot of P.J. Patterson, QC - just about to retire as prime minister: The Pensions (Prime Minister) Act of 2005 provides former prime ministers with a pension equal to "the annual salary appertaining to the office of prime minister for the time being, if the person to whom it is payable ceases to be prime minister on or before the 11th day of September, 2007" [4(a)i]. P.J. Patterson ceased to be prime minister on March 30, 2006.

Civil servants, upon retirement, are never entitled to 100 per cent of their final salary. The pension of a public servant is calculated at two per cent per year of service, so if they serve for one year, they would only get two per cent of their final salary; and in 10 years, they would get 20 per cent of their final salary; they would have to serve for 50 years to get 100 per cent of their final salary! Under no circumstances could they be entitled to an increase in pension if the person currently in their former post got a salary increase.

It gets worse

The prime minister of Jamaica is certainly more equal than all civil servants.

It gets worse: If the person "ceases to be prime minister after the 11th day of September, 2007, having not held that office at any time before that date", the person is only entitled to "two-thirds of the annual salary appertaining to the office of prime minister for the time being" [4(b)i].

And so Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will not be entitled to the same pension to which former Prime Minister Patterson is entitled! Talk about inequality!

It looks as if the Pensions (Prime Minister) Act of 2005 was specially tailored to benefit one person, and one person alone!

Massa, the day is certainly not done! Injustice, I say!

The payments due to the principals in the ongoing Tivoli Gardens enquiry are unusual, not just because of the large sums to be paid (which is the subject of some controversy), but especially because of the way the emoluments are calculated. First of all, the fees of the commissioners (two are resident Jamaicans) and legal counsel (all are resident Jamaicans) are calculated (and presumably will be paid) in United States dollars (US$). This means that their emoluments are protected from the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, which has depreciated by more than 10 per cent over the last year.

The salaries of civil servants, on the other hand, are frozen in Jamaican dollars, and lose value every day the Jamaican dollar depreciates, which is almost every day. The Government has made sure that the fees of the commissioners and lawyers employed in the enquiry are not subject to exchange rate depreciation. All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

The quantum of fees paid to the commissioners and attorneys was fixed based on international standards, despite the fact that only one of the persons affected does not reside in Jamaica. Why are the salaries of Jamaican teachers and nurses not determined by what Barbadian or British teachers and nurses receive? Why are some people treated differently - much better - than others?

Injustice, I say!

The Jamaican public needs to muster some outrage at the double standards (and sometimes triple standards) of our current political masters.

n Peter Espeut is a sociologist and human-rights advocate.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.