Tell the People the Truth
During the Budget Debate, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips announced that the Government would be seeking to collect half a billion dollars from the rationalisation of outdated fee measures.
That rationalisation is part of the revenue package which was approved by Parliament and is a critical part of efforts to meet the primary surplus target under the Government's economic reform programme which is being overseen by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Phillips, at no time during the Budget Debate, indicated the fee structures which would be revisited and the extent to which there would be changes. The parliamentary opposition did not push him on it during the Budget Debate and Government backbenchers played true to form - they did not rock the boat.
The Government didn't have the courtesy to outline the nature of the increases and where there would be applied. Citizens have had to watch and wait.
So when the increased costs were announced for passport services, some of us wondered whether this was part of the half a billion net. We still don't know. There has not been a word. At one point, having checked with a senior member at the finance ministry, I was told that the increases relate to spirits and places of amusement licences, and that Noel Arscott, the local government minister, would speak to it in his contribution to the Sectoral Debate.
The debate has closed, and not a word.
imposing new fees
One wonders whether it is that the Government believes it is fair to impose new fees in a Nicodemus fashion on the people. Like many Jamaicans, I am not against increasing the cost of a service as long as there is value for money. Also, I am not against increasing the cost of fees if it is that the fees represent 'monkey money' that bears no relevance to today's reality.
But the Government must talk to us. Phillips, as minister, should ensure that at the next sitting of the Parliament, a ministry paper is tabled outlining the measures being imposed on Jamaicans as it relates to the rationalisation of outdated fee measures.
That ministry paper should clearly state the areas in which fee structure is being rationalised; the old fees; new fees; implementation dates; and the rationale for the change.
In the meantime, one wonders whether junior industry minister Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams is serious.
The House of Representatives last week commenced debate on a report from the Economy and Production Committee on bank fees. Ffolkes-Abrahams' brilliant intervention was to call upon banks to do what the Government has failed miserably at doing. She wants wheelchair access for the disabled, never mind that the Parliament is a 'sick' building; she wants improved customer service, never mind that that's a custom almost foreign to the public sector; and she wants an end to long lines in banks.
Ffolkes-Abrahams must be talking about the tax offices.
"One the matter of accessibility for the disabled, the banks have not stepped up to the plate and agree in their voluntary code of conduct that they would provide these services for the disabled, although they make such large profits day in day out," she complained.
Like the minister, I, too, yearn for the day when banks will open beyond 2:30 p.m. on weekdays, not for staff to twiddle the thumb and watch the clock, which is very often the case in the public sector, but to enhance the business climate and encourage productivity.
Like the minister, I, too, yearn for the day when banks will treat customers with respect, knowing that they are nothing without us. But this yearning extends to our hospital workers and our security workers; our teachers, and I could go on and on.
There is a general level of callousness in the society that needs to be done away with. Ffolkes-Abrahams finds it easy to pick on banks because we don't like them. They are viewed by many as greedy and wicked institutions that are concerned with one thing only - more money.
The way to treat this monster is not to bad-mouth it and whip it into shape. Instead, use regulations, use codes of practice, use laws, and twist its arms so that it is always powerless when it tries to shake down defenseless people. The emotional cry from Ffolkes-Abrahams will not resonate in the powerful banking halls, not when the Government is equally poor, or even worst, on all fronts.