Editorial: Promise more but deliver less
With the next general election on the horizon, politicians will be using various strategies to woo the large pool of uncommitted voters. One of the well-worn strategies we have seen employed by politicians on the hustings is to make ridiculous promises, whether from platforms, during debates or at other fora.
It is now election season, and a reflection over the years reveals that campaign promises have ranged from the lure of free education, free health care, revision of various laws, more pay for workers, no new taxes, and the severing of ties with the British monarchy. Promises inevitably lead to expectations. However, do they ever deliver on these promises? The evidence suggests that many campaign promises are largely ignored by politicians once they get into office. Understandably, there is growing scepticism to campaign promises.
Which is why we again feel compelled to call attention to the latest suggestion by Audley Shaw, opposition spokesman on finance, that the National Minimum Wage be set at US$5,000 annually. At the current exchange rate, this would amount to about $12,500 weekly for the lowest-paid Jamaican worker.
Although the National Minimum Wage was only recently increased to $6,200 per week, the fact is that many employers, recognising the inadequacy of the minimum wage, were already paying above that figure.
While Mr Shaw's suggestion of pegging the minimum wage to the US dollar sounds good, is it realistic? He observed that the purchasing power of the worker has been weakened by the deteriorating dollar. That is a fact, but it applies in equal measure to employees and employers whose salaries are paid in local dollars.
NO RAISE FOR HOUSEHOLDERS
For example, what would this mean for the scores of workers who are employed by marginal householders who have no choice but to hire someone to take care of their domestic chores while they try to hold down a job? The implications would be dire, for with no commensurate rise in wages, many would not have the ability to pay the amount being proposed by Mr Shaw. Yet it may be music to the ear of a minimum wage earner. It seems reasonable that in an economy where everyone is called on to make sacrifices that the burden is shared.
We really have no way of binding politicians to their promises - or do we? We recall that when Audley Shaw served as minister of finance, he was backed into a corner by the Nurses Association of Jamaica and made to deliver on a promise to significantly improve their wages, even though the resources he had so willingly committed were not there.
Often when these promises are made, there is no companion plan to back them up, nor are there resources to ensure that they are delivered. The obvious question is whether these promises are ever made in good faith or are they simply vote-catching strategies? When politicians fail to deliver on their promises, it damages the trust of voters, who then become disillusioned and withdraw from the political process.
In the final analysis, politicians tend to govern with an eye on the next election, so they will ultimately do what they think will get them re-elected. Maybe they will think carefully before making promises always considering the impact on their reputation.
There is an old adage which aspiring politicians may need to remember and it is this: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.