Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Are Holness’ promises an election winner?

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Dr Saphire Longmore, suffering from injury to her left arm, makes the Labourite gesture to the crowd in Junction, St Elizabeth, at the JLP meeting on February 4.

A promise, it is said, is a comfort to a fool, but when one is made in the public domain and during an election campaign season, it gets attention whether it is believable or not.

In the last election while the People's National Party (PNP) was promising the nation that 'nice times' would come back again, as if anyone under 40 could recall such times, Portia took it a step further by promising that an International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement would be hammered out in two weeks should the PNP be elected.

We all know how that went. Late last week, as Finance Minister Peter Phillips was trying to assure civil servants that it was pure fiction that there would be mass layoffs in the government service, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness issued his own, but failed to follow up with him pointing to his own face and saying, "Read my lips."

He said, "To help our economy grow and help you take care of your families, we will get rid of personal income tax for everyone who earns a gross salary of $1.5m or less. So nurses, policemen and women, teachers, public-sector workers, and young people starting out, the Jamaica Labour Party will give you a break, because we know you need one."

This is a most attractive promise, and if it is believable, the ruling PNP administration must now be asking itself how it didn't conjure up that one before the JLP stole the show. Nurses, police personnel, teachers, public-sector workers and young people just joining the workforce after high school or university are always a winning bloc of potential voters if they buy into either the PNP or the JLP.

It is frustrating for a worker who looks at his pay slip at the end of the month and knows that of $125,000 gross salary, about a third of it will be deducted for the various statutory payments. Now, according to the opposition leader, at the very least, that worker earning, say, $1.5 million per annum, will get to carry home an extra $30,000 plus change every month.

We expect that the opposition leader will clarify, in the next week or so, how the shortfall will be met and the extent to which it may jiggle the scales that keep us in the balancing act that is being played out with our IMF bosses.

There is good reason for naming an election campaign season the 'silly season'. The PNP and the JLP candidates have dispersed from their respective party headquarters, and as they speak from the podium all across the 63 constituencies, a lot of what they say will be utter nonsense and empty promises.

With Holness floating the JLP's boat with his 'no-tax' policy, JLP candidates can now tell those in their constituencies, "Nuh teacher, police, nurse, soldier, civil servant and di young pickney dem who lucky fi fine a work will pay any taxes under the next JLP government. No taxes! No taxes!"

The party faithful cheer, blow their annoying horns, light their spliffs and await the next promise. Green bush in wave after wave.

 

GANJA REFORM MAY TILT SCALES IN PNP'S FAVOUR

 

In designing a questionnaire to be administered in an opinion poll, every pollster has to bear in mind that responses given may be influenced by factors that are not readily evident by the specific answers given.

Last week, I was having a discussion with a PNP diehard friend of mine. He drives a taxi and he lives in the Cassava Piece community. He is never without a spliff in one corner of his mouth. His hero is the late Michael Manley.

"Way back in a di late 1960s an early 1970s, if a police hold a yout wid a spliff, a six month him get. Him get hol' again and him get a year. Him do him year an come out and him deh pon him corners a burn likkle weed and police hol' him again. A 18 months him get. Dat never fair, never fair at all. Is Michael mek all dat yout just pay a fine and nuh haffi mix up a prison with dutty tief an murderer."

I have not seen any poll findings that could possibly indicate whether the new 'see-nothing' approach to ganja by the police will influence the vote on February 25, but to the extent that the 20-40 age grouping vote, I believe that it could reap ripe fruit for the PNP.

I am not making out a case that the PNP has claimed ownership of the ganja-reform policies advocated by Justice Minister Golding but, the fact is, it has happened under a PNP administration. Minister Golding works quietly and effectively, and apart from a few well-aimed barbs in the Senate, he does not come across as a man who desires the spotlight like, say, the JLP's Everald Warmington.

Usually when poll respondents are asked, say, which are the three main factors that are likely to influence how you vote in the next elections, they tend to focus on those items that are mostly obvious to their peers in the community - unemployment, bad roads, criminality, poor water supplies.

Ganja reform may feel important to those in the younger age grouping, but it would not readily stand out as a main factor. I am always telling the younger men who I associate with daily not to smoke weed in public areas, but it falls on deaf ears and is assisted by police who drive by, see them, but leave them alone.

Just recently, I read an online article from The Daily Beast titled 'Pot retailers drowning in cash'. It stated that legal ganja sales in America topped US$5.4 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $6.7 billion this year.

As usual in Jamaica, we are great at cheering at the start but somehow, unlike our athletes, we can't quite make it to the finish line.

 

NO MASS LAYOFF,

 

 

MINISTER PHILLIPS?

 

Finance Minister Peter Phillips is highly respected in PNP circles and in the international community. Had the JLP won the 2011 election, it is quite obvious that Audley Shaw would have been the finance minister.

As much as the JLP is forced by the silly season to paint Dr Phillips in as bad a light as possible, I have no doubt that a JLP government in power in the 2012-2016 period would be praising the performance of Audley Shaw had he done exactly as Phillips has performed.

But as I said before, it is the silly season.

The PNP is still keeping its biggest secret to itself. That secret known to all can best be clarified by a single question. Why did the PNP call an election now when it is not due until December this year?

The JLP has belatedly attacked the PNP, and it has singled out Dr Peter Phillips as the man who can best answer that question. Will there be mass layoffs in the civil service this year? One can easily understand that if the PNP administration has anything unpleasant to present in the upcoming Budget, it would need to rush to the polls before baring it all to the nation.

If, as Dr Phillips states, there will be no mass layoffs, again the question must be asked even more forcefully: Why then the rush to elections, Dr Phillips? Great contradiction, isn't it?

A few weeks ago, I was in conversation with a PS from one of the main ministries in the country. The discussion was about layoffs and the modus operandi. He said, "Without even doing a detailed analysis, I can tell you that close to the actual operation of the ministry, there are about 200 people there that are plainly benchwarmers. We could get rid of them and it would not in any way affect the operation of the ministry."

"Are you serious?" I asked.

He went further. "I was wrong in what I stated. It would, indeed, affect us. It would affect us positively by getting rid of those clogging up many of the processes throughout the ministry."

"I take it that your ministry is not singular in this regard."

"You are right," he said. "It's right throughout the Government, but you cannot quote me on that."

So the questions must be asked again: Why the rush to elections, Dr Phillips, since as you say there will not be any unpleasantness in the form of mass layoff of civil servants? Something is not adding up, Minister.

Although it could be too late for the JLP (one never knows), I would like the opposition leader to keep on hammering away at this matter because it is obvious that the PNP and the Government it forms have not been coming straight with us. Something is being hidden, and it is as clear as day.

Indeed, this and Holness' tax giveaway may be the routes through which the JLP may save itself from what the polls have indicated.

A battle royal is in the making. Keep reading this page as I begin to focus on key constituencies and pressing national concerns.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.