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Jaevion Nelson | The poor and the Government's tax plan

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2016 | 12:50 AMJaevion Nelson

A lot of banter is being masqueraded as concern for the poor and most vulnerable in our society of late. It would appear that there has been a paradigm shift. Thankfully, the more privileged of us are now burdened with fretfulness because of the high rates of poverty and the adverse effects the 'partnership for economic growth' will have on the poor.
The (warped?) consensus among some is that the Government, in its attempt to deliver on its election promise to reduce the burden on those who pay income tax, is doing so at the expense of the poor.
Consequently, there is an abundance of guilt and benevolence for the people who have been suffering, who we have ignored, who we have used to maintain the status quo, and who have been the most severely affected under the austerity programme.
Where were these people in December when the World Bank published its fall update highlighting that poverty, which in 2012 was as high as 19.9 per cent, would only be reduced to 16.6 per cent in 2020/2021 (the baseline scenario is 17.1 per cent). This is despite possible economic growth of 2.7 per cent by 2020/2021 or 4.5 per cent if the Government leverages the success of the current reforms and there are 'higher rates of public investment'. Where was the concern when minimum wage was barely increased by $600 from $5,600 to $6,200? Where is our deep concern for our poor comrades in Venezuela at whose expense our livelihoods are being subsidised under the PetroCaribe Agreement?
The hypocrisy is rather palpable.
It seems clear to me that the previous government, up to December 2015, did not have a master plan to alleviate poverty in this country. Additionally, their manifesto did not provide such assurance either. We failed to achieve this Millennium Development Goal. I note the safeguards announced for the poor and most vulnerable by the minister of finance but I am waiting to hear what this Government will do to ensure that the many plans we have to reduce poverty actually work.
JUST A CHARADE
If you follow sympathisers, you would think the Government is making hasty and reckless decisions which will derail the (IMF?) economic programme, especially the gains that we have made in the last couple of years. The assumption is that the $7 gas tax that is to, in part, finance the increased tax threshold to $1.5 million, which they argue won't be fully enjoyed until 2018 (as if the majority of people can afford to think about income and expenses on an annual basis), will cause the cost of goods and services to soar.
I am no economist or historian but I am certain of one thing, this didn't happen when a similar and other taxes were implemented.
All of this amounts to a politically convenient charade, if you ask me. Many of the people who are complaining bitterly about how 'the government has given us something with one hand and then taken it with another' are the very people who have been grumbling about how 'those of us who pay income tax carry too much of the burden.' In fact, these are the same people who, at the reading of every budget, castigate the government for being too kind to two sets of people - 'the rich' and 'the poor'.
The unfortunate reality is that regardless of who is in power, promises will be kept at the expense of one group of people, and that is usually the poor.
If we are honest, we have not done much for the poor over the years. It's worrisome that we think the measly resources we throw at the poor benefits them to any great extent. The tax exemptions on those innutritious items are nothing to beat our chest about. In fact, they tend to inadvertently benefit the rich.
I don't know for sure what the impact of the new measures will be. I, however, highly doubt it will be catastrophic. We really have 'join together and change our mindset to move our country from Poverty to Real Prosperity'. Let's rid ourselves of the kind of toxicity and alarmism with which we respond to these issues. We have become too accustomed to thinking things won't work because it wasn't proposed by the party of our choosing. Let's elevate the discourse and focus on how this can work better, as well as think about what will really result in a reduction of poverty.
-  Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.