Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Is this prosperity?

Published:Friday | May 20, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites

To tell the truth, the House of Representatives is often a boring and unproductive place to be. The proceedings last week Thursday started 45 minutes late and the bombast, posing, taunting and pedantry often overwhelm the instances of engaging debate. I cringe at what the students who come to sit in the gallery learn from us in terms of values like civility and mutual respect. Do we think any of them can be attracted to public service after what we show them?

By contrast, Audley Shaw's opening of the Budget Debate was parliamentary theatre of good quality. His capacity as an impresario and marketer must match his talents in finance. As I listen, his tone is stentorian, commanding attention whether on or, mostly, off the topic of the Budget.

There is an important reflection on chronic low productivity levels. This is one of the subjects we don't want to talk about as a nation. Many of us think of ourselves, justifiably or not, as sufferers and victims. Our history and habits do not encourage us to consider the need to work harder and smarter for the better which we want to come.

The minister of finance flirts the connection between productivity and prosperity. Maybe he is getting somewhere, one hopes. But then he leaves the point without clear prescription other than tax reform and a woolly thought about changing the way we think. How?

From there is a deft leap to the topic of too-expensive bank financing. Now he must be getting to the kernel of what policy can correct. We wait to hear in vain, for he skates to a comparison between Rockefeller (did he really help us, after all) and Lee-Chin and with ineffable wisdom tells us that "money people like to talk to money people".

By this time, the members seem unable to wait any longer for the "1.5". As the crosstalk continues, the minister repeats many of the projects proposed for this year. Some are good. Like the pilot to solarise a few schools and to expand the BPO industry. Audley relishes a quote about how much the nation can achieve, "if we don't mind who gets the credit".

This is good stuff because most, if not all, that Government proposes to do this year was planned during the previous administration. But then, despite his own admonition, he proceeds to take credit for everything, to the rapture of his colleagues.

 

REVISED PROMISE

 

The next scene of the play is the inevitable derision of the PNP, which he says offers saltwater to a people dying of thirst. There follows the piece on the Trinidad trade deficit, the great hope he has for medicinal ganja and once again, the imminent development of Vernamfield and Caymanas. Sadly, he follows, again denying knowledge of the disposition of the gas tax money. He defies belief.

Now in full cry, Shaw announces the arrival of prosperity, the fulfilment of Andrew's dream. The revised promise: the benefit now extended to "a quarter million people plus one thousand, Mr Speaker!"

Thereafter, it is all downhill. Before the sitting, Daryl had said they would "give a little and take a little", or words to that effect. Now, the decibels are less, the tone almost nonchalant. A nuh nuttin really, one might have thought. The diversion about the 'tiefing' cigarettes, then the big lick of the gas tax, the electricity fuel tax and the double price you pay to leave Jamaica.

The truth settles. The denouement is complete. You tax everyone, especially those who can least pay and who had hoped most, to advance the quarter million.

We are nearing the end now. There is the plea for those who may/will benefit from the higher threshold to maybe give a little extra to the maid, the gardener and the elderly before the increased cost of everything nyams out the remnant of the $18,000.

This is prosperity.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education.