Mon | Apr 24, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Weapons of mass distraction

Published:Tuesday | March 14, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and Dr Peter Phillips (centre) in a tete-à-tete with Audley Shaw, minister of finance and public service, before Shaw delivered his opening speech of the 2017-2018 Budget Debate on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

If ever there was proof we urgently need a constitutional prohibition against the persistent imposition of taxation Nicodemus-style, without representation, this Budget is it.

Congratulations (and much respect) are due to Finance Minister Audley 'Are You' Shaw for a masterful lesson in misdirection masquerading as a Budget, opening presentation. Using weapons of mass distraction of which Dolly Parton would be proud, 'Are You' Shaw succeeded in making an economy-strangling Budget sound like a growth Budget.

I doubt many Jamaicans have a clue about what already hit them or what's to come. After quoting estimates for last financial year's growth at between 1.6-2% (a significant achievement) and increased job figures, Shaw warned:

"Despite the good news, Mr Speaker, as a Government, we must continue to accelerate the pace of human development and training for our population. Looking ahead, the UN population projections show a decline in Jamaica's working-age population by 2030 ... . Thus, we can expect slower growth or even decline in the labour force in the coming years. Mr Speaker, what this means is that for us to achieve the targeted higher rates of economic growth, we must urgently embark on more strategic and focused human resource development and training programmes to increase productivity. The risk, otherwise, Mr Speaker, is that limited-skilled workers will drive up wage pressures and prematurely choke off our growth momentum."

 

EDUCATION FOR LIFE

 

Read that again. And again! In English, it means that, unless we start educating our youth for life instead of to pass standardised tests, there'll be no growth. So, where's Government's focus on "human resource development and training" in the Budget?

Not in the vote for the Child Development Agency (CDA) of $2.194 billion, up from (revised) $2.136 billion (or 2.7% increase). The last PNP Budget (2015-16) voted $2.049b for the CDA, up from (revised) $1.878b (9% increase).

Not in 'super' Ministry of Education, Youth and Information's vote of $98.75b (up 5.2%; education alone received more than $80b in 2015). In 2015, the youth ministry's budget was $4.117b. Where's the ability to transform how we educate?

Today's world is built on philosophy, creative arts and technology. Are we going to upgrade our teachers to teach these life lessons? Is every Jamaican child to be taught civics? By whom? Does Government want citizens cognisant of their constitutional rights and obligations to each other and Government's obligations to them?

This 'growth' Budget has cut Capital A (government-funded) spending to the economic growth ministry; to education (Capital A down 4.4%; Capital B down 56%); to national security (Capital A down 40%; Capital B up 1.5%). I can't locate any capital expenditure for the water ministry. Yet, there's $236 million for the governor general and funds to construct a new Parliament building AND rental of current Gordon House. Yet we're assured growth is just around the corner.

All this boasting about growth begs the question, why do we need a second IMF agreement? If we're on track to '5 in 4' (whatever the gungus natty that is), shouldn't we be able to say ta-ta to the IMF? On the other hand, if, 18 months into the '5 in 4' mission, we're negotiating a new IMF agreement, this tells me we're pretty much 'fercolated'.

On Sunday, we discussed the real purpose of taxation, which is so Government can save the taxpayer further expense from the pittance left behind in his salary packet when using public services, especially education and health. Yet when we abolish user fees, it makes public health care sick and produces patients sicker for intersecting with that system than before. This drives patients into the waiting arms of private practitioners, but that's a dead end (pun intended), as Government adds injury to insult by imposing 16.5% GCT on health insurance premiums.

 

A REASON TO MARCH

 

Good God almighty! Have they no shame? What about us? Do we have any balls? THIS is what Jamaicans should be marching against in their hundreds of thousands. While we march for rights we already have but either don't know how or don't want to enforce them, EVERY JAMAICAN is being taxed into oblivion without so much as a wry word from one MP.

Gas tax will add $6 per litre to pump prices; tax on motor vehicle licences; tax on health; tax on light children use to study; tax on tax. Jamaicans have nothing left but bankruptcy and depression. Every dollar of the $1.5m tax relief will be dissipated and there's NOTHING to stimulate growth in anything but stress. Jamaicans, flood the streets. Protest THAT.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.