Tue | Mar 28, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Two-faced

Published:Monday | March 20, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh
Gladstone Taylor/Photographer Prime Minister Andrew Holness in discussion with Finance Minister Audley Shaw in Parliament.
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In the grand scheme of things, politicians are generally cunning and hardy animals. Their tough skins and broad backs enable them to not only survive, but to thrive in harsh and demanding climates such as ours.

These opportunistic creatures are quite resilient, and despite relentless bleating from the starving sheep that roam these barren pastures, Jamaica has proved to be the ideal climate for the old crocodiles of politics, and true to their reptilian nature, they can often be observed wallowing in mud before lying in plain sight.

Already in this season of magic tricks, we have seen the dissipation of perhaps the most elaborate mirage to date, and with one mere puff from the minister the promise of prosperity, sleeping with doors wide open, and a reduced tax burden, have all vanished from the national stage in spectacular fashion before our very eyes.

For some reason, every year during the annual Budget pantomime, we feign surprise as the characters recite the same lines used by their predecessors. We bawl bloody murder and curse the heavens whenever these false gods demand their pound of flesh, yet on every occasion they descend from the heavens on flying chariots. They are welcomed by the peasants with outstretched arms and the expectation that 'Man-a-Yaad' will miraculously fill their hungry bellies.

 

Bamboozlement

 

Despite decades of exposure to this game, somehow the masses are yet to grow wise to these ploys and their lapse in memory, typically the result of too much rum and curry goat, fuels the continued bamboozlement. For everyone clutching their pearls in horror at the current finance minister's supposed trickery, lest we forget, he was the first to tax the tampon, and apparently he now also has his sights set on taxing telepathy.

For all his pompous, revolutionary talk, the prime minister has displayed surprising fidelity to the old script. He now presides over a kingdom fraught with challenges and a people impatient with promises in a world with more information than ever, yet where facts almost effortlessly alternate with fiction.

Take, for example, when as leader of the Other, he proffered this insightful perspective on use of the funds working citizens mandatorily pay in the hope of eventually acquiring their own shelter:

"The JLP does not support the use of NHT funds for purposes other than those for which they were intended. The NHT's mandate is clear: contributors' money, held in Trust at the NHT, is to be used for the purposes of promotion of housing and community development." (October 8, 2015)

Not long after, while seated at the helm of power, at a time historically known as the season of bun and betrayal, he offered this illuminating point of view to justify the perennial drawdown of funds from the NHT scheme:

"So people see the NHT as a housing agency. The NHT is not a housing agency, the NHT is a financial institution, and we have to treat the NHT like a financial institution." (March 10, 2017)

To the uninitiated, and perhaps to some of the PNP's top-flight attorneys, it might appear as though the honourable prime minister was being mendacious in this convenient redefinition, transforming the yearly extraction of people's hard-earned contributions into a necessary reallocation of a bloc of shares by a savvy portfolio manager. Indeed, how he and others of his ilk have consistently treated this appropriation of funds is certainly remarkable.

 

Courting naive voters

 

In 2013, while courting naive voters, Andrew Holness reminded us emphatically that the NHT fund is not a tax and that contributions ought not to be treated as part of the Consolidated Fund, going on to say:

"Your money that you save for house should be available to you to build house, repair your house, improve your house and buy land. The Jamaica Labour Party makes that commitment to you!"

Four years ago, before the realities of our poor fiscal state hit home, then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness asked some very pertinent questions that read as follows:

"One should ask the Government, could this $11 billion be used as part of a growth-inducement strategy? Could it be a stimulus rather than used to repay debt? Could it be used to develop a new city, a new town, to spur construction?"

It might have proved useful to Saint Peter (as well as spare us the tedium of his typical exhaustive presentation) had he simply repeated these questions verbatim in his rebuttal.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.