Fri | Jun 23, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Refreshing sessions

Published:Monday | March 20, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites

It was refreshing to be in the House of Representatives last Tuesday and Thursday by comparison to many previous sittings. The presentations of Peter Phillips and Portia Simpson Miller caused listeners to think, to appreciate good oratory, and to uplift the value of public service.

It is a simple point, but you don't add any lustre to your speech by adding decibels or by constant jibes at a speaker when he or she makes a biting point. I commend the prime minister and the finance minister for their reasonably good humour in the face of convincing attacks against their Budget last week.

The House is not accustomed to enough members who can think on their feet like Peter Phillips. It comes only from reading widely and being confident of one's facts. Too often there is slavish reading of a text probably written by some speechwriter. There is good reason for the Standing Order, seldom observed, that a presenter ought to refer to, rather than rely on, notes or a text.

It was sheer fun to hear the JLP member chorus "We want Portia" when Phillips was in full cry, quoting Holness to himself about the Housing Trust drawdown. He makes good sense in recommending the revival and consistent use of the Committee on Taxation Purposes to avoid the pattern of arbitrary impositions which have not had the benefit of sector consultation.

Parliament needs to ask itself whether the Provisional Collection of Tax Act is constitutional after all. It allows for a minister of finance to impose taxes and then seek confirmation within 30 days. Often this is not done while the tax continues. Except in the most dire emergencies, the prospect of taxation without adequate representation ought to be repugnant.

Insufficient attention has so far been given in the Budget Debate to the weak capital budget. Although much better ordered than the debt binge of the past, Jamaica is still spending too much of our wealth on housekeeping and too little on research, other development projects and infrastructure, which alone can provide sustainable growth and permanent jobs. Expecting the private sector to carry the whole weight of capital investment is unrealistic.

Similarly, the issue of total factor productivity, so crucial to any notion of growth, is being largely ignored to our national peril. I do not expect that Peter Phillips' clinical mind will allow him to evade these essentials in his new role.

The current government benches are still in denial as to the desperate conditions of the economy in 2011. It colours their entire view of reality and makes them victims of their own alternative facts, as one habitually inebriated member shouted across the aisle.

The reality is that neither political party is prepared to acknowledge its mistakes of the past, failing to perceive that its own credibility would be enhanced, not reduced, by the acceptance of truth. Revisionist history leads to disrespect and distorted policies.

On Thursday, Portia captivated by her graciousness. No one can dispute the scope of her contribution over more than four decades. We listened because her personal integrity, dignity and self-sacrifice are unimpeachable. There are few in the annals of Jamaican politics who can lay similar claim.

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