Mon | Mar 27, 2017

Why Westminster won't work

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites' simplistic 'solutions' is literally flushing the fortunes of the Jamaican people, argues the Old Ball and Chain.
Finance Minister Peter Phillips is an example of how Jamaican-style Westminister dictatorship can harm a people, says Gordon Robinson.
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Gordon Robinson, Columnist

Unless we ditch the archaic, anti-democratic Westminster model of government and replace it with one making governments accountable, Jamaica will continue to spiral downwards until we're colonised by Haitian boat people.

Imported Westminster is killing Jamaica. No amount of electoral changes can stop the bleeding. Why? Westminster was born in England where it's had 600 years to develop and entrench traditions based on morality and gentlemen's conventions. It's fortified by a Parliament of 650 MPs from which a Cabinet of 23 is chosen. Ninety per cent of English MPs never see ministerial appointments and have no such ambition. Accordingly, they take constituency representation seriously and often block their own government's legislative policy.

Ninety per cent of Jamaican MPs find 'ministerial' posts if they toe party lines. The few 'backbenchers' are ministers-in-waiting, so never oppose. In Jamaican Parliament, we don't have representation of the people. We have representation of the party.

The result is dictatorship. The prime minister appoints ministers in his/her sole discretion and approves everything, including appointments to public boards. Once approval is obtained, ministers can run amok, doing and saying anything, no matter how preposterous or deleterious to Jamaica.

Some glaring examples:

Finance Minister Peter Phillips, 24 hours after his swearing-in: "We cannot borrow our way out of our problems." (Gleaner, January 11, 2011).

Peter Phillips speaking of Jamaica's $1.63-trillion debt (August 18, 2013): "When you get debt that's so high, it prevents you from growing as a country; ... When we came to office ... , the debt was near 60 cents in every [budget] dollar; 20 cents [is spent] paying public-sector workers ... all that's left to repair roads, to buy chalk and books for schools, to buy medicine for hospitals ... has to come out of the 20 cents that remains ... .

"Reducing the debt means we cannot borrow anymore money, and that means that you have to find a way to live within the available resources." (Jamaica Observer, August 20, 2013).

Sacred promise

In two years, Government imposed over $21 billion in new taxes. Because we were assured, NO MORE BORROWING, we paid the extra taxes; swallowed the bitter medicine; ate less; stopped our children from school; on the sacred promise Jamaica's debt wouldn't be increased.

Then, a finance ministry press release (July 1, 2014) hit like Usain from the blue:

"The Government ... launched and priced a benchmark 10-year average life bond issue in the international capital markets [for] US$800 million. The notes, which mature in 2025, carry a coupon of 7.625% ... . The transaction was announced with an initial size of US$500 million ... upsized to US$800 million based on overwhelming investor demand."

Financial analysts, many heavily invested in government debt, hailed this as a vote of confidence in Jamaica's economy. Gosh, ya think any of them'll help taxpayers repay this additional debt? It's only the biggest single global issue Jamaica's ever undertaken. Yes, the same Jamaica which "cannot borrow our way out of our problems"; who "cannot borrow any more money"; which has "to find a way to live within the available resources" added, in one fell swoop, US$800 million to its debt stock.

Hip, hip ... .

It gets worse. The original bond was US$500 million. But, US$800 million was offered. So what did impoverished, cash-strapped Jamaica, needing massive tax hikes to pay current debt, do? Slurped up the extra US$300 million, of course. Where does Minister Phillips expect repayment of this horrendous millstone around Jamaicans' necks to come from? Does he care?

Perhaps I'm being churlish. Maybe the loan will be spent on historic capital development ensuring that, by 2025 when the bond matures, Jamaica grows sufficiently to draw a cheque. So let's see why the bond was issued.

Here's the official story from the finance ministry:

"... The offering will allow Government to (i) meet its external financing needs for the 2014-15 fiscal year, inclusive of refinancing an upcoming bond maturity due in October 2014, (ii) prefund maturities falling due next fiscal year, and (iii) reduce vulnerability to market volatility ... ."

Jesus H Christ on a Japanese crutch! Government is again borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Items (i) and (ii) translate from gobbledygook to repaying previous loans (aka kicking the can down the road). Item (iii) sounds like leftovers will fund the official scam of falsifying the exchange rate until next election. This is confirmed in a Gleaner report (July 2, 2014):

"Traders and analysts ... said they expected an immediate impact on the appreciation of the Jamaican dollar due to ... foreign exchange [inflows] from the bond proceeds."

The Old Ball and Chain insists she give her own example. Over to her:

"Hi, girls and guys. Any mothers out there read Rev Ronnie on water in schools? 'We have to put some responsibility on parents and students to bring drinking water, and, on occasions, to bring water enough to wash hands and to flush the toilet.' Have mercy! How many ministers' children do that? How many ministers drive squeaky-clean SUVs, flush their home toilets regularly, shower twice daily (ice water buckets don't count), and habitually wash their hands all without second thought?

"Is he for real? What's NWC's responsibility? What's Government's responsibility? Let them bring water to EVERY school so children can wash hands and flush toilets. Where'd they think parents find water from?

"I've some suggestions for Rev Ronnie to help schools guarantee students can flush:

"1. All female students should quit school to reduce unnecessary water usage due to unexpected monthly visits by Aunties from Red Hills;

"2. All female teachers and female staff should resign for identical reasons;

"3. Canteens should close to reduce water usage. Collateral benefits include saving staff/food costs. Kitchen equipment could be sold and canteen buildings leased to host political meetings.

"4. School floors shouldn't be wet-mopped.

"This could be the solution to Jamaica's woes. If we don't educate our women, count the ways society might benefit - NO PORTIA, no chief justice; no female judges; no female CEOs. Just like in Ronnie's church, women would remain silent with heads covered. Men would rule. Remember the apostle Paul: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." (1Timothy 2:12) Rev Ron could turn Government's decades-long irresponsibility regarding water into gold!

Windfalls

"Consider other possible income-earning windfalls:

Political hacks can manufacture special seven-gallon water bottles (with JMA tax incentives) for four-year-olds to carry on their backs to school;

Those having no water at home and unable to access prefabricated water could go to Rev Ronnie's or Bobby Pickersgill's home to obtain seven gallons of water for a fee;

Special buses to accommodate these bottles can be imported by a new government-owned company providing 'work' for many political appointees.

All profits from the above could help pay down debt.

"Only a trickle in your pipe? Here's Government's trickle-down policy curing our economic woes in creative ways. Who says Government can't create jobs? Remember, women won't work anymore. We'll only need jobs for men! Employment statistics would magically 'improve' like the alleged CSEC 'improvement'.

"Wait a minute. I don't feel so well. I think I'm going to throw up. Back to Old Grey Balls."

It's official. We're stark, staring, raving mad. We continue to run around in ever-decreasing circles until, one day, we'll inevitably disappear up our own rear ends. In countries with accountable governments, MPs, whose sole interest would be to represent constituents expected to repay US$800 million plus (by 2025) 76 per cent interest, would tackle Minister Phillips in public hearings; remind him of his public pronouncements; and insist he explain the extraordinary circumstances forcing him to go back on his word.

Reverend Ronnie would NEVER be permitted to shovel Government's responsibilities on to parents while maintaining high school fees, ancillary fees, and increasing bus fares. No prime minister would have the nerve to use Marcus Garvey's birthday to publicly boast her Government's tightening a financial noose around our grandchildren's neck.

Instead, we endure rampaging rulers (not representatives); a sick, feeble, rubber-stamp Parliament; and taxation without representation.  Peace and love.

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