Br A Nancy spinning a web
On Tuesday, June 16, I was filled with good intentions.
I planned to watch Peter Phillips' much-hyped broadcast to the nation but, instead, I fell asleep. You see, Monday night, I'd been inveigled to play in a bridge tournament for the first time in many moons, so lost that night's sleep. I tried to stay awake for the important address to no avail.
I slept fitfully and experienced a bad dream in which I was watching the speech but the speaker wasn't Peter Phillips. In my dream, Jamaica's finance minister was a lay Jesuit named Brother A. Nancy. He said:
"The country's finances are now in much better shape. We've reduced reliance on borrowing, and achieved a reduction in INTEREST RATES, which gives investors access to cheaper capital:
"The prospects for employment are also improving. Since January 2012, the labour force, as defined by us to include anyone who washes their face most mornings, has increased by 39,200. In addition, the employed labour force (defined by us as anybody who is paid to work for at least an hour), has increased by 33,200. More Jamaicans are finding what we call 'jobs'. We have achieved these magnificent results despite Jamaica's youth unemployment continuing to gallop along at twice the national rate; more young people are being advised, even by government MPs, to migrate and are accepting that advice; our poverty rate has increased by 8% the last few years; and our competitiveness and productivity have never been lower."
Even while dreaming, I perked up. This was great news. We had no real employment; no wealth creation; no productivity, but what we had in spades were "prospects". Yay! Br. A. Nancy continued:
"The rate of INFLATION, which we measure by our own skewed yardstick that doesn't include fuel costs, continues to decline, and at the end of 2014-2015 was 4.0%, the lowest in 48 years. We rescued poor Jamaicans from the dangers of unreasonably high expectations by believing the voodoo economics preached by the Opposition that savings from global reduction in fuel costs should be passed on to the average Jamaican. With one masterstroke, we liberated Jamaicans from this unnatural expectation by adding GCT to residential electricity bills and additional taxes to petrol. By this inspired method, we simultaneously achieved twinned examples of our leader's love for the poor. Firstly, we protected them from stress-induced illness caused by unsustainable hopes, certain to be dashed when fuel prices again rise. Second, if fuel prices rise again, we'll have even more cash in the national kitty to purchase more new SUVs for those who missed out so all MPs can profile in their constituencies. All this we've accomplished while continuing to squeeze blood from the poor on a daily basis under the guise of widening the tax net. We're so brilliant we sometimes frighten ourselves!"
LIGHT BILL SHOCKER
"Yes!" I exulted in my dream. The next time I go grocery shopping and sardine has been raised another 15%, I can tell the grocer he can't raise it more than 4%. I knew I was imagining things when June's light bill, with GCT added, was 25% higher than May's. Now I know the increase should have been 4%. I'm heading off to my lawyer NOW to sue wicked, evil JPS.
But Br A. Nancy wasn't done. I knew he'd get to announcing long overdue relief to poor, wage-freeze-suffering public-sector workers. Surely, Government policy would no longer be focused on paying wealthy foreign-exchange bond holders only. Surely, it MUST be poor, black man's (and woman's) time now? Sure enough, Br. A. Nancy got around to them:
"The improvement in the quality of life of every Jamaican is inextricably linked to the reduction of our debt and the public sector wage bill.
"We will have to continue to live within our means. In order to spend more on wages we will have to earn more, and we can only earn more by attracting greater levels of investment, local and foreign, which will provide employment for more Jamaicans."
Nooooooooooo! Say it ain't so! What's this about needing "greater levels of investment, local and foreign"? I'm sure I also heard A. Nancy say, "Jamaica has become more attractive to foreign investors. For 2014, FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT (FDI) amounted to approximately US$700 million, the second highest in the English-speaking Caribbean."
NO BIG DEAL
As an old Chinese chef might say, "Wok the heck?" But I stayed patient. In my dream,
Br A. Nancy went on to explain that the US$700 million was no big deal as it only signalled Jamaica's return to the annual average for the millennium's first decade. Since then, actual inflows had dropped to one-half of that annual average. Exhibiting admirable truth and transparency in governance, Br A. Nancy also explained that, in GDP terms, we're the second-largest economy in the English-speaking Caribbean, so we ought to be second in FDI
Br. A. Nancy promised to empower small businesses (MSMEs):
"Sustained levels of economic growth require expansion of the MSME sector, which represents the most significant economic activity in the country and provides the largest share of employment. Government, through the Development Bank of Jamaica, has placed a lot of focus on mobilising this sector the past three years.
"Government is also providing MSMEs with the tools to become more modern and efficient, and, to that end, we destroyed examples of anachronistic small businesses like crab vendors at National Heroes Circle and inconvenient streetside vendors at Harbour View so Barack could pretend he was driving that way. We've also encouraged the growth of small businesses by slapping them with a minimum business tax to further erode their dwindling cash flow. WE LOVE SMALL BUSINESS!"
"What about public-sector salaries?" I shouted at Br A. Nancy in my dream. He finally obliged:
"It might appear to some to be easier to listen to the voices of political expediency and make commitments to wage increases which the available resources couldn't support. To proceed on that path, however, would only end up reversing the progress we've made and betray the trust we've built. We'd lose all the gains the country has made and I and my colleague ministers might have to sell our SUVs and fly economy class.
"THIS ADMINISTRATION WILL NOT BE TAKING JAMAICA DOWN THAT ROAD. Jamaica is still at a fragile point and we still have a long way to go. Unless the PM wants to hug Barack Obama repeatedly, in which case we'll spend nearly $300 million, we must maintain the momentum and do nothing to reverse or derail the substantive gains already made. So, we will not reduce the size of government. We shall continue with at least 19 ministers (many 'without portfolio') regardless of utility or relevance. We shall ensure ministries are overstaffed. We shall continue to find cushy political appointments for our political friends, activists and losing candidates from the last election. We shall not sacrifice personally. We shall NEVER surrender to lunatic fringe calls for us to lead the sacrifice by personal example. We shall continue to administer, on orders from Washington, the most oppressive IMF programme anywhere in the world without question or demur. We shall squeeze every drop of blood from Jamaican taxpayers while pretending to be widening the tax net. We shall remain steadfast in marching to our sole objective, namely, at the next election, WE SHALL OVERCOME!"
I woke up in a cold sweat and rushed to the TV, but the real speech had ended. I doubt I'll be able to catch a replay because I must attend an interview at my bank. I need a loan to pay June's light bill; a mortgage to pay for my sons' further education in a country that offers one; and an overdraft to meet monthly costs of running the newly mortgaged home. I asked my doctor to freeze his medical bills or find a cheaper intern to do the necessary procedures, but he said Government can't afford to pay interns and counter-proposed I stay sick until I can afford to pay him. I asked my grocer to freeze my grocery bills until the loans come through but he counter-proposed I starve instead.
So, it's a commercial bank loan for me. I'll tell the banks Br. A. Nancy said interest rates are down.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.