Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Gordon Robinson | When will we EVER learn?

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Says Gordon Robinson of Audley Shaw: "Why promise additional $18,000 per month in our pay packets if you’re going to take it right back with so much additional taxation that we were better off BEFORE you promised us tax relief?"
Minister of Finance Audley Shaw addressing Parliament at the opening of the Budget Debate last Thursday.
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Remember this?

"We are committed in principle and practice to real reform of the tax system. This means leaving you with more of your income to save or invest. This means lower taxes and a business-friendly tax system. We will again reduce transfer taxes, stamp duties, estate taxes ... . To help our economy grow and help you take care of your families, we will get rid of personal income tax for everyone who earns a gross salary of J$1.5m or less. So nurses, policemen and women, teachers, public-sector workers, and young people starting out, the JLP will give you a break, because we know you need one."

This was what Booklist Boyne referred to, after the February 25 election, as the JLP's "game-changing, 1.5 victory plan". This is what was used to trick thousands of voters into believing, one more time, that, this time, if only we "vote dem out", we'd be better off.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time passing

Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time ago

Where have all the flowers gone?

Young girls picked them, every one

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?"

The promise to "reduce transfer taxes, stamp duties, estate taxes ..." was gleefully picked by young girls, boys, women and men of the Jamaican electorate. They held their promise up to the sun to see it bloom but, instead, it withered in the light of day and turned into a vampire called a gas-tax increase of $7 per litre. WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

Where have all the young girls gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the young girls gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the young girls gone?

Gone to young men, every one.

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

The promise to "help you take care of your families, we will get rid of personal income tax for everyone who earns a gross salary of J$1.5m or less ..." sent young girls running to young men to start families now that both could benefit from their full pay. Instead, the promise of tax relief retroactive to April 1, 2016 (April Fool!) turned into a multi-headed Hydra that pretended to give some of the promised tax relief (starting July 1, NOT April 1), but immediately swarmed taxpayers' salaries and confiscated all personal gains with a crushing increase in gas taxes (which translates to increases across the board); increases in taxes on LNG; and a 150 per cent increase in departure taxes.

Not only has Government retrieved every dollar of the touted $18,000 per month (less really, since the "1.5" won't be in effect until April 2017), but it has craftily earned a net tax increase.

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

This is how they bought your vote. They said they would "help you take care of your families", but instead they've helped themselves to the family's income. Can't afford bus fare; can't afford taxi fare; can't afford to put petrol in the little family car; can't afford to fly to visit family abroad or to do little hustling; can't afford to cook.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

One minute, Jamaicans were looking forward to more in their pockets but, instead, quicker than Ali decked Liston in the return fight, all pockets are empty.

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

Audley 'Are You' Shaw estimated the tax-relief plan would cost Government $12.5 billion in 2016-17. But the additional taxes (SCT on petrol, $6.489 billion; SCT on LNG, $1.415 billion; SCT on cigarettes $0.574 billion; departure tax increase, $5.3 billion) all add up to $13.778 billion or $1.278 billion MORE THAN THE COST OF THE TAX RELIEF. Really?

Why promise additional $18,000 per month in our pay packets if you're going to take it right back with so much additional taxation that we were better off BEFORE you promised us tax relief? If this is tax relief, my mother is a man. With friends like this government, who needs enemas!

Where have all the young men gone?

Long time passing

Where have all the young men gone?

Long time ago

Where have all the young men gone?

Gone to graveyards every one

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

The worst part of this political sleight of hand designed to drive stressed-out taxpayers to the grave for the crime of believing campaign promises was the spectacle of the finance minister prancing around on Thursday afternoon; cackling and chuckling as he swung the tax axe; cracking joke after joke at the expense of poor PAYE workers crushed under the weight of indirect taxation until every dollar of the precious $18,000/month tax 'relief' and more was wrestled from them.

Parliamentary desks were banged with exuberance and widespread mirth greeted the minister's announcement, "phase it in", with regard to the promised tax relief. Then, grinning like the Joker at a helpless Caped Crusader, he inserted the additional tax package immediately without any thought of phasing THAT in and with no lubricant whatsoever. The contempt in which parliamentarians hold ordinary Jamaicans was on full, unabashed display.

 

A deliberate trick

 

This is how Government honours a political campaign pledge to "[leave] you with more of your income to save or invest ..."? There's no apology; no excuse; no seeking forgiveness for either miscalculating or misunderstanding what could be done. This leaves us with only one option, which is that this was a deliberate trick. And they SERIOUSLY want taxpayers to pay for political campaigns?

At least four of the famous 10-Point Plan could be rewritten as follows:

1. "We are committed in principle and practice to real reform of the tax system. This means leaving you with more of your income to save or invest ... ." TRICKS YOU!

2. "This means lower taxes and a business-friendly tax system. We will again reduce transfer taxes, stamp duties, estate taxes ... ." TRICKS YOU!

3. "To help our economy grow and help you take care of your families, we will get rid personal income tax for everyone who earns a gross salary of JA$1.5m or less." TRICKS YOU!

4. "So nurses, policemen and women, teachers, public-sector workers, and young people starting out, the JLP will give you a break, because we know you need one." TRICKS YOU!

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

To top it all off, the minister exposed himself and his Government as no different from its predecessor by announcing the prime minister had magnanimously invited the IMF into the 'Hallowed Halls' of Cabinet. Now, that's precious. The IMF is Jamaica's Cabinet and has been for four years. JLP huff and bluster about being its own man is uncovered as mere puff. We've swapped one IMF puppet for another.

What is it about us that makes political leaders believe they can treat us as fools? Why don't we fight back? Why do we swallow the self-indulgent nonsense year after year without regurgitating? On Thursday, the finance minister spent a long time talking about "partnership for growth" and "shared prosperity" before shafting the public with $13.7 billion in new taxes.

He said:

"The economic situation in which Jamaica finds itself is one with extreme inequality, persistently high unemployment and GDP growth that is far below our potential, and so we must continue the work on comprehensive tax reform. It is an imperative ... ."

If you want equity or equality in taxation, Minister, the first thing you must do is to ensure that MPs pay the same taxes the rest of us do. The most iniquitous, oppressive legislature is one that calmly imposes taxes on ordinary citizens and then exempts their own members from the same taxes. MPs are "entitled" to practically tax-free new motor cars before doing a day's work in Parliament for the people? C'mon, man. Equity means everybody pays the same taxes. Leadership doesn't exist where there's no example to follow.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone was a 1955 song of protest against government repression written and recorded by legendary folk singer Pete Seeger at a time when Senator Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee banned him from working for being a communist. The most popular version of the song was recorded by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, but it was also covered by another folk legend, Bob Dylan, as well as by Dylan's one-time girlfriend Joan Baez.

Peace and love.

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