Sat | May 26, 2018

Block the game and count the taxes

Published:Sunday | January 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM

André Wright, Opinion Editor

When your 'hand' is dead, chop it off. Then hope for the best. There's still a chance you'll survive, or even win.

That's the sound advice any domino dummy will give you when you run into a dead end. Your three rivals are egging you on to make yet another dumb move and their glee-induced drool is causing the dominoes on the table to swim.

You're fed up, deflated, and cursing your 15th RC. But you decide to be a spoilsport: block the game and count. That's your only chance out when you're down in luck in dominoes.

If only the Jamaican Government were as intelligent as the malicious, self-aggrandising, spiteful domino suicide bomber. Instead, the Simpson Miller administration, reproducing the inertia of her Golding-Holness predecessors, is doing what Government does best: running through the streets like a screaming, money-poaching Jonkunnu or a petty thief in a stick-'em-up movie.

At least that's how it has gone about its ad-hoc traffic-ticket amnesty snafu trying to scare motorists - including those who had already paid fines - into abandoning work en masse, cutting national productivity, and emptying their pockets.

There is a simple and efficient way to get errant motorists to pay their fines. The year 2013 is more than a leap from the Dark Ages. Our Government must make the legislative and logistical steps to use technology to reduce the number of delinquents who escape its tax and fine net.

Tech wizards would love to use a database to play Big Brother. If you owe for traffic tickets and try to renew your passport, you should be flagged and prevented from receiving the prized possession you'll need to visit Aunt Patsy in the Bronx. Trying to renew your driver's licence or motor vehicle registration? Guess what? Wi block di game again! Arranging a title transfer? Applying for a tax rebate? Registering a business? Block the game and count.


Better yet, donned in your Bermuda shorts and Jamaica 50 sunglasses, you and matie are ready to fly to The Bahamas and sprawl like a beached whale at the high-end Atlantis hotel. After all, those tax payments and traffic fines and other pound of flesh you owe the Government have all added up to fund your 'vacay'.

But wait! "Is there a problem?" you ask the agent at the check-in counter at Norman Manley International Airport. Then you hear the bad news. After punching in your name and TRN, a no-fly alert flashes across the screen. You're grounded.

This is an approach of joined-up government that this and past administrations just can't seem to fathom. You can't get away. It's like when you wanted to go to the school fĂȘte and you asked your dad for permission. His response: go ask your mom. And when you asked your mom, her response was: go ask your dad. By the time all the checks and balances were done - which meant they found out that you hadn't done your homework, hadn't swept the back porch, hadn't completed a laundry list of other duties - the verdict came in: you can't pass the front door.

The traffic-ticket amnesty online database was a perfect opportunity to prove that the Jamaican State was ready to hit top speed on the technology highway. Then, we saw Fred Flintstone motoring by on his ten-toe turbo.

We botched it - badly. But despite the mess, the Government must press ahead and purge its scandalous system of the cobwebs and streamline a credible, joined-up framework that keeps track of tax and fine delinquents. Every man and woman must face up to the reality that rights come with responsibilities - which are not optional. In an efficient, accurate paradigm, the same lockout system which would apply to delinquent motorists would go across the board to target persons who refuse to pay property taxes - and other taxes - and yet expect to benefit from other state services.


The bald fact is that too few Jamaicans are caught in the tax net and too many come cap in hand ready to benefit from entitlements - whether from state entities or political sugar daddies called councillors and members of parliament.

Government must be bold enough to tell the freeloaders, "Hop off a mi fender!" But it won't. Because our political representatives are too fearful of the electoral fallout every five years to take the hard decisions.

Serious and forthright leadership on the economy, which means reining in expenditure and squeezing maximum value from meagre resources, is key to turning around our fiscal (mis)fortunes. California can help point the way.

In 2010, California was running a deficit of US$26 billion. But last Thursday, Governor Jerry Brown said four simple but powerful words which changed the equation: "The deficit is gone."

For years, California had dug itself into a black hole of spiralling debt that threatened its school districts, state services, and even considered freeing prisoners early because they were a burden to the budget. But since 2010, Government led the way by insisting that the state, and all its residents, could no longer live high on the hog.

Said Brown last Thursday: "For the next four years, we are talking about a balanced budget. We are talking about living within our means. This is new. This is a breakthrough."

But corralling Jamaican taxpayers swings the weight of responsibility back on to the shoulders of the Government, which has been the poster boy of wanton waste. It cannot allow an obese, underperforming public sector to sink the ship of State. Unions, the great defenders of worker rights and antagonists of productivity and output, can't be allowed to label calls for a leaner public sector as the chorus of cruel, callous capitalism. It's the chorus of pragmatism. Deal with it.

Portia Simpson Miller, fresh from her retreat with Cabinet and just catching up with news reports from hubby Errald, must prove that the impotence (ahem!) of past male prime ministers is not a legacy passed down to our first female premier. Game-changing politics can transform Jamaica's economics. After all, as Jimmy Cliff assured us, we can get it if we really want. We just have to try and try and try. Right, Sista P?

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