Gordon Robinson, Contributor
Somebody once said something about cock mouth. So, let the record speak for itself.
Peter Phillips (December 31, 2012): "The discussions with the Fund's technical staff are virtually at an end."
GR ('Peter's pie in the sky'; The Sunday Gleaner, January 13, 2013): But the IMF says: "The IMF remains fully committed to helping Jamaica achieve these fundamental objectives ... and discussions in this direction are continuing."
Discussions are "in this direction" only ... doesn't sound like "at an end".
Portia Simpson Miller (February 11, 2013): "As we approach the final stages of our negotiations with the International Monetary Fund ... ."
Translation for English-only speakers: Nobody's listening to anything we say.
Peter Phillips (December 31, 2012): "The Government is working to bring the negotiations to a conclusion that's mutually satisfactory ... . This agreement must be in [Jamaica's] best interest and provide protection for the most vulnerable."
GR ('Peter's pie in the sky'; Sunday Gleaner, January 13): "... It's OUR debt that's the problem."
Portia Simpson Miller (February 11, 2013): "As a country, we haven't delivered on the expectations of growth and development. Every administration must share this responsibility.
"In keeping with my administration's commitment to the Jamaican people, we're now finalising another [IMF] agreement ... . These negotiations have underscored the point that sustained growth won't materialise with Jamaica's present level of debt."
Translation for English-only speakers: We'll promise, not perform. We've been promising for 35 years. Let's try one more promise ("oops, sorry, commitment") and see if that works.
Well, they tell me of a pie up in
waiting for me when I die.
But between the day you're born
and when you die
they never seem to hear even
Peter Phillips (December 31, 2012): The final stage of the discussion centred on the challenges of halting the debt accumulation process [that's "debt accumulation" not "debt"; he's saying that all we need to do is stop further "accumulation"; in other words, if we say "no mas", debt problem cured], raising economic efficiency in both the private and public sectors, and creating the conditions for self-sustaining growth ... .
These include: ... .
f) How best to protect the most vulnerable ... ."
GR ('Peter's pie in the sky'; The Sunday Gleaner, January 13): ... It's OUR debt that's the problem.
Portia Simpson Miller (February 11, 2013): The centrepiece of the IMF agreement that we'll sign is a commitment to significantly reduce the debt from the current level ... . This is critical to our Economic Reform Programme.
Bringing down the debt is a fundamental requirement to secure Jamaica's future.
Bringing down the debt is fundamental to us moving forward to create jobs.
Bringing down the debt is also fundamental to enable us to provide the quality services and facilities that will meet the needs of our people."
Translation for English-only speakers: It's taken a while but I think we finally get it. Done wid the most vulnerable. We haffi pay di damn debt.
Peter Phillips (December 31, 2012): "Following conclusion of the negotiations, there'll be prior actions to be undertaken SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL THE CABINET AND THE NECESSARY CONSULTATIONS WITH LOCAL STAKEHOLDERS. (my emphasis) ... .
"The time that's being taken to reach agreement isn't unusual, and there are complex and weighty issues at stake ... .
"Even as we issue this update, negotiations are continuing with the IMF to arrive at an agreement that is beneficial to the people of Jamaica."
GR ('Peter's pie in the sky'; The Sunday Gleaner, January 13): Why isn't there agreement on simple fiscal issues after 12 months? What exactly are the "complex and weighty issues" Peter insists are "at stake"? ... While the IMF speaks easily understandable language, Peter appears not to grasp the essentials of fiscal responsibility, and still clings to "sovereignty".
While he's insisting on a "policy" on tax waivers, the IMF has reduced the tax waiver issue to a "technical" level ... .
The IMF insists on a higher primary surplus (read: public-sector cuts and tax-collection enhancements); while Peter waffles about investing "great effort in advancing pension reform, wage negotiations, reducing the effective size of the public-sector Establishment, tax administration ..." What effort? ... Debt can only be reduced from primary surpluses.
Portia Simpson Miller (February 11, 2013): "To achieve this necessary level of debt reduction, greater levels of accountability and discipline are required. My administration is setting the example ... .
"Success can only come from a truly national effort ... .
"There are some very steep mountains to climb ... :
We'll redouble our efforts to collect taxes due to the Government.
We'll do all we can to provide more efficient, effective and considerate public service (sounds like increasing the primary surplus; ROFL).
We'll lead the national fight against corruption ... ."
Peter Phillips (February 11, 2013): "We must intensify the process ... by further raising our primary surplus to 7.5% ... .
First, we'll have to take concrete steps to reduce and virtually eliminate discretionary tax waivers ... .
We'll also need to ... enable the achievement of a wage-to-GDP ratio of 9% by 2015-2016 ... ."
Peter Phillips (in Parliament; February 12, after 5 p.m.): The Gleaner reports: "Phillips dawdled until late in the sitting, during a lengthy presentation in a debate on the First Supplementary Estimates, before unveiling a tax package that brings almost $40 billion in new annualised taxation ... during the 2012-2013 financial year." The report continues: "Phillips also introduced a range of new measures related to general consumption tax (GCT) that will come into effect on March.
"The telephone call tax (TCT) has been included in the taxable base for the purpose of calculating GCT ... .
He announced that all fees and taxes paid at the ports as part of the GCT base are expected to rake in another $1.5 billion. Another $200 million is expected to be earned through an amendment to the legislation to account for GCT on the face value of prepaid vouchers/airtime."
Translation for English-only speakers: Well, that was excellent timing. The SUVs are already here, tax-free. It's almost as if we knew this tribulation was just around the corner. Now we can start by getting everybody else to sacrifice and pay their taxes. After all, if we're not comfortable, how can we work for the "most vulnerable"?
So as sure as the sun will shine
I'm gonna get my share now,
And then the harder they come
the harder they fall, one and all.
When I first saw Portia and Peter together last Monday night performing what looked like a dancehall duet; Peter promising no haircuts; Portia promising growth; I thought I was at a Rasta convention.
Then the two kissed and walked off into the sunset to live happily ever after painting a picture of utter bliss. Only the wicked, rich banks had taken a mild laxative called National Debt Exchange. No biggie. Who could criticise that smooth insertion of clarity for the nation's bowels? Maybe Les Green could be the last addition to the list of 'Enemas' of the State. We should've known he was trouble as soon as he said he was green, but who'd have thunk he'd purge so much?
Shut up and put up
But, has anybody noticed there's still no IMF agreement? And there obviously won't be one until we shut up and put up. The dancehall duet having failed to convince any but the most sycophantic, somehow, an IMF staff release was hurriedly secured. Its statement that there's an agreement on "key elements" would be hilarious were it not so pathetic. It's expressly "subject to" board approval, but the board won't "consider" it for another six weeks AND THEN ONLY IF there's "timely completion of prior actions to be taken by the Jamaican Government and ... necessary financing assurances".
After 14 months, we've finally got the IMF staff sorted. Conditionally. Goody, goody two-shoes!
But, it's put up time. Having accepted the colonoscope, we must find a way to insert it with minimal resistance? So a cunning scheme, hatched in secrecy, was unveiled with expert timing and ruthless execution. Deliberately waiting until after working hours on a public holiday's eve, a swift and scathing strike, of which Nicodemus would be proud, lashed "most vulnerable" with another $16 billion of taxes.
Annually, $11 billion otherwise available for "most vulnerable's" housing solutions will instead go to the Consolidated Fund where it'll no doubt disappear. When families send barrels, "most vulnerable" will pay GCT on the contents' value AND on other government taxes already charged. When "most vulnerable" calls the doctor, they pay taxes on the telephone tax.
No warning; no discussion; no representation from "most vulnerable's" elected MPs who banged tables and celebrated. Just licks. If the licks weren't enough, insult was added to injury as those of us inclined to ask questions were called denigrating names or added to the 'Enemas' of the State list and flushed from the bathroom of government concern.
Why can't we just get along? Elementary. When Government slithered, hat in hand, to the banks begging $17 billion, there was no hint of an intention to flog Jamaicans with a dollar of additional taxes. One private-sector group has already called it a betrayal. That's kind. A Government deliberately asking for handouts while engaging in material non-disclosure is a national disgrace with zero credibility. Whatever happened to "there'll be prior actions to be undertaken SUBJECT TO ... THE NECESSARY CONSULTATIONS WITH LOCAL STAKEHOLDERS ... ?"
That same Government plots to keep the tax lash a secret until the eve of a public holiday probably expecting an apathetic citizenry to 'cool off' on Ash Wednesday and so take no aggressive action the next day. These are actions of a government which knows it's about to do wrong. Why else hide so much from so many? I'll bet dollars to donuts some government MPs were taken by surprise. Still, they thumped, banged and applauded on cue. Guess who wins this year's Nobel Prize for Desperation?
When will we understand that any system permitting a finance minister to impose taxes willy-nilly with zero prior consultation with his boss, the electorate, is inherently corrupt, and intolerable? What are we going to do about it? Grumble, suck salt through a wooden spoon and grumble again?
Or will we stand up like 21st-century citizens and refuse to be abused in this despicable way? Make no mistake about it: Peter Phillips was right when he promised no haircuts. This is a full scalping.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.