IT APPEARS that we have traded our sovereignty for a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
If Dr Peter Phillips, the finance minister, is to be believed, the IMF basically told him to ignore the Parliament and put revenue measures on the table or else there would be no deal.
This is the same Phillips who had huffed and puffed about the manner in which tax packages were read out, almost by edict, by his predecessor Audley Shaw. He and the People's National Party, which forms the Government, promised and delivered on a commitment to ensure that the entire Parliament has a say in what taxes should be raised. Last year, the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives were amended to ensure that the tax committee is permanently revised.
Under the revised House rules, the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) has been mandated to receive a mid-year report on medium-term economic programmes that must be tabled by the minister of finance.
Having received the report from the minister, the PAAC, not later than February 1 each year, must report its findings to the Committee on Tax Measures. The Committee on Tax Measures is empowered to invite stakeholders to make presentations before it. A report must be sent to the whole House of Representatives by March 1 each year.
But when Phillips turned up in the House last week with his $16-billion tax scalpel, and his $11.4-billion sticky fingers in the National Housing Trust's purse, everyone must have wondered how is it that revenue measures are being announced and there has been no input from the tax committee.
The minister said during a press conference this past week that he tried to convince the IMF to allow the process to work and was told 'no way'.
"To quote specifically, as one official said, 'All we would really be doing is running the risk that we had an agreement to disagree later on about tax measures' and that was not a way in which our interlocutors were prepared to approach the question," Phillips said.
Assuming that Phillips heard correctly, The Gavel is most concerned about this attack on our sovereignty. It, at the very least, undermines the Parliament, which in essence is an insult to all Jamaicans.
Again, assuming Phillips is speaking the truth, we wonder what exactly the Fund was proposing in relation to waivers that caused Phillips to have resisted, saying it could bring into question what it means to be a sovereign nation.
We plead with the parliamentary Opposition to seek answers in this regard on the country's behalf. They had all reason last week to walk out of the Parliament in the face of the less than accommodating way in which they were treated.
While we now realise that the signing of a staff-level agreement with the Fund may not have been possible before the team left last week if the revenue measures were not passed on Tuesday, we believe the matter was poorly handled.
Share in the sacrifice
At the very least, the revenue measures should have been taken to the House at the same time the Supplementary Budget was being tabled. The Government may want to say that is water under the bridge and that we should move on.
But with corruption accounting for the removal of gabion baskets and groynes which are meant to protect the structures on which the bridge rests, it won't be long before we are all swimming down the river.
The Gavel, meanwhile, joins the call for the Government to share in the sacrifice the country is being compelled to make. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Phillips spent much of last week pleading with Jamaicans to make sacrifices to ensure that the country does not fall into a financial abyss. Bondholders have been asked to enter into a second debt exchange, public-sector workers have been told to hold strain and not to expect any salary increases, and $15.9 billion in new taxes, annualised, is being plucked from the pockets of the haves and the have-nots.
Neither Simpson Miller nor Phillips has been short on platitudes, saying how patriotic it is for everyone to share in this sacrifice. Not surprisingly, however, there has not been one iota of evidence that the Government is willing to lead by example with the sacrifice.
The Gavel submits that the national sacrifice campaign may not succeed unless the prime minister leads by example. She must immediately cut her oversized, ineffective executive and encourage all members of parliament to take a pay cut. After all, they are not shabbily paid.
We wonder if Simpson Miller and her team have not been resisting a pay cut because they don't want it to impact on their pension benefits when they leave politics.
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