Gordon Robinson, Contributor
I'm sick and tired of government apologists continually filling valuable newspaper space and broadcast time with a remarkable resemblance to the good old-fashioned singalong with Mitch Miller and The Gang to the tune of 'There's No Alternative to The IMF'.
If that's true, why did the IMF spend more than a year trying to ram their policies down our throats? If there's no alternative, why didn't we just ask for instructions over a year ago and implement them like the meek and mild sheep those same apologists want us to be? Why did our prime minister insist she had a Plan B?
As usual, this ballyhooed 'IMF path' comes with yet another of a series of exhortations to 'sacrifice'. I'm sick and tired of being told to 'sacrifice' by people who've just ensured they don't have to do the same. This time around, we're being asked to 'sacrifice' by so-called leaders who rushed to import luxury SUVs, practically tax-free and soon to be personally acquired, before the IMF-imposed restriction on tax waivers could take effect.
But we, the 'most vulnerable', must sacrifice. Sacrifice what? This just in, Government, we have NOTHING LEFT TO SACRIFICE!
I was drawn into myself
observing all this time.
From every angle I could see
my people, you're meeting hell.
Brothers have turned to crime
so they die from time to time.
We'd like to ask you leaders
what have you got in mind.
Asking a security guard, operating on minimum wage, to sacrifice is like asking a stone to give blood. Sacrifice what? He or she can't even afford the luxury (for them) of a fast-food burger. But they must listen to arrogant prattle about their leaders being kept in the manner to which they were allegedly previously accustomed? Why? If they were so comfortable before, why take the step 'down' to MP and then expect alleged prior comforts? Is it better to be asking others to sacrifice than to sacrifice?
The reason we're being asked to 'sacrifice' is because no government, for 45 years, has acted responsibly or made any national sacrifice for the betterment of Jamaica. Governments have persistently encouraged pork-barrel politics; contract overruns; wastage and expenditure on lavish overseas trips with equivalent accommodation to such important national missions as the Olympics and Trinidad carnival.
Government has done so mainly on borrowed funds or raids of the Capital Development Fund for recurrent expenditure. Road trips to the 'international capital markets' have been promoted as grand achievements instead of proof that we were shamelessly living above our means with no intention of cutting back.
I see the fire spreading.
It's getting hotter and hot.
The haves will want to be
in the shoes of the have-nots.
If the sign is on your door
then you will be saved for sure.
But, if you are in pretence,
you're on the wrong side of the fence.
Suddenly, we find that market cut off unless we seek and obtain IMF approval for our future fiscal programme. Although I may differ on the details, all the IMF is telling us is that we must live within our means. The problem with the IMF option (yes, I used the ugly word 'option') is that it won't accept that this can be done by other "means necessary" than it prescribes.
money down the drain
The IMF has one purpose, which is to ensure the payment in full of our external debt. To that end, it is demanding (and Government seems willing to go along) the sacrifice (there's that disgusting word again) of local bondholders who have invested their hard-earned, double- and triple-taxed income in the Government's solemn promise to pay them a stated return. The Government has taken these people's money and flushed it from its bathroom of profligacy.
Now, led by IMF's dictates, they turn to these persons offering a mealy-mouthed 'opportunity' to 'participate' in the 'only option' available to Government. Why should local bondholders agree to this blatant, disgraceful highway robbery?
I'll tell you why. It's to ensure payment to external creditors. We're told these creditors can't be blamed for Jamaica's problems and so oughtn't to suffer or Jamaica's credibility will be lost. But, exactly how are local bondholders to blame? Why should they and other ordinary Jamaicans be asked to 'sacrifice' (oops, sorry, 'participate') for a nebulous promise (for the gazillionth time) that it would mean the nation's salvation?
Under the original terms of their bonds, foreign bondholders enjoy double-digit interest rates on US$ investments. For them, that's like winning the lottery because US interest rates are as close to zero as makes no difference, and likewise in Europe. If external bondholders were to be 'asked' to 'participate' by way of a reduction in interest to six or seven per cent (EDX?), they would still be miles ahead of the game and Jamaica could achieve a greater primary surplus than any JDX2.
But, no, that's apparently not an option. We must 'sacrifice' while ministers drive new luxury cars. We must pay more taxes while approximately $24 million cash found in Zeeks' home when he was arrested is to be meekly returned to him without a single question being asked as to whether or not it formed part of any tax return filed by the convicted murderer.
Another thing I saw in visions
right in front my eyes.
selling away their lives.
They get but very little pay
the ones who clean the mess
Minority who sits on top
just rate themselves the best.
I applaud every Jamaican who refused to grasp the golden opportunity to 'participate' in JDX2. Good for them. Governments must be made to understand that we no longer accept what they say without question and that a level playing field is essential to the conduct of the sport called 'sacrifice'. Before anybody asks any citizen to 'sacrifice', the SUVs must be sold and the funds paid to pension fund bondholders.
I note panic stations have been manned and the finance minister has threatened to amend the National Housing Trust Act (NHTA). But this isn't England. Parliament isn't supreme. Parliamentary action is subject to constitutional restrictions. Any attempt to divert significant funds to the Consolidated Fund won't be an NHTA amendment. It'll be a complete undermining of the NHT and effective repeal of the NHTA. The NHT was set up for a specific purpose, namely, housing improvement. If the NHTA is repeatedly amended to chip away at that purpose, what's the NHT's use?
After rendering the NHT unnecessary, any dedicated fund would be vulnerable to finance ministers with fiscal crises and sticky fingers. Law would no longer be certain. The Tourism Enhancement Act could be amended to pay pensions to retired sportsmen. The PetroCaribe Development Fund could buy zinc for hurricane relief. Petty larceny would become government policy. Anarchy would be let loose on the land.
It's like a dream I had last night. The finance minister, on a political platform in Gimme-Me-Plenty, whips the faithful into a frenzy: "We declare our right on this earth to be NHT raiders; to be respected as NHT raiders; to be given the rights of NHT raiders in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."
But I see the fire spreading.
It's getting hotter and hot ... .
When Parliament votes on this alleged 'amendment' to the NHTA, I'll be watching each member's behaviour, especially those who pride themselves as Parliament's conscience. There's no collective responsibility in Parliament. Each member owes his/her constituents a solemn duty. Be careful of the lazy thought process that says, "Cho, man, de money deh deh, use it!" After all, the law isn't a shackle, right?
Whenever we start altering the uses of citizens' money extracted for express purposes, we've started down a slippery slope that ends in confiscation of assets "in the national interest" and nationalisation of institutions "for the people's benefit".
The alternative to the IMF is simply living within our means without being forced by the IMF. It begins with immediate, significant reduction of the public service. Set the tone. Chop the Cabinet. Then, pick a number and send many indolent, arrogant obstacles to progress home. How many have tried doing business only to be blocked by some petty bureaucrat whose shift just ended or whose lunch hour couldn't be interrupted? If you're still clueless as to what I mean, read 'In the office but not on the job' by George Davis (Gleaner, January 9). Grow a spine; 'fahget' the IMF; cut the public service. Now!
assessment of fiscal programme
The political fallout (inevitable, regardless) will come with a bigger primary surplus and many new small businesses spawned by the notion, 'necessity is the mother of invention'. IMF approval is nothing more than an assessment of the soundness of our fiscal programme.
Action is worth one thousand seals of approval. If our actions result in higher primary surpluses; reduced debt burden (by EDX); a fiscal programme oozing responsibility, who'd need an IMF seal of approval?
Stop wasting national reserves 'defending' a false currency value. Currency can only be properly defended by production, so let's focus on improved production, including reshaping education, to satisfy Jamaica's real needs.
Temporarily close the faculties of law, social sciences, etc, and focus on producing graduate engineers, architects, agronomists and computer programmers. Oh, please, stop moaning and groaning. We've tried the 'lawyer, doctor' idea of education for decades. It's broke. Fix it. Produce graduates in skill sets the society needs to produce and grow.
Stop importing locally produced goods. Pass a deeply entrenched constitutional provision that prevents borrowing ever again exceeding 100 per cent of GDP. Close Petrojam and import whatever refined petrol we can afford. Maybe we'll have gas rationing. Fine. Maybe we use peenie-wallie to see at night. It's been done. Get serious about alternative energy.
Then we'd have 'sacrifice' for a purpose. Eventually, Jamaicans will see the Promised Land, even if some of us don't get there. What's being requested now is sacrifice to support pretend success fuelled by monopoly money while we continue to travel nowhere on the treadmill of decadence.
No alternative to the IMF? Who died and made the IMF God?
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.