By Garth A. Rattray
It should be blatantly obvious that since Independence, Jamaica has squandered the cultural, environmental and economic advantage it once enjoyed. We used to be the envy of our smaller Anglophone Caribbean neighbours. Now we are among the neediest and, because of indiscipline and criminality, we have a terrible reputation. Thank goodness for our music and athletes, which have managed to keep our heads high.
Over the years, our people have been offered up as a sacrifice to the god of 'politics', in whose name many moral, social, criminal, economic and administrative atrocities have been committed. Incredibly bad decisions were taken and necessary interventions ignored, put on the back burner or kicked along to the next administration out of fear of the political backlash.
The nation's collective psyche has been warped by party politics. So, instead of adding to the arma-mentarium of solutions to our problems, criticisms and ideas have been compartmentalised into disparate, acrimonious camps.
I know that some politicians are in it to serve and to contribute at great personal sacrifice, but the pathways by which they can do so have already been carved out by many years of old-style, oppressive, handout politics. Consequently, many progressive principles and tough decisions are difficult to undertake, and now we are about to feel the brunt of the cumulative wrongs.
I am not a harbinger of doom; but the slippage of the Jamaican dollar and this new round of increased taxation are, as the saying goes, going to leave a mark on every single one of us. The most obvious proof of increased prices is at the supermarkets. Two scandal bags with a few items can cost $5,000, $6,000 or more.
Taxes have leaped higher and the price of fuel is creeping up. These affect every sector of society. The problem is this: Whereas merchants simply pass on the increased taxes, import costs and overhead expenses with their mark-up to the consumers, salaried employees and some people in jobs that provide a service do not enjoy income increases commensurate with the spike in costs of consumables. They must absorb a lot.
When the effects of the next round of inflation hits us hard, we are all going to get salt. Between double-compounded taxes, triple-compounded taxes, humungous increases in taxes (sometimes by more than 200 per cent), retroactive taxes, new taxes and back taxes, a lot of people are going to 'fenneh'.
There are no easy solutions to our grave economic woes. However, the overused technique of 'Taxus Maximus' will only stave off disaster temporarily, but severely burden our people indefinitely. Everyone knows that we must produce and export a whole lot more and import less.
Some selfish, non-progressive, backward-thinking, finger-pointing, along-for-the-ride so-called 'Jamai-can citizens' - many of whom wear dual-citizenship hats - effectively sabotage our balance of payments by jumping on to the black market foreign-exchange bandwagon, spe-culating on and hoarding US dollars and banking USD abroad. Others use up incredibly massive amounts of forex to import items solely for retail.
I think that individuals and companies that utilise a lot of forex should be 'strongly encouraged' to participate in finding ways to manufacture and/or export or to invest in manufacturing and/or exporting companies. Additionally, there are many large international companies making big profits here that manufacture their products in other countries. Our Government should approach them with a view to having them invest in manufacturing here. We are ideally geographically located for distribution to the Americas; now we need to be business-friendly.
Other international companies invest lump sum forex here but export much more after converting some of their profit and sending it to their shareholders abroad. We must try to modulate those activities if we are to survive.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org