Garth Rattray | Good morning, fellow geese
They say what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Sounds great in theory, but in Jamaica, that's farcical.
The perspicacious TVJ exposé, 18 Degrees North, mainly scrutinised the prime minister's real estate holdings. Although what I saw came as no surprise to me, it did not look good. We say that we emulate the admirable qualities of the more developed countries and societies, yet we anachronistically cling to socially degenerative political mores that continue to impede our growth.
It is important for our public officials to maintain the highest ethical standards and aspire to be irreproachable. People in high office set the moral tone for the rest of society. Therefore, in many developed countries, politicians who are found to be deficient resign or are forced to submit to intense public scrutiny before they are allowed to continue in their post.
But, not so in our fair land. There are many things that you and I could never get away with; but some in positions of power are allowed to breach rules, regulations and laws without interference or reproach. The more powerful the individual, the more unlikely it is that there will be any investigation.
How many of us could get away with 'forgetting' to pay millions of dollars in taxes? Could the 'common man' collect taxes on behalf of the Government and then hold it back to run his or her business and be left alone, although the Government knew full well what was going on?
I recall a tax enforcer who, accompanied by bailiffs, the police and media, used to seize valuable assets in lieu of non-payment of taxes. His career underwent a negative quantum shift when he approached someone with powerful connections. He's been relegated to 'desk jockey' since then.
Julian Robinson cleared the air by making his integrity filings public and, therefore, subject to detailed scrutiny. However, some of the others that I've heard are outright ludicrous, yet they escape inquiry. It's as if whatever was submitted was accepted simply because it was submitted. Does anyone really thoroughly investigate these submissions? If not, what's the point in having them?
The matters raised in 18 Degrees North were not about politics. It was refreshing that someone could so boldly and bravely approach a top politician to seek an explanation of actions. If more people did this, we would begin to see the light of day where public servant accountability and integrity are concerned.
When quizzed about the company he formed overseas to purchase land, the prime minister referred to the practice as "real estate management". But it is well known that many people involved in offshore investments do so to avoid taxes.
It's a shame and a slap in the face of our nation that some of the people who help to ratify tax laws and tinker with taxable items are the same people who use innovative ways to avoid or conveniently forget to pay taxes. I heard of a public, political figure who transacted a land sale by declaring a significantly reduced value to pay less taxes.
Regular citizens could never get away with forgetting to pay taxes indefinitely. We would be hauled into court and our assets confiscated. We could never get away with displaying a gross disparity between our income and our lifestyle. Jamaica will only begin to improve when it is blatantly evident that everyone is held to the same degree of ethical responsibility and accountability.
Until politicians are answerable, innumerable regular citizens will break the (perceived convenient) rules and retard the entire country. Until then, our people will remain a gaggle of earthbound geese slogging through the mud instead of a skein of geese in graceful flight, soaring among the clouds where we belong.
- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.