Imani Tafari-Ama | Enough is as good as a feast
People from all walks of life recoiled in revulsion at the message of injustice that was conveyed in the Jamaican Government’s recent self-pay raise. This increase was two to three times previous earnings with no performance improvement to justify this largesse. If the expected 1.9 per cent increase in the real gross domestic product (GDP) looks like that for them, what accounts for the gulf between this and the remuneration for other public servants?
Like Nicodemus overnight, with no public engagement, rhyme, or reason, politicians got epiphany and converted themselves into consumers of champagne at the expense of the beer-pockets of taxpayers. It must mean that like rats on a sinking ship, they smell defeat at upcoming elections and want to fill their pockets before they drown. Calls for a complete rollback have fallen on the intentionally deaf ears of the protagonists of this foul play.
In the imbroglio over the politicians’ pay hike, which just will not die the usual nine-day-wonder death, the prime minister, minister of finance, and leader of the Opposition personify, and are performing, the roles of the Three Card Man ensemble. The prime minister is controlling the board, cupping the dice, while the minister of finance, who fancies himself the spin doctor, convinces himself that his gift of the gab is sufficient to persuade the public to swallow his yarn. The leader of the Opposition is the decoy to urge the unwitting to join the party. He pretends that he does not know what the prime minister and the spin doctor are up to while simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with the foul play.
To justify their sudden shoulder-rubbing with the salaries of world-class politicians, the spin doctor has established that Jamaica is doing better now than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is despite the disclaimer offered to teachers by the spin doctor that the elasticity had gone out of the part of the budget from which their pay had been allocated.
According to the World Bank, Jamaica’s debt-to GDP ratio stood at 106.28 per cent in 2020. This was the highest among 17 countries ranked. Jamaica had company at the top. with Brazil at 100.59 per cent, and Columbia, with 90.40 per cent. Russia and Botswana stand at the bottom of the list with 23.05 per cent and 19.66 per cent, respectively. Jamaica’s position at the top means that economically, we are doing badly. We have known that for many years. The debt-to-GDP ratio reading improved to 86 per cent in 2022 and real growth moved to 4.4 per cent. This resulted from an uptick in tourism and improvements in the agriculture sector. It is anticipated that the debt to GDP ratio will shrink to 60 per cent by 2027-28.
If this fiscal improvement looks so rosy on politicians’ pay cheques, does that suggest a trickle-down effect for the rest of the population? Who recommended this whopping increase? The minister of information, an accessory after the Three Card Man fact, said that once in motion, the pay-raise cannot be rolled back. So, how is it that the prime minister attempted to save face by declaring that he will give up his share of the lion’s share? How is it that Ann-Marie Vaz was able to so magnanimously donate her cut to the fire victims in her Portland constituency?
And is it not a conflict of interest to allocate $34 million for a governor general who is redundant in an independent country, especially one reputedly in the throes of transitioning to a republic? How do you differentiate between the scamming that has scarred the face of Brand Jamaica and the insolent increase of 200-300 per cent in remuneration for politicians from taxpayers’ earnings?
As noted by the Jamaican Justice System Reform Task Force (JJSRTF) Final Report, one of the impediments to justice in Jamaica is “insufficient accountability and transparency (including an absence of performance standards”. That, clearly, applies to the politicians’ remuneration revamping exercise. The JJSRTF report also declared that the justice system is “too unequal” and that “there is a lack of equality between the powerful, wealthy litigant and the under resourced litigant.”
Such barriers to justice also prevent the public from successfully challenging the perceived unfairness in the politicians’ pay hike. The power wielded by the Government protects its practitioners from taking responsibility for any form of wrongdoing.
Among the recommendations offered by the Barry Chevannes-chaired JJSRTF committee to remedy prevailing justice anomalies was the observation that “reform should contribute to increased public confidence and trust that the justice system is accessible, fair and accountable”. This begs the question that there is deep public mistrust of a system of justice that supports the impunity with which the State can act in its own self-interest.
It is beginning to dawn on the public that their state representatives are not listening to the cacophony of dissent from citizens who care about social justice. No matter what word of protest one puts forward, this is not going to move or shake the contortionists who have concocted this samfie-scheme. This nonchalance is strong medicine for the public to swallow and demonstrates how deafening silence can be weaponised to deny citizens purchase in their calls for justice.
The Jamaican public would not be so ill-at-ease if they were confident that politicians had a gauge to measure when enough is enough. The impression of gluttony that has been conveyed by the big-ticket benefits has resulted in widespread resistance. This opposition has surfaced because the right to happiness appears top-heavy and one-sided. The prime minister’s about-face provides the precedent to roll back all such benefits that have been allocated to his collegial and oppositional confederates. Otherwise, what hope does the ordinary citizen have to access justice?
Imani Tafari-Ama, PhD, is a Pan-African advocate and gender and development specialist. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org