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Jamaica's fear of change hampering tax reform, says Matalon

Published:Thursday | May 17, 2012 | 12:00 AM

A lack of trust has hindered the message of the Private Sector Working Group (PSWG).

So says chairman of the group, Joseph M. Matalon who, along with other PSWG members, took part in a Gleaner Editors' Forum held yesterday at the newspaper's North Street, central Kingston, offices yesterday.

Matalon was frank when quizzed about the issues of the masses accepting the group's message and the status quo defending its position.

Lack of trust

"We have internationally accredited surveys that point to the low level of trust in our society. But I previously thought of that as an academic discussion. What really was the significance? The significance of it has really come through to me," he said.

"When you have a public policy issue like this one, which challenges the status quo, but further is mixed in now with an environment that is lacking in trust, those two things really combine into what I would describe as an almost unstoppable force."

He continued: "It's a force for inertia and inaction and I think, way beyond tax reform, that it's a feature of our public life that we somehow have to come to grips with."

Carefully noting his was a personal position, and not necessarily that of the PSWG, Matalon opined that the status quo has defenders at every level of society. He also blamed a fear of change.

"Sometimes that fear can be well founded but at other times, it can be irrational."

Bruce Bicknell, of Tank-Weld, agreed, suggesting that tax reform, like the one proposed, put forward such a paradigm shift in thinking that it would be resisted.

Bicknell felt the PSWG had provided the Government with "a menu of well-researched options that aim to promote more equal treatment among the sectors".

He said past initiatives had measures that only favoured certain sectors at the expense of others.

"(With) This suite of options... we are trying to change the way Jamaica has been managed. So you say, 'Why has this been rejected?' It's been rejected because change is normally rejected. Change is a hard thing, especially a paradigm shift of change as what he have recommended," he said.

Matalon said social cohesion was crucial to dealing with the trust issue.

"Unless we, as a people, are more willing to embrace change, then those things (reforms) won't actually get done."

The Reverend Garnett Roper, who supports the PSWG's efforts, felt credibility was a factor.

Credibility issue

"There is a credibility issue as long as we get the message and the messenger confused. But quite apart from the authorship, the ideas can be tested. Sufficient questions can be raised as to whether (this group) can credibly be expected to deliver tax proposals that will benefit everybody except themselves alone," he said. He suggested persons read the document and judge for themselves.

Matalon pointed out that the PSWG got down "into the trenches" rapping with the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education beneficiaries and various ministries to get a better idea of the realities the ordinary man faced.

"It allowed us to really see on the ground some of the issues involved."