Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Out of bad can come good

Published:Friday | June 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Peter Espeut, Contributor

That Jamaica is in deep financial crisis is not in dispute. Whoever is in power, it will be decades before we work our way out of it. I believe, though, that our deep fiscal troubles will have important, if unexpected, benefits.

The record-low turnouts in the recent two elections indicate that confidence in our two main political parties is at an all-time low. Since 1944 - but particularly since Independence half a century ago - these two parties have alternated piloting the ship of state and economy, and have collaborated in running it aground. It has taken some time, but it is clear that the Jamaican voter no longer believes the political rhetoric both sides exude, and is ripe for something else.

In the recent elections, the People's National Party (PNP) sold itself to the voting public as the party which loves the poor, because the party leader comes from "the bowels of the working class". And there are people who support the PNP because they believe their interests will be better served when that political tribe is in government.

The Budget now being debated is coming down hard on the backs of the poor who, as a result, are likely to become even more disillusioned with politics as a whole, and the PNP in particular. That, I think you will agree, is a good thing, because no human being should be invested with messiah status the way Michael Manley, Edward Seaga and Portia Simpson Miller have been lionised.

Race card rhetoric

In the past, the PNP has not been to slow to play the race card. The PNP has sold itself to the voting public as the party which loves poor, black people, while they painted an image of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as the party of the big man, especially brown men. The fact that the PNP is packed with brown men (and women), and has close ties with big men (and women) in the private sector, is studiously ignored.

The fact is that both parties need the support of Jamaica's moneyed classes - of whatever colour - and both parties are reluctant to alienate the poor. And the fact is that both parties have brown men on their front benches; and the 'world-class finance minister' has been dumped for another. I don't think the race card carries the same weight any more, which is a good thing, I think you will agree.

That both parties have divested state assets cheaply to their political friends and have awarded waivers and tax exemptions to their campaign funders is simply an incentive for more people in the private sector to contribute more to the parties, so as to receive more.

betrayed donors

It is not only the political parties which have resisted full disclosure of all campaign contributions; the private sector has been guilty of resisting transparency because of where they perceive their best interests lie.

I am sure that private-sector donors to the PNP are squealing under the weight of this tax package, and are huddled in smoke-filled rooms trying to work out a reinstatement of their privileged status. If some of them feel sufficiently betrayed to cease their contributions, or even to call for full disclosure, maybe this severe tax package will be a good thing, I hope you agree.

The way solemn election promises have been so quickly and comprehensively disregarded by the winning party will discredit Jamaican politics in the eyes of more and more of the electorate, which I hope you agree is a good thing. The depth and breadth of political corruption in this country, including garrisons, has already turned off people with sensitive consciences.

When a party makes a campaign promise to remove GCT on electricity bills, and then turns around and increases it (after raising the threshold) even those with numbed consciences must begin to be turned off. When at a national political debate a party leader promises to conclude a new deal with the International Monetary Fund within two weeks of taking power, and five months later has not yet done so, even the most 'die-hearted' must begin to wonder whether the party is worthy of their trust.

I predict that if the next general election is mainly contested between the PNP and the JLP, even fewer people will register to vote, and even fewer registered voters will turn out to cast their ballots.

After 50 years of tribal politics, I think Jamaica is ready for a new beginning. How low must the voter turnout go before the present political system is fully discredited?

Peter Espeut is a development sociologist and natural resource manager. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.