Dr. The Hon. Peter Phillips, Minister of Finance, made his much anticipated opening presentation in the 2012/2013 Budget Debate last week. Dr. Phillips outlined to an expectant nation how the Simpson Miller led administration intends to finance the $612 billion Estimates of Expenditure he had tabled on May 10.
Of particular concern is the $19.4 billion tax package outlined by the Minister. Taking careful aim, Phillips applied the GCT to everything from milk, to crackers, to saltfish, even patties – while lowering the overall rate of the GCT by 1%. The tax on electricity, which was to have been abolished as promised by the PM herself, was expanded; printed material, the telecoms sector, the tourism sector – all taxed. Coupled with this massive tax package was a public sector wage freeze. The stage seemed set for riots and demonstrations, as was the case in 2009, when then Minister Shaw outlined a similar tax package. Instead, there has been little more than murmurings of discontent at the tax burden and a quiet acceptance of the wage freeze by public sector groups. I was stunned. What was so different when Shaw had proposed these measures? All hell had broken loose then, why not now? And then it hit me, this is PNP country. Jamaica is in bed with the PNP, and like an abused spouse, we silently bear the beatings, because surely Mama P loves us, a dats why she beat wi.
The outgoing President of the JLP affiliate G2K, Delano Seiveright, in his farewell letter slammed various sectors of the Jamaican society as “politically lopsided, intellectually dishonest and excessively hypocritical.” While I generally have little patience for the utterances of Mr. Seiveright, this comment has found favour with me. We are a politically lopsided people, content with accepting from the PNP what we had chastised the JLP for. In accepting this budget and making the case that “he had no other choice”, we are being intellectually dishonest. Why did we expect Shaw to find other solutions, but excuse Dr. Phillips’ general lack of said solutions? In defending and accepting what we condemned in 2009, 2010 and 2011, we betray the extent of our hypocrisy. The cards appear carefully stacked against the JLP, but why?
I believe the answer can be found in the era of the Manleys, in particular Michael Manley, and Edward Seaga. Manley was seen as a champion of the poor, a leader who loved the working and lower classes, but not only did he love them, he wanted to see them uplifted – a much different arrangement than the one which obtains under Simpson Miller’s token-like love of the poor. Manley made great strides in education and literacy, he ensured the poorest among us could own proper housing, he is to be credited with equal pay for men and women, maternity leave, abolishing the bastard laws and a host of other sweeping social changes which significantly changed the face of Jamaica. He was the people’s Prime Minister. On the other hand was Seaga, seen as a tyrant who was intent on gaining power through violence and an intimidatory style of politics. He is blamed for creating what a former Commission of Police styled “the mother of all garrisons”, Tivoli Gardens. I’m not suggesting that this characterisation of the former PM is true, I’m just saying it existed. Seaga signalled a class shift in the JLP. He was the picture of wealth, a white man who was born in a foreign country. He took the party well away from the vision of Busta and Shearer and into a more clearly defined capitalist frame. This contrasted heavily with Manley’s populist and socialist message. It was foreign to the poor. Seaga did the JLP a great disservice by remaining as the party leader as long as he did, the party now finds it hard to escape the perception he had created in the 1980′s. The JLP came to be seen as the party of wealth and privilege and the PNP came to be seen as the party of the poor. I believe the perception persists to this very day.
No one understands that perception more clearly than The Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller. Come Tuesday I expect the Prime Minister, in her usual maternal and emotionally charged style, to announce that she has heard the cries of the poor and that “she” has rolled back the ‘cruel and uncaring’ tax package unleashed upon us by the insensitive Phillips. It will be a classic Portia moment. Mama saves the day. A good mother protects her children, right? I see little chance that these taxes will stand. If they are allowed to, Simpson Miller will go down in history as one of the worst hypocrites to ever sit in Jamaica House, every bit as ‘deceptive and cruel’ as former Prime Minister Golding, she will not allow this. The love affair with the poor must be maintained, if the Prime Minister knows nothing else, she knows this. Still, if this roll back occurs it will demonstrate the extent of the pettiness and immaturity of our leaders. The fact that the Prime Minister might use something so serious to gain personal political mileage is an alarming and worrying development. Even more worrying is the realisation that the government may have to borrow excessively to fill the gap if she rolls back the taxes. Sparing us from the bitter medicine may be to our own detriment. We must be very vigilant and ensure we hold her to task if this happens. We wait to see.
The love affair with the PNP has done Jamaica more harm than good. This country has known more PNP governments, than it has known JLP ones. In fact, in the last 40 years the JLP has only won two (2) General Elections, excluding the snap election of 1983, once in 1980 and again in 2007. Jamaica’s social, political and economic problems must then clearly be the fault of the ruling party. They held the reins of power the longest. Have we made any significant strides? We find ourselves crippled by debt, crime, illiteracy and poverty – problems which took flight under the watch of P.J. Patterson. While speaking to a veteran PNP supporter today, she admitted as much. She told me she would never publicly declare that the PNP has wrecked the country, but that she knew it was true. She looked at me and told me “I can’t say it publicly, but to thy own self be true.” An awkward silence followed. Have we, as Jamaicans, been true to ourselves? Or have we allowed the People’s National Party (PNP) to take us along for a ride?
Finally, the love affair is in danger of ending. By over promising in the 2011 General Election, the PNP will find itself scorned when it cannot fulfil these promises. The Manley luck is fast running out. Our people are now more familar with the lies, incompetence and mismanagement of Percival James Patterson than they are with Manley’s good deeds. The PM’s own political capital is expiring. Be warned Madam PM, your lover grows restless. When a lover is so abused, as your party has abused the Jamaican people, there will come a time when that lover says ‘enough’ and walks out the door. The lover need not be afraid, waiting is a younger, more vibrant option – the Andrew Holness led JLP. What kind of relationship will that be like? And will we ever truly marry the idea? Can Andrew be the ‘stulla’ Jamaica has been yearning for? Only time will tell.