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A resurrection for Jamaica?

Jean LOWRIE-CHIN

Monday, April 21, 2014    

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THE announcement of new taxes took a bit of the flavour out of our Easter bun and cheese — in fact, some of us may have sliced these seasonal treats a little thinner when we heard that we had to find an additional $6.7 billion worth of taxes to close that ever-recurring gap in our $118-billion budget.

To make matters worse, water is scarce, and electricity is threatening a 21 per cent rate hike. We the honest residents of Jamaica are being asked to pay more to help cure others of their chronic electricity-theft habit. That 'freeness' mentality has been nurtured over the years by politicians of every stripe. When a thug gets a politician's 'hug', he is being given permission to 'take charge' of his constituents. 'Badman' throws up an illegal connection and you dare not touch it. 'Badman' becomes the hero of the poor, who emulate him, creating a critical mass of electricity 'takers' whom we must now subsidise.

'Badman' helps some of our councillors and MPs to keep these folks corralled in ghettos, pack them tightly in easy-to-control yards or complexes, and in campaign buses. Children become traumatised as the collective grief in their communities weighs heavily on their slight shoulders, stunting their self-esteem and making them easy prey for said 'badman'. All the 'Unite for Jamaica' ads cannot help us if our politicians are not practising what they preach.

Our beloved Jamaica has been crucified by some of the very folks who pledged to dedicate themselves to her development. Yes, there are some well-meaning politicians, but they have been very shy about demanding better of their less admirable colleagues. However, we now have the technology to monitor the behaviour and connections of the cynical ones. Let us use it to ensure that our lawmakers are worthy of this title. It is a hard truth that some of these, more absent than present as we watch them entertain themselves in the House, have such a serious mandate.

'Tough love' from the IMF

Our generous international friends may very well be becoming impatient. Governments and international development multilaterals have poured billions into this country and have heard a great deal of promises, but seen little change in the condition of the poor. Clearly Jamaica needs leadership of high calibre, both in intellect and character, to keep their trust. Let us be aware that our closest neighbours — Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba — are making great strides and have far more to offer than our tiny rock; this is no time for complacency. Indeed, the size and plight of our country in proportion to the largesse we have enjoyed should be cause for embarrassment on the part of Jamaica's leaders past and present.

In a brief chat with that phenomenal multi-tasker Richard Byles, head of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), he suggested that the conditionalities set down by the IMF may end up being "one of the best things to have ever happened to Jamaica". He believes that this is the tough love that will help us to become more disciplined and productive.

Furthermore, we all need to be more courageous in promoting accountability and standing up to the victimisation that is rife in this country. Individuals may not be able to weather the backlash from being a whistle-blower, but well-organised groups, including key influencers, can. If we want a resurrection for Jamaica, now is the time to speak up and be counted. We must tell both the PNP and the JLP that their cosy little Gordon House members' club is presiding over the dumbing down of this nation at a time when only the brightest and most efficient can play a meaningful role in our development.

Taxes with a smile

A poor, unproductive nation will never be able to cough up the level of taxes being demanded. Yet, my friend in Norway, who pays far more than we do, declares: "I pay my taxes with a smile," because he sees what his money in paying for: accountable, no-frills government presiding over a well-run country. What is our large Cabinet doing about these hundreds of families huddled in unsanitary shacks? If there is a news story about a dire situation, the volunteer chairman of Food for the Poor Jamaica, Andrew Mahfood, is on e-mail before 7:00 am asking for quick action. Last Saturday, over 5,000 less fortunate persons, most of them seniors, attended the Food for the Poor/Lions Club Health Fair, many in dire need of proper health management.

If our leaders want us to pay more taxes, they must display 'the urgency of now', in the words of Martin Luther King Jr, to take our poor out of their miserable circumstances. The technology exists to power a smaller, more-efficient government, so let us use it instead of overburdening the Jamaican taxpayer.

We are not saying that our leaders need to live like Jose Mujica, the president of Uruguay, who donates 90 per cent of his salary to charity and lives in a humble neigbourhood, farming his property. However, it would help if our ministers, MPs and councillors acted like the servants of the people and not their masters.

The West Kingston tragedy

The recent shooting in West Kingston in which a 12-year-old boy was killed is a sad reminder of how difficult it is to wrest the control of a community from the hands of gangs once they are allowed to take hold. It is a frightening situation and we send our prayers to MP Desmond McKenzie, who has shown courage in the face of these challenges.

Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor has been steadfast in his security post there, and I recall an interview with him many years ago when he was assigned to East Kingston. He explained that he would go to the parties organised by the young people and try to get them involved in sports. He said that many of them would bury their guns and, if they were kept occupied, would forget the hiding places. A very observant man indeed, who went the extra mile in community policing.

Solar energy for Grand Palladium

We attended an informative PSOJ seminar on solar energy, co-sponsored by the Spanish Embassy in Jamaica and Sofos Jamaica Limited, which was established here two years ago by its parent company in Spain. The company recently completed a massive solar energy project for the Fiesta Group in the Dominican Republic and was recommended by them to the Palladium Hotel in Lucea, Hanover. They explained that the Grand Palladium's investment of US$3.45 million, with an annual savings of over US$730,000, will be recouped in just over four-and-a-half years.

Speaking at the event, Spanish Ambassador Celsa Nuño noted that successive governments of her country had been promoting renewable energy generation. She said the smallest of the Canary Islands, El Hierro — population 11,000 — is set to become the first island fully powered by renewable energy. It was pointed out that the sun provides 4,000 times the energy consumed globally and that Jamaica had one of the highest levels of solar irradiation in the world, making us ideal candidates for photovoltaic energy generation. We need not be slaves to electricity rates — let's do it.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com

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