MY late grandmother was wont to say, “Too much of one thing is good for nothing.” And it is true. We have been so bamboozled by pugilists, capitalists, evangelists, moralists, journalists, socialists, historians, politicians, and academicians that a great many of us have become serial bamboozlers. For as one woman told me, “Burns, I was bamboozled by a con man into buying a worthless piece of land in Trelawny that he never owned. But, I bit my lips, you see and then just recovered my money from his mother.”
It was not only unnerving to hear the construct of the web of deceit she wove, but it was also upsetting to hear her justify her behaviour as fair compromise; because if “yuh cyaan ketch Quako, yuh ketch ’im shut”. It mattered not that the man’s mother was terminally ill and was far removed from her son’s fraudulent schemes. My advice to the woman remains, “The vengeance you seek is woefully misplaced. The charlatan will reap exactly as he sows, so too will you reap the harvest of your transgression.”
Excursus aside, the flavour of the reactions to the 2012/2013 Budget Debate reminds me somewhat of the con man’s actions and of the subsequent and unconscionable behaviour of his prey. It is an open secret that the budget was crafted against the backdrop of dwindling revenues, economic contraction, a huge $1.7-trillion debt that continues to stifle development and economic prosperity, a bloated public sector wage bill, an unsustainable pension scheme and an inequitable tax system.
It is incontestably true too that the problems which occasioned this austerity budget did not start with the previous Jamaica Labour Party government. Similarly, the current economic crisis could not be fixed in the six months that the People’s National Party has been in office. In fact, the antecedents to our socio-economic problems date back to the 1960s – despite robust economic growth – and were exacerbated during the 1970s and again toward the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.
Yet, there are some among us who cannot help being unfair about the historicity of our socio-economic predicament. Then there are those who are unwilling to get over the reality of last December’s elections in which voters retired the ambitions of the JLP to lead the country. But so angry are the defeated that they have become serial bamboozlers in their analyses, expectations, commentaries and treatment of the current circumstances. It is as though they are ready to celebrate failure just to prove a political point, and to say, “I told you so.” But to what end does any of this malevolent behaviour benefit Jamaica, or the advancement it seeks?
The truth is that the management of today’s economy is akin to Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Because if the government picks a raft of policies it deems bankable, it gets stuck, and if it accepts alternatives and makes adjustments, it finds itself in deeper trouble; only that this time around it is on the periphery. In other words, “anyweh it tun macka jook it”. Allegorically, the announcement of the $19.4-billion tax package reminds me of the “Tar Baby” dilemma. No one likes taxes, but too many of us do not pay our share. Yes, taxes are extractive and too much tax can lead to lower investments and ultimately to unemployment and economic contraction, but borrowing to fund recurrent expenditure is unsustainable and dangerous.
Therefore, the government has to be as creative as possible in designing and reforming tax policies, particularly to ease the burden on PAYE employees and on struggling small businesses. One such creative way would be for government to target unscrupulous businesses that operate under the guise of the church’s tax-exempt status. Whew! I am preparing for an everlasting whipping from the church for recommending that government revokes the tax-exempt status for churches that lease lands and other properties to “for-profit” businesses.
Spain is contemplating a far more liberal proposal of “Taxing Catholic Church property” to boost tax revenue inflows. So, those who are ready to cast “brimstones” had better wake up to the reality that hard times abound and taxing these types of businesses is dissimilar from taxing “God’s work”. But then again, not all churches give the surplus tithes and offerings to the needy. Instead, they use the money to build mega tabernacles with sound systems so powerful they boom beyond the seat of heaven. In essence, they do this to enhance attendance and boost revenues.
Anyway, back to the budget presentation: In fairness, the presenters were mostly positive and mature, and except for the political polemics and tiresome bamboozling, the speakers did very well. Noticeably, there was no obvious articulation from either side of any dynamic or innovative economic initiative, and there were no distinguishable expressions of economic policy shifts to be undertaken by the government.
Both the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition spoke candidly and convincingly to the need for parents to “take responsibility” for their children. The unity of purpose displayed between them was encouraging, and hopefully will go a far way in helping to concretise in the minds of Jamaicans, parents and non-parents, the need to recalibrate their mode of parental involvement and obligations.
That notwithstanding, it was an awful act of bamboozling for some seasoned commentators to cultivate this sudden expectation that the prime minister would “roll back” taxes announced by her finance minister when they know the established precedence and inappropriateness of such action. Now they are saying that the budget is devoid of growthinducement strategies. The strategies may not be new, but what about the housing programmes; privatisation plans, streamlining business approval processes; the mega road and port projects, the energy diversification thrust which could pump millions of dollars back into the economy and boost competitiveness; the tourism/ICT plans; and the $1.5-billion Development Bank of Jamaica allocation for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises? Come on, let’s be fair; enough of the foolish bamboozling.