The ruling PNP doesn't care; the Opposition JLP is irrelevant
I was walking across the road in the little semi-rural town square on the way to my car when she stopped me, physically held me by the hand, and asked: "So, Mark, is how poor people gwine survive?"
The temptation was to walk away and say to her, "Can we speak about this some other time?" then probably add, without actually saying it, "I am not Government. I do not script government policy."
She followed me to the car, and I asked her, "You are talking about the budget, right?" She said, in response, "Mi is 67, and mi used to go school barefoot. Mi parents never have it, and mi neva get nutten out a di education system. Mi not blaming nobody because from mi leave school at 10, mi neva go back; but, what must poor people do?" Somehow the recently read budget faded into nothing. Budget or no budget, she was poor yesterday, and will be poor for many tomorrows.
What sensible answer could I give her? Go retrace your childhood; snatch at opportunities, and remake your history? I said instead -- more to placate myself than her -- "You just have to hang in there, you cannot give up."
Then she said, "Mi can get a bills, Missa Wignall?" I reached in my pocket and pulled out two $100 bills. She told me a big thanks and left. That was the easiest answer for me. Give her 'a bills' or more or, better yet, begin to complain to her that things are also hard with me. In a few minutes I drove away, and later, while I was at home, it came to me that many Jamaicans from way back in the day attended school barefooted; but due to the struggles of their parents, and probably with the good luck of 'good genes', they made it in life through education and need not look back at those days as wasted.
Unfortunately, however, what I am seeing among Jamaica's poorest people are those whose souls are broken. Not that they are not struggling with their own children and grandchildren, but it seems to me that, like many aspects of how this Administration is running, they are on auto pilot.
May people have been criticising Minister of Finance Peter Phillips and not for one minute would I envy him his job. He must be a most lonely man. As far as the Opposition JLP is concerned I would like to refer them to the following excerpt from a recent article in the New York Times, 'From boom to rust, lavish projects are languishing in Brazil':
"When you're in the Opposition you want to create difficulties for those that are in the Administration," Mr da Silva said. "But we forget that maybe one day we'll take office."'
This PNP Administration must be at the lowest point in popularity but, in purely political terms, it is doing it right, in that, it is doing what it considers the worst that can hurt the population at a time that -- two years from now when elections are due -- just the right percentage will forget and hop back on its wagon to victory. To the PNP, the worst is bitter medicine that must be dispensed and taken.
Let us face it, there will never be consensus between the ruling PNP and the Opposition JLP on anything -- not crime-fighting, policy on children, or even how to keep Riverton City dump free from fires.
The JLP exists, as it is now, the party of press releases. 'The Opposition JLP has taken notice that an ant was crushed by the evil and wicked car wheels of Minister Peter Phillips' air-conditioned SUV. The JLP is calling on all members of the PNP Cabinet to place soft pillowcases on the wheels of their SUVs. Ants are our friends, and the JLP has it on good authority that this wicked act is taking place more often than is reported. The JLP has to ask the question, is it because more ants voted for the JLP in the 2011 election why this is taking place?'
Seriously now, do we really believe that if the JLP was in power and it was faced with the same financial strictures that exist at present, it would have avoided a tax package that was painless? Come on now, let's get real.
The IMF is in charge, and it wants to make this little rock amenable to trading with the western giants. There are some of us, of course, who believe that the IMF cares about us and that it is doing all it can do to 'right' our economy. Hogwash!
The IMF is the banker of last resort, whose first priority is setting the stage for getting paid back the money it floated for us. Period. Anything beyond that is left up to us.
While our prime minister has placed Peter Phillips in the seat of purgatory, and she floats around Heaven all day long, the finance minister has to carry out the immediate dictates of his IMF bosses. The JLP knows this, but it has to posture and preen as though it has all the answers and hope that at the next election it is not carried to power.
The poor and the powerless can only look on while the high rollers avoid paying their taxes and, in the end, the little man and woman at street level must be stuck with the bill. What is that bill?
Poor roads, horrible water supply, police stations in 'unliveable' states, long waits at health centres. The rich man falls ill, he flies off to Florida or New York, and so do the politicians and even our local doctors.
If the Government decides to go after the high rollers, their lobbyists in big business may pull the plug on funding whichever party institutes such a move. Why else could it be that successive administrations cannot bring the high rollers into the tax net?
Somehow it seems that I have seen this all before, especially at budget time. The ruling administration applies the pain of a tax package, the Cabinet remains the same size, while all are asked to tighten their belts and, of course, the Opposition has all the answers.
It is one grand game and the real losers are the children who attended school barefooted 50 years ago, got nothing out of the education system, and are now on the verge of losing their souls. And, of course, their children and grandchildren who fell into the destructive mould.
The PNP does what it has to do at budget time, and the JLP has to make its expected noise. Not many of those in their inner circles are 'feasting' on chicken back for lunch and a stale belch later for dinner.