‘Draw brakes’

Portia says Gov’t must roll back tax proposals

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Portia Simpson Miller yesterday told the Government to roll back the $13.5 billion worth of taxes proposed to finance the 2017/18 budget.

In a lengthy speech to the House of Representatives yesterday, expected to be her last as leader of the Opposition, Simpson Miller quoted dancehall DJ Bounty Killer, saying that "poor people fed up".

"The detour onto a rough and uncertain path of ‘tax-perity’ is entirely the fault of this Government," she said.

"This Government must take blame for the untold hardships that this tax package will have on the poor and middle classes of this country. It was a wrong move," Simpson Miller waxed, as dozens of her supporters watched from the public gallery of Gordon House, while a larger group drank, smoked, danced, watched and cheered on her approximately 150-minute attack on the current Government and its policies.

"This Government must do the honourable thing now; draw brakes, pull a reverse on these wicked tax measures," she said.

"The people are speaking out. This budget is unjust. The budget is counter-productive. This budget has no heart. Business people say this budget is going to make their businesses uncompetitive. Trade unions say the measures are nearly criminal. The Government must listen to the people. The Government must roll back the taxes. I know it can be done," Simpson Miller insisted.

The former prime minister, who lost office on February 25 last year and is expected to end her political career this year, despite continued widespread grassroot support inside the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), gave intermittent signals of her departure during the speech.

She paid tribute to former prime ministers Hugh Shearer, Michael Manley, Edward Seaga and PJ Patterson, as well as colleagues on both sides of the House, leaders and supporters of the PNP, leaders and workers in the public service, the parliamentary staff, the diplomatic and consular corps and Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora.

She also noted that it was her 11th speech in the House as a parliamentary leader, including six times as prime minister.

"Today, I make my final contribution in a budget debate as a leader in this Parliament… Today’s address is therefore bittersweet: What a political life I have had," she said.

"I have seen the good, the bad, the happy, the sad. But, above all, I have had an incredible journey of service to my beloved people and country," she stated.

However, the Opposition leader did not mince her words in attacking the Government’s tax proposals.

She said that the situation did not have to be so, as with its inheritance of a crisis in January 2012 her Government "never unleashed such harsh and uncaring measures on the poor people of this country".

She said her Administration made every attempt to protect the most vulnerable, even while it was faced with "an economy about to collapse; no support from multilateral partners; high and unsustainable levels of national debt; mounting joblessness; and skyrocketing inflation".

She said that her 2012-2016 Administration laid the foundation, built the framework and set the momentum for economic growth and job creation.

"I call on the people of Jamaica. I call on all members of this honourable House to be vigilant. The hard-won gains we made must not be squandered. This budget will undermine these carefully thought-out growth pillars," she stated.

Simpson Miller also accused the Government of "stoking the fire of victimisation" over the last year by some of its actions.

Referring to Jamaica’s political history, she recalled "our darkest times, when Jamaicans were killed because of their political preference".

"My deepest fear is that these actions could lead us back to those dark days," she said.

She also criticised the Government for a "scandalous" $800-million bushing programme; unjust firing of public sector workers; unfair distribution of farm work cards; and unfair allocation of Labour Day resources.

She said that she was disappointed that, after one year in office, the Government had not delivered a crime plan.

This is clearly not good enough," she commented.

"I am expecting that when the prime minister speaks next week, he will announce more resources for our security and intelligence teams to outmatch, outwit and outmanoeuvre the criminals," she said.

However, she said that while Government has a responsibility to protect the nation, she would encourage all Jamaicans to come together "in their common interest and personal security".

The 2017/18 budget debate resumes Tuesday with the presentation by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and ends on Wednesday with the closing presentation by the Minister of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw.




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