Big break for business


Big break for business

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, March 11, 2019

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In July 2014 Debbie-Ann Gordon Crawford, then chair of the Jamaican Bar Association Revenue Committee, addressed the Kiwanis Club of Kingston on the announcement of some 22 new taxes: “Since 2013 to present, Jamaica has experienced perhaps its heartiest dosage of tax legislation in its history,” she noted. ( She described the quandary in which a small contractor who had just established a company found himself: “On his monthly take from the company of approximately $100,000 he is required to account for statutory deductions, NIS, NHT, Education Tax, and if he has taken on any staff he is to account for HEART, their PAYE, and other statutory deductions… In addition, the company must now look at his asset value, cash, property, etc, and pay an asset tax (though not an income tax, but a direct tax) by March 15 on the company's asset value. As if that were not sufficient, the company must now pay a minimum business tax by June 15 of each year; the starting figure for which is $60,000.”

Gordon Crawford asked, “As a young country, with a fairly unsophisticated taxpayer base, should the focus not be on raising revenue through tax simplification and education for all (since presumably taxation is for all)?”

As if in response to her question, some 3,500 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were handed a huge gift by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke in his budget debate presentation last Thursday. This Rhodes scholar, qualified to do the best possible maths for our country, was able to deliver a model which will abolish those burdensome asset and minimum business taxes, reduce those punitive stamp duties and transfer taxes, and raise the General Consumption Tax-paying threshold for companies from $3 million to $10 million.

“It is now time to give back, because it is the right thing to do,” said Dr Clarke as he announced new measures that would total some $14 billion in tax relief. As social media lit up, we made it clear that it is not political to celebrate achievements of our democratically elected Government. Let no tribalist fool you: Our Government is elected by the people and must work for all the people. When one of their ministers can give such a clear, confident and magnanimous account of himself we should all applaud. The accomplished Dr Clarke could flourish anywhere in the world, but he chose to remain here and work that others may also succeed. Let us not be faint in our praise, nor in our efforts to use these financial breaks for the advancement of our businesses and the creation of jobs.

Women in politics

Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown delivered an instructive Rose Leon Memorial Lecture last Monday evening on the theme 'Women in Representational Politics: The Campaign and Conduct'. Interestingly, the lecture came the day after some rather unfortunate utterances from People's National Party (PNP) candidate for Portland Eastern, Damion Crawford. However, instead of going in that direction Parchment Brown used quotes from a misogynistic US senator: “…[I]n February 2019, we heard a United States male lawmaker, South Carolina State Senator Thomas Corbin, to Senator Katrina Shealy: 'Well you know God created men first, then he took the rib out of man to make woman…and you know a rib is a lesser cut of meat.' ”

She also quoted from the trailer of the film RBG on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “I ask no favour for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

“Sadly,” Parchment Brown added, “Often women politicians must also ask this of us their sisters.”

As we listened to the lecture we were startled to hear that none of Jamaica's political parties had any women on their executive. How could our political parties be so backward in a world in which there are multiple studies which prove that organisations that promote gender balance in their leadership are more successful. We call on the parties to address this — and their women supporters must insist that they do.

'Balance for Better'

I don't believe I have ever seen such a groundswell of International Women's Day observances in Jamaica. The Women's Leadership Initiative, brainchild of the legendary Ambassador Sue Cobb, used its 15th anniversary, last Thursday, to celebrate 10 great corporate foundations led by women which have been doing extraordinary work in health, education, the environment, and entrepreneurship.

On Friday morning, the dynamic Marlene Street Forrest, CEO of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, invited Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange, diplomats, and women business leaders to join her in the opening of the stock market.

Later that morning we attended a symposium organised by Grange's ministry in association with the Canadian High Commission and the European Union (EU). The themes for the event 'Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change' and '#BalanceForBetter' were discussed by two major presenters — Canadian High Commissioner Laurie Peters and head of the European Union Delegation Malgorzata Wasilewska. Peters noted that her Government “places women and girls at the centre of what we do”; providing direct funding to women's rights organisations worldwide. She said that Canada would be supporting Jamaica's national strategic action plan to reduce gender-based violence and promote sustainable practices for women farmers. She urged participation in the 'Women Deliver' conference — a gathering of 7,000 world leaders and influencers — to be held in June in Vancouver.

Wasilewska noted that women represented 43 per cent of the world's agricultural workforce, and if they had the same access to resources as men would increase their production by 20 to 30 per cent. She said that women must bridge the digital divide to benefit from the disruptive nature of technology. She said that EU has partnered with UN Women for their 'Win-Win' programme with the theme “Gender equality means good business”. She called for an enabling society for women as they are key to our living productive, prosperous lives.

At the Rose Leon conference Dr Blossom O'Meally-Nelson noted that times had changed from those days when women were acculturated to be more accepting of male bosses and that she was seeing stronger support of women by women. Indeed, that has been my experience. Let us continue to take the high road and bring others along in this burgeoning new world where we will enjoy 'balance for better'.

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