Nigel Clarke's budget presentation causes Opposition to wobble, stumble, fall
Finance Minister Nigel Clarke makes a point in the House of Representatives last week at the start of the 2023/24 Budget Debate. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Boot-faced means having a grim, angry, or sad expression. That was the sum total of the look on the faces of the members of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition as the Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke spoke during the budget debate presentation in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.

The characteristic grim faces of the seven members of the Opposition present in Parliament exuded a kind of pronounced lime juice aura on the left side of the House. It was not a good look, as we say in the streets. Were the dingy expressions on the faces of the seven Opposition members due to a picture freeze of some kind? I checked my screen several times to find out. It was not.

I have watched many budget debate presentations and it has been customary for members across the aisle, certainly those on the Opposition front benches, to step across the floor at the end of a presentation and shake the hand of the presenter and a few front bench government members. That did not happen last Tuesday. I believe those who watch the swirling of the political tea leaves know the reason.

Why the glumness?

I believe Dr Clarke's presentation last Tuesday effectively nullified the political ammunition of the Opposition. As a matter of fact, I believe Clarke's budget presentation substantially demolished the Opposition's political arsenal.

Why do I say this?

The People's National Party (PNP) prides itself as being the so-called defender of the 'small man'. The PNP claims it is the champion of the dispossessed, deprived, disadvantaged and downtrodden. This is a fundamental strategy of socialist parties globally. When socialist parties like the PNP cannot successfully mount their hobby horse and shout in the highways and byways that a country's economy is crashing and or is about to crash, they invariably then grab for their second most-used political revolver: They attack those they brand "the privileged".

Note, for example, that Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson, while speaking at a demonstration, organised by his party last Monday, lashed out against what he called "mismanagement of the government". Robinson, in his address, lambasted the Administration for presiding over an economy which he claims was only benefiting the privileged.

Opposition Leader and president of the People's National Party Mark Golding (third right) is flanked by councillors and members of the party in touring the Mandeville Market on Wednesday. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

Said Robinson: "Comrades we need an economy which works for all Jamaicans and not just a few. We need an economy that can lift everybody up. We want a Jamaica where if you are a youngster in high school you have future here and you not looking to migrate. We want a Jamaica where if you are a young professional you can get a good job and you can buy a house and you can settle here. We have to transform this country. We have to transform it, so that we have a Jamaica for all."

Coming from the quarters of 89 Old Hope Road, the irony here is overbearingly loud. I have said why previously. Not surprisingly, Robinson, in his address to the party faithfuls, did not mention a single word about increasing productivity. One does not need to be the political equivalent of British World War II code breaker Alan Turing to realise that — consistent with socialist dogma — Robinson was spewing the usual redistributive politics minus production, which brought our country to her knees in the 1970s.

Reject conflation

Right quick someone is going to say, "But, Higgins, how can you make these kinds of comments when you are an advocate for the activist State? A long time ago I clarified this point here, but it bears repeating. An activist State does not mean the State is responsible for citizens' every itch and scratch. It is not the function of an activist State to sing, "Rock-a-bye, baby" to its newborns and "In the sweet by and by" on the occasions of its dearly departed. No State can or will ever be effective in the role of a superman/superwoman.

National leaders that have tried to be all things to all men soon discover kryptonite. And those who try to defy political gravity sooner than later come to grips with the realities that Sir Isaac Newton happened upon centuries ago.

The State exists to do for its citizens what the citizens cannot effectively and efficiently, individually, do for him/herself. The activist State is not a socialist or a communist utopia, where manner falls from the sky while folks sip milk and honey. Eighteenth century philosopher Edmund Burke argued that to preserve a society one needs to periodically reform it.

Long ago I said in this space that the Jamaican State needed to develop a new ambition. I have not recoiled.

I maintain that a focus on regeneration, and not the resurrection of redistributive, minus production, leftist politics — which is the prescription of the PNP —, is necessary. I continue to maintain that we need to reimagine the public good with policies and programmes that are situated philosophically and politically at the broad political centre; whether centre left or centre right.

In carrying through the process of reimagination, among other things, we need to generously factor in it a reorientation of how citizens understand the functions of government.

"So, Higgins, you do not care for the poor and the suffering people in our midst," some will shout. On contrary, in my The Agenda piece on October 27, 2019, I wrote among other things: "The result of a stable economy cannot be prolonged inequality. Political administrations have more than just a responsibility to be proactive; they have a duty. They exist to serve and better the lives of people. Those that do not demonstrably achieve this, and other crucial objectives, more often than not end up — sooner or later — with their heads under the political guillotine."

My fundamental point of departure with leftist doctrinaire is that I do not believe you can spend what you do not have. We took that route in the 70s and the results were near-disastrous. I discussed this matter with the support of copious facts in previous articles.

Leader of the Opposition and PNP President Mark Golding, and the rest of the PNP, need to heed the advice of Dr Peter Phillips, former Opposition leader and PNP president: "The biggest legacy we can give to future generations of Jamaicans is low debt!"

Slinger Francisco, popularly called the Mighty Sparrow, told us long ago, "You cyah love without money, You cyah mek love pon hungry belly." And former Prime Minister Edward Seaga told us long ago, "It takes cash to care." The PNP just does not get it.

Serious Body Blows

But back to the cheerless faces of the Opposition members during the budget presentation last Tuesday. I believe that during the finance minister's presentation the harsh reality hit the Opposition that their two primary political strategies had been relegated to political duds due to Clarke's skilful demonstration of the crucial congruence between the balance that has to be struck between paying liveable public sector wages and simultaneously seeing to the needs of every citizen.

The PNP's crumpled political playbook was hit by a vicious uppercut when Clarke told told Parliament that hundreds of low-income workers in public schools along with waste management workers who have worked without benefits for years will now become pensionable as their statuses have been upgraded to permanent employees.

His reminder to the Opposition that for six consecutive budget cycle, and the eighth straight year, the Andrew Holness-led Administration had not imposed any new taxes, was a sharp dagger to their political sternum. And his announcement that the national minimum wage would be increased April 1, 2023 was a near death-dealing blow to Golding's solar plexus.

Dr Clarke's enunciation of the strategic measures which were diligently set in place to ensure that Jamaica recovered to pre-pandemic levels caused the Opposition to wobble. And his announcement that Government will embark on an ambitious road modernisation programme, at a cost of $40 billion, made them stumble.

I believe it was Clarke's commitment that, as of the 2023/24 fiscal year, for students from Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) households or from households with income of less than $1.5 million, the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) plans to make an additional 4,200 grants of $60,000 at a total cost of $252 million that cause the Opposition to drop to the canvas.

The PNP's mouth piece fell-out when Dr Clarke illustrated that the public sector was getting the largest increase in nearly a decade, several key projects were soon to start or were nearing completion, and many major civil and infrastructural improvements for many rural parts of the country were at an advanced stage of development and many would be financed minus borrowing.

New platform needed

I believe the PNP's speaking points were made redundant by the finance minister's budget presentation last Tuesday. They will need to 'wheel and come again', as we say in the streets.

Mark Golding is scheduled to speak next Thursday. I think he will have to 'come good' to impress the Jamaican people that he has new and better ideas than the Holness Administration.

Many months ago I wrote in my The Agenda column that undecided and swing voters in marginal seats will determine the outcome of our next general election. I maintain that these folks, especially, want to hear answers to these and related questions:

1) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy faster?

2) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas to remedy the long-standing imbalances of our education system?

3) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas to fix the choking issue of major crimes, and murder in particular?

4) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas for a national identification system (NIDS)?

5) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas for better management of the social fallout occasioned mostly by COVID-19?

6) Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas for the revolutionising/repurposing of critical institutions that will enable Jamaica to take full advantage of the digital economy, and more broadly the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

7) And, how will their ideas, programmes, and or policies be operationalised?

No successful socialist country

In my article last Sunday I posited that there was no successful socialist country anywhere. I received a fair numbers of e-mail from individuals who were adamant that Sweden, Denmark, and Canada are thriving examples which prove that democratic socialism is reaping great success. They are mistaken.

I gleaned that many who brand themselves as socialist do not have clue as to what is socialism.

According to renowned Swedish author Johan Norberg, "Sweden is not a socialist country because the Government does not own the means of production." The big government of tax and spend in Sweden was something from the 70s and 80s.

Norberg says the country "went south" under that system. When this happened Sweden reduced government controls, cut public spending, privatised the national rail service, abolished some government monopolies, and sold many State-owned businesses. They switched to a school voucher system. Schools are forced to compete. They have one of the best systems of education in the world today.

The Swedish pension system was privatised, this according to an article in The New York Times, February 12, 2004. Before then the entire pension system was faced with collapse. Today, if the Swedish economy is doing well pensions increase; if she goes south, pensions are automatically lowered. Politicians, therefore, can't 'samfie' people by promising higher pensions when the national kitty is anaemic.

Former two-term prime minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in a recent lecture at Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics, said: "Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life."

Scandinavia is not socialist.

Canada is not a socialist State, nor does it have a socialist economy. It has a capitalist system. The means of production are overwhelmingly privately owned and operated to generate a profit for their private owners, not the State.

Democratic socialism will not work, because it cannot work. It has not worked anywhere in the world.

Garfield Higgins.

Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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