The Bard’s Birthday: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today is St. George’s Day, a rather patriotic day in England. It’s also William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday; he’s getting quite old.  In Kingston, Jamaica, the city is finally coming back to life after the torpor of the Easter holiday.

Still simmering: Resentment over the bank withdrawal tax still simmers. The Jamaican Twittersphere got itself quite tied up in knots over it. Finance Minister Peter Phillips held a press briefing yesterday which was closely followed on the live stream. The Minister tried to explain his broader strategy to modernize the tax administration system; he is seeking overseas assistance to do so. He also tried to explain why he reportedly said there would be no new taxes in the upcoming budget, in January; he said he was referring to petroleum tax specifically and that headlines had been misleading. Those PAYE workers who receive their pay through the bank find the tax unfair. The kind of thing that bugs me, though, is stuff like this: The case against a firm owned  by a People’s National Party activist, which allegedly owes over J$100 millions in General Consumption Tax, is still dragging through the courts after six years.

We have suffered from so many bad taxes – what results have we seen from all the taxes we have paid over the past few decades? Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw did not offer much of an alternative in his Budget presentation, but did say the Simpson Miller administration needed to “cut the fat” by reducing the size of government, cutting back on large overseas delegations, etc.  President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Chris Zacca tweeted that the tax is “ill-advised” in his opinion (and yes, traditional media has to post screenshots of tweets to keep up with social media, now). And today the Bankers’ Association of Jamaica expressed concern over the impact of the tax on the formal banking system. As well they might. The Jamaica Teachers’s Association is not happy, either. Anyone in favor…?

The “most vulnerable”: This is the Finance Minister’s and the International Monetary Fund’s favorite catch-phrase. They want to protect the “m.v”s at all costs. Who comes into this category now? To my mind, the Jamaican middle class is more vulnerable than ever!

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Minister’s “thing”: A curious conversation between CVM Television reporter Garfield Burford and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has left me wondering. Mr. Burford waylaid the PM outside Parliament to ask her to comment on the withdrawal tax. Mrs. Simpson Miller began, “Well, what I understand from the Minister’s thing today… (thing, Madam, PM?)” and ended up confusing herself and the viewer completely. She interrupted her non sequitur sentences to emphasize, “I think the Minister himself” will explain everything when he closes the debate. I don’t think she understands the tax at all; or, she was not possibly briefed; or, she disagrees and was hinting it would be pulled back? A puzzling interview, altogether.

Still smokin' … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill.

Still smokin’ … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill. Quite distant, but very much there.

NEPA getting tough: Smoke still wafts across parts of Kingston from the Riverton City dump, five days after another fire started there. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has served an enforcement notice on the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), insisting that the operators of the dump strengthen security and that it provides full details of how the fire started. NEPA is threatening to withdraw the permit that it only just gave the NSWMA in March.

NEPA has also ordered Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited to stop the unauthorized clearing of land outside the highway in breach of its permit, which China Harbour Engineering Company is building. It seems they are over-zealous in their environmental destruction. No comment.

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Kudos and commendations!

Fifteen years of remarkable work: Happy fifteenth birthday to Jamaicans for Justice, the human rights lobby group that was born in 1999 – at the foot of Jack’s Hill in Kingston, where a group gathered – during the April “gas riots” protesting then Finance Minister Omar Davies’ imposition of a tax on gasoline.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley. I am not sure if he is environment spokesman, am trying to find out.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley, the Opposition’s Spokesman on the Environment.

Opposition Spokesman on the Environment Dr. Andrew Wheatley, who has asked the question,“My position is that we need to decide, what is the greater priority: The health of the nation or cheaper energy?” in relation to the question of coal (why are we even considering coal? The World Bank is no longer funding any projects involving coal). Oh yes, China Harbour Engineering Company want to use a coal-fired plant to provide electricity for their planned port on the beautiful Goat Islands in Jamaica’s largest Protected Area. What a travesty!

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

American Friends of Jamaica - led by former U.S. Ambassadors to Jamaica – recently gave J$14 million-plus in grants to community-based organizations. Every year they raise funds for grassroots Jamaican organizations with little fanfare. Thank you so much!

The "Gleaner" office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Gleaner” office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Old Lady of North Street”, our venerable newspaper the Gleaner, which is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year. It is in fact the oldest company in Jamaica. I hope it will seek to maintain and uphold journalistic standards for many more decades to come.

Two unidentified men were killed since Sunday: One in Waterford/Portmore, St. Catherine and the other on Woodlawn Road in Mandeville, Manchester.  I have not been able to find their names, but I have no doubt they are mourned.

ON THE ROAD: My friend and fellow blogger Dennis Jones does not believe that Jamaican drivers are generally indisciplined. I have to disagree. Speeding remains a huge problem, and the holiday weekend’s occurrences underline this. Four people died and many others were injured in crashes over Easter – including a minibus carrying twenty people to a beach outing on the north coast. The bus was apparently trying to overtake a car, which was turning right. 

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. What a good read.

    I haven’t seen the PSM/Burford interview yet, but heard it was generally good.

    Who’s for the bank tax? A few UWI economists, from what I read. (Might be nice to put a link to the bankers association response; add to that the recent comments (on RJR FM’s ‘Beyond The Headlines’ last evening) from the President of the Securities Dealers Association that the tax is “unworkable”, “operational nightmare”, poses logistical problems, and should be pulled back. They cited concerns about financial system liquidity and how the tax would eat into investors’ returns. (Dr. Phillips was coy about the level of consultation he’d had before proposing the tax.)

    Drivers’ indiscipline? (You may want to add a link so that people can check my views :-)). We may have to put out what we see as discipline and indiscipline–seriously; the term has no specific definition. I may play with that and share something while I’m ‘on the road’ in FL. We should draw Lucien Jones/NRSC into this conversation.

    NEPA & NSWMA seem to be unsure of each other as dance partners, and the suggested ‘security’ measures leave a few gaping holes, from what I read.

    CHEC, check. Another case for a lot of vigilance.

    • I am not sure about the PM interview being “good” – I found it astonishing! Did you watch the link? Yes, I know everyone is against the bank tax, it seems. I saw a few people wearing black in protest yesterday (seems a bit of a tame protest, but…) The bankers’ statement was slightly belated. Yes, I noted Min Phillips’ terse response to a question about the banks, and no follow-up question from the journalists. Re: drivers in Jamaica, I often do ask Lucien for his views on Twitter, he’s there quite often. I think speeding is a HUGE problem (and that is indiscipline, to me!) and there are not enough traffic police around. I heard the head of NSWMA on radio and she seems very defensive. She seemed to think securing the place was an almost impossible task. But she did make a good point, that the dump should be covered and should be a proper landfill, which it is NOT. That would certainly make a huge difference. But of course, no money available…

  2. Thanks for comprehensive panoramic view of current events. I get so busy I lose track of news but your blog helps me catch up without losing my breath.

    Re proposed bank levy : I at first was as irate as others, opposing the idea in horror . On discussing it in the family ( with pro PNP folk I must admit ) I have shifted my position to one of support. Firstly I now understand it is a levy on the banks not on the customer . I am convinced the banks’ enormous profits can absorb this additional tax without passing it on to their clients. THAT is what I would protest!!

    I am so mad at the government’s and my own , as civil society’s inactivity around the banks’ numerous and hefty charges on users for every bank transaction. The motion or whatever it’s called – presentation to parliament by the courageous minister (?) on the issue has been lost it seems in the paperwork. I saw a notice in the press some weeks ago inviting the public to present papers to address the issue .

    Those who protest this new bank levy must also ask the banks what about all the earnings from their charges on us the customers ! Surely they can pay the levy without passing it on to us. Also to ask what is their solution to averting this economic crisis assailing the country . For if Jamaica goes down so will the banks. Then again many are foreign based so they can just pull out and go elsewhere. I expect our local banks to be leaders in presenting solutions.

    • You’re most welcome, Pat! I know it’s hard to keep up… I have also rather modified my thoughts on the bank levy. I was pretty irate too… But thinking about it further, I’m wondering if the Minister really had a better option or options. And yes, I am afraid the banks have already said (I think I heard Patrick Hylton of NCB) that they WILL pass the cost on to the customers… I too (always) expect more from the banks (apart from their hefty quarterly profits) and am disappointed that they don’t play a more proactive role in moving the country forward economically. Anyway for the Minister, it’s a “rock and the hard place” situation – as it so often is… :-(

  3. Always love your comments on the daily grind. Re China Harbour clearing land beside the highway they are building, I heard they are going to be given land beside the highways for them to put shops and attractions! I didnt believe it when I heard it, but …..

  4. Jamaica has many problems, which need to be corrected. However, not all of the solutions are presented in clear ways for people to follow. A few examples that come from our conversations. 1. Garbage–but few places to dispose of it in general; a haphazard way of dealing with it at national level (eg Riverton dump). 2. Driving: It’s learned behaviour. Show me the clearly stated rules, then match that against the behaviour. Most roads have no posted signs. Few people are designated to monitor and supervise behaviour. Therefore, most people do what they feel is alright, naturally. Bad experiences that some experience wont change general behaviour. (NRSC can’t succeed in bringing down road deaths until road rules are clearly stated and a campaign is mounted to get people to understand, then follow these.) We may have notions of right/wrong on the roads but they are not shared universally. 3. Tax compliance: it’s quite rational to not pay taxes if the chances of being forced to pay are low–that’s just natural. It’s actually odd that compliance is so high, and that’s largely due to PAYE.

    Not having or applying rules benefits a lot of people, so the incentive to ‘correct’ that is a huge challenge, because so many people are ‘eating’ from such situations.

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