For those who celebrate it… Happy Easter, everyone. This blissfully quiet long weekend in town continues. It seems our entire neighborhood has migrated, except us. We are enjoying it.
Budget anger: On Thursday, Finance Minister Peter Phillips told Jamaicans how he plans to finance the 2014/15 budget. His announcement of a “progressive” tax on bank transactions has gone down like a lead balloon among Jamaica’s middle classes (let’s just call them the “working poor.”) The levy on withdrawals from deposit-taking institution and encashment from securities dealers is expected to raise J$2.3 billion – about one third of the announced tax package. As I write, some are questioning economist Dr. Damien King’s interpretation of that word “progressive.” Attorney at law Marc Ramsay (now here’s another Jamaican blog you should follow – http://www.marcramsay.com) is encouraging Jamaicans to sign an online petition that is circulating protesting the taxes. Actually I believe there’s more than one. Dr. King says: “It’s progressive because the poorest hardly use banks so they will pay zero. Use of banks rises with income…” Hmm.
Why the bitterness? It’s something called distrust. Young Member of Parliament and State Minister Damion Crawford tweeted that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about, adding fuel to the fire of discontent. But Jamaicans all know about two things: corruption, and tax dodgers. When are measures going to be taken to address these issues? I understand that would be difficult and costly, so let law-abiding Jamaicans suffer with new tax measures. One man said on television that he is going to start saving his money under his mattress. Jamaicans already pay very high bank charges (this is a government tax, of course).They are anxious about a pending large increase in electricity bills. The prevailing mood is a simmering anger. Meanwhile, at the end of 2013 the Gleaner reported from the Auditor General’s report: “Eleven importers who owed the Government some $1.2 billion in general consumption tax (GCT) and other taxes from 2011 were still able to get waivers valued at $4.2 billion in the last financial year.” It’s against this kind of background that Jamaicans feel they are being unfairly treated, again.
“Phablets,” Minister? Oh, there is no customs duty on “phablets.” This is the first time I have ever heard this word. Where did you get it from, Minister Phillips?
The inflation rate for the fiscal year ended up at 8.3 per cent, just below the target range of 8.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent. For this and more economic data, http://www.digjamaica.com is an excellent source, by the way.
On a positive note: Good changes are taking place at Alpha Boys’ School, which was recently dragged into a completely unnecessary controversy. Apart from the Alpha Boys’ School Radio (which I recommend highly!) and a new music studio, a screen-printing training program will set up shop soon, with support from the Digicel Foundation and others. The football field is reportedly once again in very good shape. After all, “Onwards and Upwards” is their motto!
AGAIN? So soon? Yes, the Riverton City dump (and I wish the officials would stop calling it a “landfill”) starting burning again on Friday night – fifteen acres of it. This close-up photo was taken by a news team who visited there yesterday. Now, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) says the fire is “contained” (but not necessarily out) and I hear there was nasty smoke billowing out up to last night. How could this happen again?
The drought deepens: It is hot and it is windy in Kingston. We can literally feel the yard drying out, minute by minute. But we must – must – conserve water, as supplies are getting alarmingly low in both the reservoirs that serve the city. They contain about three to four weeks’ worth of water, we understand. This is frightening. Montego Bay got some rain yesterday, but the capital city desperately needs some really good, heavy showers.
Disturbing: I was surprised and disturbed by a full-page article by the Sunday Observer’s “Editor-at-Large,” an all-out ad hominem attack on former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields. The editor did not like Mr. Shields’ concerns over a sensational, front-page report in the same newspaper last week, making certain allegations relating to the Vybz Kartel murder trial (I did not write about this as I considered it irresponsible journalism myself). Mr. Shields suggested the report was indeed irresponsible, in that it put peoples’ lives at risk. The editor’s vitriolic response was unnecessary and very unpleasant, indeed. Come on, Sunday Observer… As I have said in previous blog posts every week, you can rise above the gutter. Don’t dig yourselves in deeper.
Easter recommendations and kudos:
I’ve been listening to some great roots reggae, ska, dub, you name it today on http://www.alphaboysschoolradio.com. Yes, the Alpha Boys’ School Radio station is up and running online; you can even download the free mobile app for your android or iPhone. Find them on Twitter and Facebook. Tune in! According to the radio station, Alpha Boys’ Band started in 1892 with drum and fife; then got some brass instruments from the United States. The boys found out then that it was “a lot of hard work, a lot of practice.”
Food for the Poor Jamaica has done its twice-a-year routine, ensuring the release of 21 prisoners who were unable to pay fines for minor offenses and ended up in jail. So they are enjoying the Easter weekend with family, now. Thank you!
Remember the Coptics? As the debate on ganja legalization/decriminalization continues, fellow blogger Barbara Blake Hannah reminds us of a piece of history: the emergence of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church in eastern Jamaica during the seventies, and the impact this had on Jamaican society and politics. Read more at http://barbarablakehannah.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/remember-the-coptics/
Many congratulations to Antoinette Wemyss-Gordon, who has become the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard’s first female Commanding Officer. What an achievement! Interestingly, she says women should not “rely on their femininity” when seeking to advance their military career. Male colleagues, she adds, “expect you to behave equally like them, like just another officer. That’s where you earn your respect.”
It’s very sad that four Jamaicans were murdered on Good Friday. Among them, a teenage boy and a friend who were reportedly targeted by robbers in Clarendon. Another teenager was injured. My condolences to the families who are mourning this weekend:
Phillip Douglas, 24, Farm/May Pen, Clarendon
Omar Joseph, 16, Farm/May Pen, Clarendon
Owayne Barrett, 33, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Nigel Steele,Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Nain, St. Elizabeth
On the road: A 69-year-old woman was killed in Chudleigh, Manchester on Thursday. The driver was apparently speeding, hit a wall, and the woman who was a passenger was flung out of the car. Was she wearing a seat belt? In any case, can we please just SLOW DOWN? And another young policeman was killed that day, while riding his motorcycle in Kingston. I hope everyone is taking care on the roads this holiday weekend.