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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 “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.