This certainly is not a people’s budget

jamaican-money

The reading and debating of this year’s budget have been interesting in quite a few areas. First of all it is interesting to note that the Government has indeed managed to maintain a budget roughly in line with previous years. This shows fiscal discipline — something which the Fiscal Council is about. But the most interesting takeaways are the raft of tax cuts, which go to the financial elites, the relative lack of benefits for those who are not wealthy and how it looks — to me at least — that the sacrifices we made will not benefit us but will instead be used to further beat us down.

What are my issues with the tax cuts? Am I opposed to seamless business operations? Do I want to have companies burdened by unnecessary taxes which they will, in the end, seek to avoid paying? No, far from it. What I am most definitely opposed to is wiping away $16b from our books, not taxing those who can most afford to pay it while leaving the same level of taxes on those who can least afford it.

Sure, the reduction in transfer tax and stamp tax will greatly benefit some, and it will even benefit some in the business sector, but it is a sick joke to say that it will help the small business trying to stay afloat.

These tax cuts are directly geared towards the real-estate agent, large industrialist and the land speculator. It is going to be a boon for any landholder who may wish to make “a smalls”, and while it is good for the home buyer, that is a one-off (maybe twice) benefit in their lifetime while the large businesses and landholders will continually reap the windfalls from this move.

If the Government were serious about sharing this prosperity, they would have given the nation a reward for the decade of austere living by reducing GCT (as has already been mooted) or even a real (when adjusted for inflation) pay increase while maintaining those tax levels.

Better yet, instead of giving away $16 billion, why don’t we use it, invest it in our society, one which we all admit is in a broken state. Why not use this money to build a few schools or hospitals or health centres? Why not use this money to fund the agencies which are to complement the ZOSO, agencies such as Child Development etc? Instead of not collecting, why not finance a few roads or waterworks ourselves rather than borrowing and begging like a homeless person? Why don’t we, a nation tired of borrowing, use this money to invest in ourselves and build our country, maybe even create businessmen who take risks, rather than give the money away to a class and sector which have been just as culpable as the politicians in putting us in this no-growth predicament?

But apart from that, the question must be asked, how will the shortfall be covered, from where will we get the money? As a nation reluctant to borrow (we are still in bed with the IMF) could it be that the budget surplus may be raided to cover the shortfall? That may be the case. This is Jamaica after all, where no cow is too sacred to be sacrificed upon the altar of politics, as the NHT can attest. If that is the case, then this should worry every Jamaican as the seven per cent per year which we have been saving is supposed to be the holiest of the holiest and tied in (long-term) with our proposed fiscal council.

If it is that the surplus is to be raided to cover a tax giveaway to those who can afford it while the average man gets nothing, it sets a bad precedent. Is it that this intended independent Fiscal Council will continue with the long-discredited trickle down method while not even feigning interest in the welfare of the average citizen?

More importantly, if we can raid the seven per cent why not use the funds to build up our infrastructure? As a nation with non-existent roads in many areas, as a land with swaths of areas without running water, as a place which is bereft of streetlights, why don’t we use this money, this rainy-day money, to fix the country? Why not maintain the current tax regime (no cuts, not even GCT) and invest in the nation? A budget for all and a true prosperity budget would mention parks, green spaces, the rolling out of Internet into areas which currently don’t have access.

A true people’s budget would be directed towards auditing our debt so that we can ensure this madness never happens again and that the abettors be named and shamed instead of one geared towards ensuring that the creditors get repaid (akin to the pusher being repaid by the now sober ex-client).

A budget for the people, instead of being geared towards big businesses, could be used to explain a new type of work and economic operations in Jamaica. It could have outlined that Petrojam shares would be given as a bloc to workers and their families so that they can benefit after it is privatised, the same for NWC. A true budget of the people would be looking to break up the large and unused landholdings, thus freeing up land space for the people who will be accessing the NHT.

A budget for the people and truly geared towards prosperity may have even taken a risk and bought shares in a listed company and given it to the workers in order to see if operations in, say, the industrial sector, can be transformed in this new age of capital and wealth accumulation.

Instead of a people’s budget what we have received is a budget for those in high places. A one-off of NHT increases (as mentioned before, a house is once or twice in a lifetime) for the masses and possibly decades of lower taxes for those at the top. This is not shared prosperity, this is not what we have hunkered down and tightened our belts over the past decade for. The people are not asking for much, they are not beating down the doors of Gordon House demanding streets paved with gold, they are demanding a budget which reflects the fact that they, the majority, have suffered for decades and are now due for some relief.

Let us take note of this budget and remember it for it may very well be the template by which future governments structure their budgets — all for them and none for us. Either we make our displeasure and dissatisfaction known, that it is not enough, or we make do with muddling along with a bloated capitalist class and a working class constantly struggling to stay ahead of the game.

 

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