Jamaica’s first female prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller demits office as leader of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) at the end of this week, March 26.
Her departure as PNP leader, and Leader of the Opposition marks the end of a chapter in Jamaica’s history that Simpson Miller began in 2006, eleven interesting years.
When Simpson Miller made her final presentation as Opposition Leader last week in the 2017 budget debate, she received a long-lasting bi-partisan standing ovation. Several photos also circulated on social media of her posing affectionally with members of the ruling JLP government.
It seems fitting that in Simpson Miller’s last speech as Opposition Leader, she focused, among other issues, on the need to end domestic and sexual abuse being meted out to young girls and women in Jamaica, and the budget presented by Minister of Finance Audley Shaw. She particularly criticized tax measures included in the budget which is poised to inflict more hardships on Jamaicans.
Her designated successor as PNP leader, former Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips, also strongly criticized Shaw for a budget that seeks to increase taxes on commodities like electricity, petrol, and even health insurance premiums.
It’s traditional for governments to be criticized for the annual budgets they present. National budgets are instruments indicating how public funds will be spent, and the source of revenue to meet these expenditures. National budgets either reflect cuts in popular projects to alleviate the necessity of meeting expenditure through raising taxes, or increased taxes to maintain popular projects.
The budget tabled by Minister Shaw seems confusing, and has the resemblance of what some refer to as a “three-card-trick.” On one hand, it seeks to reduce income tax paid by Jamaicans earning under J$1.5 million annually. On the other hand, the same budget increases consumption taxes on inescapable products like electricity and petrol used directly and indirectly by people earning below, and above, $1.5 million per annum.
The incumbent government was elected to office on February 25, 2016 on the promise to relieve the income tax burden on a significant percentage of the Jamaican population. This promise was reiterated immediately the government took office, but attracted criticism as being impractical. How could the government in a situation where its predecessors struggled to find revenues to meet expenditure, function without a significant percentage of revenue from income tax? Wouldn’t the government need to raise taxes from other sources like consumption taxes? The new government assured Jamaicans such alternative taxes wouldn’t be imposed to meet the void of reducing income taxes.
The revenue budget introduced by the government gives a lie to, and breaks, promises made to Jamaicans when it assumed office in 2016.
The Jamaican Diaspora despite being unable to vote as to which party governs Jamaica, is nonetheless extremely concerned what takes place in their homeland. And, although the Diaspora is aware its financial remittances to Jamaica isn’t sufficient to meet the budgeted expenditures of the Jamaican government, the diaspora is concerned the new proposed taxes could break the wall of Jamaica’s social tolerance.
The majority in the Diaspora supports the views of outgoing and incoming Opposition Leaders, Simpson Miller and Dr. Phillips, that the government should review its proposed revenue budget, and amend some of the taxes proposed.
It’s hoped the bi-partisan camaraderie expressed last week in the Jamaican Parliament when Simpson Miller ended her budget presentation prevails. It’s hoped the incumbent administration heed the choir of voices appealing to it to revise the revenue budget, and it work in a bi-partisan manner with the new Opposition Leader, and the parliamentary opposition generally, to raise revenues which does not continue to erode the standard of living of most Jamaicans.
This is an appeal from the majority of the Jamaican Diaspora.