As often as we can in the region, we severely criticise our politicians, ministers of governments, and even our prime ministers, over genuine matters as well as some issues that can only be described as frivolous and vexatious, just to use some legal jargons.
Strong leaders such as the late Sir Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago would often turn a blind eye to such criticisms by simply invoking one of his favourite idioms: “Let the Jackass bray.”
Other politicians and leaders are extremely “thin-skinned” and would therefore resort to all sorts of unprofessional and unethical behaviours to try to “silence” their critics! To those who fall within this segment, I say: It is time to get serious!
Fortunately, the kind of seriousness to which I allude was on strong display two weeks ago when the St. Lucian Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Kenny Anthony, delivered what can only be characterised as a most telling response to a question from a member of an audience he had only just addressed at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus.
In his response, Dr. Anthony urged his fellow Caribbean leaders to emerge from their state of denial when it comes to the economic and financial realities facing regional economies. I am enormously proud of you, Prime Minister Anthony for such a “bold and fresh” assertion! We the people of the region undeniably need much more of that sort of behaviour from our leaders, period! But, do we learn from such experiences? I doubt it very much! Why?
A few days following that important call from the St. Lucian Prime Minister, the Grenadian leader delivered a national address to his nation in which he was expected to outline some of the major financial and economic policies which his Administration intends to implement as part of an IMF-aided home-grown structural adjustment programme. Grenadians awaited that speech with bated breath. To put it mildly, the people were left rather disappointed because the address lacked real policy content and logic!
You see, on April 17, 2013 the Jamaican Government signed a “letter of intent” with the IMF in relation to the country’s most recent engagement with that international financial institution.
In that document, the Government made clear its intention to implement sweeping economic reforms and undertake several “belt-tightening” fiscal and sectoral policies to first stabilise the Jamaican economy and subsequently to put the country back on a sustained economic growth and development path.
Measures announced included the application of a customs administration fee (CAF) on all imports except for charitable organisations and the bauxite sector; an amendment to the fee structure and gross profit tax of betting, gaming, and lottery sector; increased property tax rates to take effect during fiscal year 2013/2014; and the initiation of measures to improve the relatively low property tax compliance rate.
Despite the potential fallout, the Government of Jamaica knew it had to put its fiscal house back in order as a necessary step to growing the economy and therefore wasted no time in designing policies that are capable of achieving that noble goal. That is the action of a serious Government.
In contrast, the Grenadian leader chose, in his recent National Address, to feed the public “propaganda” about the performance of his Administration to date as opposed to using the opportunity to level with the people on the exact nature of the policies to be implemented shortly.
To you, Prime Minister, Mitchell, I say: It is time to get serious and start treating your citizens as an intelligent, mature people!
Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies).