Monday, April 16, 2007

Children of a lesser God

The first thought about what to write this week was of course the budget, as everyone else has done. In fact I was preparing to do so, as the expenditure estimates do need some further explanation. At the time of writing the revenue estimates have not yet been presented and so would not have been a focus.

The question as to what I should comment on though was answered on Easter Sunday while at the gas station. While there I saw a young boy, aged 10, trying to sell some sweets. I called him and started to question him about where his mother was and why at his age he was on the street and not at home studying. He indicated to me that his mother was very sick and that he had to sell the sweets in order to be able to go to school the following week. I gave him some money and told him to make sure he keeps out of trouble knowing too well that this is just one of many such children who are victims of the violent culture of the streets.

I have always had a lot of respect for Andrew Holness but cannot support any call for locking up parents for wrongs done by their children. I believe they should have some civil responsibility but not criminal. Any such action would be panic management, which is one of the worst things that you can do in a crisis. Where would we stop though? Should we also lock up the child services officers that are supposed to see to the welfare of children?

This I thought was more important to comment on than a group of rowdy parliamentarians presenting and arguing over some numbers. I might add numbers that really have no meaning, as it is only presented to appease government creditors and the populace into feeling good that government is spending some money or didn’t impose any new taxes this year. Don’t get me wrong, the budget process is important from the point of view that it provides us with insight as to how the economy may be impacted but really and truly does not provide any strategic direction.

Wrong approach
This though is the way we approach many things we do, both in the public and private sectors, but more so in government because there is no market to keep them in check. Every year we go through the budget process it seems to be an exercise in balancing the books rather than used as a tool to develop the long term strategic objectives of the country, like our tax policies, but then again it does not seem as if we have any strategies at all. So because of this lack of vision for our country we have situations like that little boy who has to be on the streets at the age of 10 selling sweets in order to go to school the next week. Because of the lack of vision the nightly news always seems to have an appeal from some poor person, who cannot afford medication to save their life, appealing to the public. Instead of spending money on improving people’s lives so that we can have greater productivity, however, we find it more important to build expensive stadiums and then figure out what to do with them.

The fact is that even after we have agreed on the budget, and determine that it is the best we can do in the circumstances, what will be the result? We will as usual come with a massive supplementary estimate because the budget numbers were not practical. We will continue to spend massive amounts on off-budget expenditures such as Air Jamaica, SCJ, and JUTC, and at the end of the year we will be told what amounts were spent. We will continue to borrow more money above the projected loan receipts, resulting in the poor people having to forgo another year of basic social services. We will continue to spend the money on so called legacy investments such as the Trelawny multi-purpose stadium while people in Jamaica cry out for running water.

So at the end of the day I ask, what is the sense of creating budgets and us analysts wasting time on them if it does not guide our strategic decisions and we do not maintain fiscal discipline. It seems that proper planning is not only a Jamaican issue but extends to the Caribbean. How can the politicians in CARICOM now be saying that the organizing committee for cricket did not negotiate the terms of the host agreement correctly?

How can we now be saying, US$400 million later, that we negotiated incorrectly and gave the ICC most of the revenues? What happened to the enthusiasm with which the politicians applauded the world cup efforts while enjoying the luxuries of the opening ceremony at the expense of Jamaica’s poor? The organizers will no doubt have to bear the brunt of the criticisms though as it is obvious that there was not much consideration given to the economic environment when setting ticket prices, which I believe to be the main inhibition to greater attendance.

No proactivity
As usual though we do not proactively deal with issues for fear that we may offend a party supporter, or in the case of a company, an employee. Never worry that the cost of delaying any action is always going to be greater to the country, or company, in the long run. The West Indies cricket team, for example, proved that they are no longer in the top cricketing teams. This is actually no surprise because who in their right mind would have thought that they would have won the world cup. But even though we have known of the weakness of the team, for years we continue to blame the players. If the players for years continue to show poor results, is the problem with the players or the administration. Unless we deal with the persons running cricket then we will get no better.

It seems obvious to me that Jamaicans are children of a lesser God. I say this because if, as it is said, God is guiding this government then I cannot safely say that it is the merciful God that we as Christians have all grown up knowing. It must be a lesser God that Jamaicans in particular are the children of. I say this because the persons that have been sent to govern us from independence until now have only served to inflict pain on this country.

Instead of practically managing the country’s business we see where calls are being made for reparation. Now tell me, if we had, from 1962, managed the affairs of this country properly would we need to be calling for monies for wrongs caused on our mother’s ancestors when our father’s ancestors were the ones that did the wrong. After all our motto says “out of many one people” because it is accepted that we are a mixed up nation. How many of us can say that we are pure descendants of the slaves. The fact that most of us are mixed should we be looking for partial reparation and what is the ratio.

As far as I know, the purpose of the budget is to set out the expenditures to be undertaken by government to run the affairs of the country for a year. The budget does not support any long tern strategic objectives, however, so what is the sense of it. We have had budgets every year since independence. Have people’s lives generally got any better? I will continue, however, to provide commentary for Jamaicans so that they can understand what is presented, as it is a necessary evil we labour through each year and it gives an insight into how the government is thinking.

Never mind my rhetoric though because when all is said and done we do need to have a budget. My hope is that some day the budget will be a tool used to support strategic long term objectives for the development of Jamaica.

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