Is the shop really empty?


With Betty Ann Blaine

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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Dear Reader,

The disclosure last week that the People's National Party administration bought 16 new SUVs for its ministers of government is simply unbelievable, given the public outcry that accompanied that type of action in the past, but even more seriously considering the current state of the Jamaican economy.

Soon after he assumed office as finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips began talking about how badly the Jamaican economy was doing, and the severe crisis of indebtedness in which the country now finds itself. In his parliamentary address Dr Phillips went to great pains to disclose and expound on the severity of the situation and capped the context of his presentation to the nation by declaring that "the shop is empty".

Those words coming from the man in charge of the country's finances were sobering to say the least. The image of an empty shop resonated with me, and many Jamaicans I am sure felt certain that Dr. Phillips as chief messenger of the doom and gloom proclamation, meant what he said.

Well, that doesn't appear to be the case after all, and the adage comes readily to mind: "There is many a slip between the cup and the lip."

What the minister and chief shopkeeper didn't tell us was that it was not the whole shop that was empty, and that in fact there was a part of the shop that has certain goods in stock - goods set aside for "preferred" and special customers. The purchase of 16 brand new SUVs for government ministers is proof positive that the shop is definitely not empty.

I am personally appalled at the lack of conscience that a move such as that indicates. How can the government justify the purchase of brand new SUVs at a time when the country is in perhaps the worst economic condition we have ever been in?

How can the government be asking the citizens of Jamaica to tighten our belts and sacrifice when government ministers themselves are not prepared to live by the same dictates?

How can the government be talking about cutting public sector jobs and freezing wages while at the same time engaging in this kind of extravagance? Is there anybody in the administration with the conscience or courage to challenge the double-speak and double-standards?

The rank and file members of the civil service (and I'm well aware of the type of cars the higher-ups drive), though contractually muzzled, should be up in arms about this.They must notice, as I have, that the entire discourse about the IMF (International Monetary Fund) agreement appears to be predicated on public sector cuts. One gets the feeling that it is the civil servants who are being made the scapegoats of the country's austerity woes and the stumbling block to a successful IMF agreement.

I wish to remind those "hawks" that our civil servants did not hire themselves and that many of them have faithfully and diligently served this country over a long period of time.

It is true that we must cut spending, but to have government workers who have families, mortgages, car loans, school fees and other normal monthly expenses to meet, continue to work with the uncertainty of the sharpened axe hanging over their heads is neither fair, nor to a certain extent smart. As far as I am concerned, the purchase of the 16 brand-new SUVs for government ministers has now clearly shifted the discourse and the targeted "sacrificial lambs" ought to find a way to make their voices heard.

Then there is the argument that the new SUVs are essential for government ministers traversing hilly and difficult terrain.My response is, "Really?" So what about the citizens of those communities who have to traverse the same terrain day in and day out? How do they do it? Furthermore, how often do government ministers and MPs visit certain constituencies, including their own? That lame excuse about geography ought to be debunked once and for all.

Not only is the administration guilty of unnecessary and unwarranted extravagance, it has missed the perfect opportunity to begin shifting the palate and consciousness of Jamaicans from large, high-end gas-guzzling vehicles, to smaller, more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly automobiles.

You would think that the message coming from the administration given the global and domestic realities, including and especially the cost of oil, would be one that says, "We will be the first and best example of the kind of lifestyle change that is essential to the survival of our country." Not so. Instead, the administration is justifying the "entitlement" mentality that has been part and parcel of governance for far too long.

If wage cuts and salary freezes are a part of the IMF pre-requisites for lending us money, then so too should the unnecessary purchase of luxury vehicles for government officials. Actually, if the IMF were to visit our House of Parliament on any day it meets, it may very well decide that we really don't need any help. After all, the fleet of high-end vehicles on display, some possibly with air-conditioning units running, would make us look more like first world than third world.

With love,




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