Poisonous property tax vine was planted long ago
Now that the dust has settled on the property tax debate it has become evident that the governing Jamaica Labour Party has saved the country from the poisonous vine that was rooted in the People’s National Party’s (PNP) mismanagement of the country’s affairs. A quick trip down a timeline of facts will further reveal a Government that has been gracious while the Opposition swings wild and desperate punches in the dark.
Of course, the Government could have started the property tax debate with the old-style, blame-game politics by highlighting the fact that they inherited a dire situation from the opposition where a land revaluation exercise that was done in 2013 would lead to massive increases in property values and property taxes by extension. However, the mature and forward-thinking Government led by Andrew Holness made no mention of the previous Administration’s mismanagement.
Instead of scoring cheap political points the Government announced the implementation of the 2013 valuation and attempted to ease the resulting burden with a significant reduction in property tax rates from the high range of 1.5 per cent - 2.0 per cent to a much lower range of 0.8 per cent - 1.3 per cent.
Can you imagine how high property taxes would have been without this rate cut and how much louder the outcry would have been? Sadly, the Opposition seized the opportunity to fuel public discontent, instead of being forthright with the people about the fact that they planted the seed that caused the property tax spike.
It is often said that, “If a dog bites a man it’s not news, but if a man bites a dog, you’ve got a story.” It’s not surprising that the Opposition wasn’t forthright with the Jamaican people about the land revaluation exercise. It is also not surprising that they they gazetted property tax increases during their term without securing parliamentary approval. It is definitely not surprising that the PNP jumped at every opportunity to score cheap political points. The real news story, however, is that the Andrew Holness-led Government chose to spend some of its tremendous political capital to clean up the previous Administration’s mess.
The Government has since chopped down the poisonous property tax vine with a massive slash in property tax rates to a new low range of 0.5 per cent to 0.9 per cent. The unprecedented move has provided further relief for the general public and gained support from major stakeholders. It seems as if it is only the Opposition PNP that refuses to support the move. Having suspended all logic by opposing for the sake of opposing and voting en bloc against the reduction in property taxes, they may have painted themselves into a corner. It would be tremendously difficult for the Opposition to now change course and graciously commend the Government for steering country away from stormy seas.
The PNP’s old-style political manoeuvring is something that Jamaicans have grown to recognise, distrust and abhor. Their inability to act with political maturity and to be straightforward with the people about the property tax issue is reminiscent of their 2016 election campaign. Coincidentally, the current leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips was the campaign director behind their bruising loss to the Jamaica Labour Party.
In stark contrast, Jamaicans now have the type of Government that they have longed for; where our leaders are willing to tackle the unfashionable issues and make the tough decisions that are in the best interest of the county. It is something we are not accustomed to and will take some time for a true appreciation to fully blossom. However, the current Administration’s responsible leadership is already bearing fruit, with consumer confidence and business confidence both at all-time highs.
I encourage them to remain focused on the current growth trajectory and to ignore the Opposition’s wild and desperate punches in the dark.
Stephen R P Edwards is the president of Generation 2000 (G2K), the young professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party. He is a civil engineer and former university lecturer. Send comments to the Observer or