What would you have done differently, Phillips?
I paid keen attention to Peter Phillips’s presentation on the 2017/2018 national budget in his role as Opposition spokesperson on finance. Unfortunately, Phillips did a great job at reigniting disinterest in Jamaican politics with his predictable delivery that was filled with criticism and negativity. It is simply disappointing that the person who is expected to step into the driver’s seat of the People’s National Party’s (PNP) jeep failed to offer an alternative course for the country.
The Opposition’s show had the same plot as many before, where Phillips, as the main character, merely followed the ancient practices of finger-pointing and preaching doom and gloom upon the land. With the bar set so low — where the Opposition’s delivery isn’t required to have much intellectual rigour — it is not surprising that there is disinterest in Jamaican politics, and by extension widespread voter apathy. Quite frankly, if Peter Phillips’s presentation were a movie I would have requested a refund, since I have seen and heard it all before.
In the past, a small group of PAYE workers carried a tremendously heavy and unfair tax burden, essentially filling the financial gap that exists as a result of the country having a large informal economy that isn’t included in the tax net. The general consensus among leaders of the country is that the best way to create an equitable tax system is to capture the informal economy by shifting from direct taxation through income tax to a new structure of indirect taxation, which spreads the burden out. In layman’s terms, "many hands make the work light."
It would have been prudent of Phillips to inform the country about which items his party would have imposed taxes on, instead of merely criticising the plans presented by the Government. Would the PNP impose more taxes that burden the poor directly, as they did by taxing patties and ATM transactions? Would they attempt to increase tax compliance by arresting hard-working Jamaicans who are forced to have ‘side jobs’ in order to make ends meet?
Peter Phillips missed an opportunity to tell the people of Jamaica what his party would have done differently to shift towards indirect taxation.
In the future we should challenge Opposition parties to present detailed alternative national budgets. Not only will this empower the citizens of Jamaica, but it will also foster a shift in culture away from divisive criticisms towards constructive debates.