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This debate has been conducted in the manner to which we have long been accustomed. One side seeks to showcase what has been achieved, the other side seeks to demonstrate how little, if any, has been achieved.
I question whether the interests of the people are best served by this approach. I question whether this format, so often defined by point-scoring and finger-pointing, allows for the frank, dispassionate discussion that needs to take place about the condition of our country, where we are, where we want to go and how we propose to get there.
Not that this debate has been acrimonious, but how useful has it been in enabling the people to better understand the issues that confront us and how they are being dealt with? And if the people don’t fully understand the issues, who are we to blame but ourselves?
Next year, we will mark our 50th year of independence. It will be a time to celebrate for, notwithstanding our failure to realize the dreams of independence, we have made progress under successive administrations. But it will also be a time for reflection and in that reflection we dare not deny that we should have done better. We are, ourselves, largely to blame for the fact that we have not reached the level of development of Singapore for in 1962 we were both at the same stage of development.
Changing the game
In confronting that issue, we have recognized that fundamental changes have to be made to the way we govern ourselves and manage our business. We have to take a game-changing approach. This budget reflects a significant part of that game change.
In the ongoing debate in the United States surrounding their budget, what is noticeable is the constant concern expressed among American voters about the need for budget cuts, reducing the deficit, curbing the excessive borrowing. They have that concern because they know that more spending, more borrowing and bigger deficits mean more taxes. It means higher interest rates, a weaker currency, a rougher time for businesses and fewer jobs.
Here in Jamaica, the conversation is starkly different. The constant demand is for us to spend more. It is not due to a lack of compassion that we don’t do more, pay more and spend more. To borrow the analogy used by the Leader of the Opposition, every family has to fit its expenses within the resources that it has. It may have to borrow to make those ends meet but every dollar that it borrows has to be paid back sometime and it starts paying the interest the moment it takes out that loan. That is our reality! The suggestion that if we cared for the poor we would do more… that is the fantasy!
We can’t blame the people for not understanding that if we ourselves either don’t understand it or don’t want the people to know that we understand it?
It is within those tight parameters that the budget has been framed and presented. But it is more than that. It is an integral part of an effort to reform and transform government’s fiscal arrangements to create the conditions for investment and growth without which we will not be able to do the more we need to do or care for the poor the way we want to do.