- Is our correctional, prison and lock up system “fair to all concerned?”
Mario Deane’s fate, (and you and I extend sympathy to his family), and so many others that have gone before, provide a resounding answer to that question – NO!
The police must, of course, take full responsibility and must be held accountable. The Cabinet Sub-Committee must have a definite and early timeline to report and we must hold them to account to ensure action on reforms to the administration of lock-ups. But are not other authorities, perhaps including we ourselves to share some responsibility. We and our representatives sat by while the 2013/2014 budget allocated a little over one hundred and ten (110) million dollars to maintain seventy (70) lock ups for an entire year, while fifty four (54) million dollars this year and close to one hundred (100) million dollars last year was spent for a one day grand gala. Is that prioritization of spending “fair to all concerned?”
- Then there is the taxation system. Next week when I receive my monthly cheque, like so many tens of thousands of Jamaicans on P.A.Y.E, over thirty one cents from every dollar shall be deducted, gone before we even see it. At the same time absolutely nothing, zero is being paid in taxes by 1 out of every 4 companies with revenues of over one billion Jamaican dollars. While the majority of them comply, this minority neither files returns nor pays any taxes.
- In the US, Canada and the UK many of those large tax evaders are investigated, caught, tried and sent to prison. In 2012 the UK’s DPP tells us that the top thirty two offenders in Britain were serving a total of one hundred and fifty (150) years in prison. In Jamaica we don’t even know who they are, they are getting away scotch free withholding billions from revenue while every evening we see on our television screens people in towns and districts across Jamaica protesting as authorities say there is no money to fix the roads, put in water supply systems etc. Is this tax system “fair to all concerned” as big shot tax evaders go free while the Mario Deane’s among us are in lock ups for a spliff?Is this system fair to the students who need a loan to enter university? As we speak two thousand (2000) of them are living in uncertainty, having received letters from the Student Loan Bureau indicating that no decision has yet been taken on the Loan because the Bureau is one billion dollars short, while billions are lost to tax evasion.
In this context, I have to ask the question, along with the Co-chairman of the EPOC, “ how come and why in the 3 months of the new fiscal year 2014/2015 corporate taxes are running $2.4 billion ( two point four billion dollars) or thirty two percent below budgeted”, while I hasten to add, “P.A.Y.E taxes are running half a billion more than budgeted?” There may be a good reason but the public needs to know, Tax Administration Jamaica needs to tell us why.
- And what about the educational system? Is it “fair to all concerned” when Jamaica is spending on average twenty thousand dollars per student in the early childhood institutions and over three hundred thousand dollars per student at the tertiary level? With this foundation built on sand, should we wonder why half of those who graduate from secondary schools leave without passing a single subject?
- Is the justice system being “fair to all concerned?” When almost two years ago, thirty years old Junior Christie had to serve three months in prison for stealing forty five pods of ackee valued at three hundred and fifty (350) Jamaica dollars from King’s House, while public servants found guilty of ‘illicit enrichment’ are simply fined, when a former Minister of Government found culpable by both the Auditor General and the Contractor General for “wholesale breaches of the government’s procurement and disbursement rules in respect of tens of millions of dollars” is judged to have no case to answer after a trial extending over 6 years, and most importantly, no reasons are given as to why the ex-Mnister no case to answer. “Is this fair to all concerned” or does it confirm one of the findings 7 years ago of the Task Force on the Reform of Jamaica’s Justice System, namely, that the justice system is “too unequal”.
- And what about our industrial relations system, “is it fair to all concerned” when over the last 2 years alone fifteen thousand (15,000) complaints have been received by the Ministry of Labour regarding breaches of the Minimum Wage Act and other labour laws?
- And our political system, is our governance arrangements “fair to all concerned” that a Member of Parliament who may be a total non-performer enjoys absolute job security for 5 years – the very same as an MP who is working hard ; is it fair to all concerned that the non-performer cannot be fired even if he or she says nothing in the House for 5 years, does nothing for 5 years, people in the constituency don’t see him or her for 5 years while he or she may be looking out for themselves while every other Jamaican, from the highest Appeals Court Judge to the janitor or household help enjoys no such job security and can, after due process, be fired for misconduct, negligence or incompetence at any time. Can this be “fair to all concerned” or should we not introduce the right of recall now existing in Belize, passed by the Trinidad House of Representatives last week, where the constituents as boss can fire the Member of Parliament, of course, following due process as any boss should be able to fire any employee.
- Is our banking system “fair to all concerned” not only with the charges for services rendered but also the balance in the allocation of loans and advances_ in 2013 a little under 8 billion dollars advanced by commercial banks to agriculture while 20 times that, one hundred and sixty seven (167) billion dollars is lent for “consumption” including of course motor vehicle purchases. How can that balance contribute to growth?
- And lastly, is our economic system “fair to all concerned”? That in the midst of the continuing crisis in which tens of thousands, in the middle and at the base of society, are struggling to make two ends meet, just to survive, especially now with the back to school and pending bus fare increases, that the income gap between the very top and the rest is getting wider. So much so that since 2011 according to data published by the IMF (Regional Economic Outlook: Western Hemisphere. May 2013), for the first in a long time, Jamaica has a higher level of income inequality, ahead of Haiti, ahead of Brazil, than any other country in the hemisphere with the exception of Suriname? Consistent with this, last March, the Gleaner reported that 2 top executives of one of our leading banks were being paid 4.5 million JMD per week at a time when the average weekly earning of wage earners in the Financial services sector was under 12,000 JMD per week
Jamaica’s systems are clearly failing this fundamental element of the 4 Way Rotary Test, a fundamentally human test is the system “fair to all concerned”.
But failing is not really our destiny nor our basic nature. We, Jamaicans are a people who have passed, indeed excelled, in so many tests, past and present, for us to accept failing the fairness test. We are a people of talent, capacity, of high performance, in the top ranks measured on so many global indicators.
- In the independence of the judiciary we are in the top third of one hundred and forty eight countries ( Global Competitivenss Report 2013/14)
- In the strength of our auditing and reporting standards, similarly.
- In the eradication of so many communicable diseases, like Malaria which plague so many other nations. Polio, the eradication of which Rotary International is leading the world we got rid of from 1982 at a time when one thousand children were still being crippled every single day around the world.
- In health and wellness, believe it or not we rank above the United States (Social Progress Index 2014)
- In Press Freedom we invariably top, not only the United States, but also Canada and the UK as well as other mature democracies.
- In terms of political stability, despite serious flaws in our system, we have never assassinated a President or Head of Government, as has happened in the US and in India,two of the world’s leading democracies; governing parties have given up power to opposition parties for 70 years in constitutionally mandated relatively free and fair elections without military rule (Nigeria), one party state (Tanzania), civil war or social strife – Thailand, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine and the list grows each day. Our system is by no means perfect and we have to improve it but let’s not belittle our gains and performance.
This global high performance is not just today. Historically, we abolished slavery before the United States; achieved adult suffrage before any other predominantly black country in the world, passed laws to protect women on maternity leave, requiring equal pay for equal work between men and women before most developed countries.
So it is in our, in our DNA to excel not to fail and we achieve excellence when we come together, decide enough is enough and say to one another injustice and unfairness has to stop.
Written by Professor Trevor Munroe