by Kavon Fiennes
There is Economics, Political Economics and then there is Jamaican Economics. Successive Jamaican governments, for the better part of the last 25 years have been increasing the number of Ministries it operates, creating an ever-expanding monster of a public sector.
Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul (and in some instances borrowing from Peter to pay back Peter) has also led to the creation of the largest and only legal Ponzi scheme in the country and in the region. We have reached the point where the government is unable to collect taxes effectively, intentionally making it difficult for citizens to pay their taxes; and now, surprise, surprise…Jamaica has been described as the Greece of the Western Hemisphere by an editorial in the Chicago Tribune.
We now owe in excess of J$1.5 trillion to our creditors.
I have some humble, but drastic ideas on how to cut Govt spending. This will not involve trimming off the top, but will require wholesale items facing the chopping block…let me begin (and end) with chopping a number of Ministries…. I will use figures based on the budget figures tabled for the fiscal year 2012-2013:
First up is the Ministry of Tourism & Entertainment (the “shell dung” ministry). Firstly, why do we need one a Tourism Ministry? We already have a Director General and a Director of Tourism, we have a Tourist board, various resort boards, a Tourism Enhancement Fund, TPDco, etc….Also a ministry to Entertain? That sounds as bogus as Trinidad & Tobago’s “Ministry of the People”. We can cut out all of this without flinching. (SAVINGS J$3.1 Billion)
Next on the chopping block is the Ministry of Youth & Culture (I will now rename it, the “Salted” Ministry, following the blessing of the Ministry’s offices by Dr. Marjorie Lewis during the week of Jan 7th, 2013). I am confused as to the purpose of this Ministry… Really, for what purpose does the Ministry exist? We already have a Jamaica Cultural Development Commission; various dance companies, various arts groups, and an Institute of Jamaica. Does the government want to have oversight of culture? We also have an Office of the Children’s Advocate, and a Children’s Ambassador…. To my mind, Jamaican culture is de-evolving and our children remain in peril in their communities and more so when they become wards of the State…. We could save the taxpayers this wasted expense. (SAVINGS J$3 Billion)
The Ministry of Local Govt & Community Development (the “Cyaan Collect Garbage” Ministry)…As far as I am aware, there is hardly any community development happening in the country to warrant the expenditure here. There are garbage pile ups in gullies and on roadsides across the length and breadth of the country; and at the capital city’s dump, there are recurrent fires with billowing plumes of toxic smoke bathing her citizens within the dump’s environs. Jamaicans in many low-income (and not so low income) communities also suffer from chronic effluent overflows onto their streets. What is the point of having Councillors, Regional Corporations, the NSWMA and Local Government elections? One less Ministry to worry about. (SAVINGS J$7.5 Billion)
My next suggestion will provoke the most emotion from readers. However, in my opinion the Ministry of Education (the Ministry of perpetuating illiteracy) has to go! When 25% of students enter Jamaican High Schools totally illiterate and 40% are functionally illiterate; we end up with 40% who don’t make it to Grade 11. When we look at “subjects” as a benchmark for achievement, we see that more than 90% of student who enter high school leave with 3 or fewer subjects! We are wasting our time and money with the government running education…Let’s hand over ALL SCHOOLS to the Churches and other NGOs. Non-government entities have proven without a shadow of doubt that their management of schools is far superior to schools run by the government. The government’s role in education should be limited to paying teachers’ salaries and plant maintenance. (Potential Maximum SAVINGS J$74.8 Billion)
A Ministry of Agriculture? (The “Mi can eat ah food” Ministry) This Ministry probably has the worst track record of all. Nothing substantive has emerged from Old Hope Road in decades to stop the decline of Jamaica’s agricultural production. From RADA, to the Cassava Project, to the twilight years of the cocoa, banana and sugar plantations. Declining yields and loss of preferential markets in the EU have meant that taxpayer expenditure on this Ministry is like flogging a dead horse. We get more foreign aid for sugar and banana than the total Ministry’s budget! (More SAVINGS J$3.7 Billion)
The Ministry of Water, Land, Environment & Climate Change (“It’s a big Ministry and I am not sure which area my incoming Junior Minister will like” Ministry). Not sure what the function of this ministry is at all…did we need it 20-30 years ago? Since it’s institution, how has it helped to advance the development of Jamaicans and/or the country’s infrastructure? Not helpful you say?…Gone! SAVINGS (J$3.1 Billion)
What of Sports? Our government is not, and will never be responsible for Jamaica’s sporting excellence. Our sporting facilities are costing the taxpayers an arm and a leg to keep them open and running. There is no revenue coming into the public coffers from Sporting facilities or the income-generating events they are billed to host…. On a side note, why is Caymanas Track Ltd under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance? Why is the government involved in horse racing? Cut it now! (SAVINGS a billion or two)
Then there is the Office of the Prime Minister with its slush fund budget. This could be shaved in half and none of the poor would be hurt. (SAVING a half to three-quarter billion)
By a conservative estimate these cuts would save us in the region of J$70-85 Billion per year. With the compulsory and inevitable Supplemental Budget, there could even be additional savings, perhaps as much J$90-100 billion.
What we have is a spending problem. However, there is no political will to make these harsh but necessary decisions to lift the country and economy out of the rut it has found itself in. We need bitter (near lethal) medicine now to salvage our economy for the long haul in the decades ahead. Who will make the sacrifice of political suicide to ensure the prosperity of future generations of Jamaicans?