REALITY CHECK FOR “BOOKLIST” BOYNE

I knew it was going to happen.  I bet on it.

                   “Tonight, old man, you did it!
You did it! You did it! You said that you would do it
and indeed you did.                                                                                              I thought that you would rue it;
I doubted you’d do it.                                                                                         But now I must admit it
that succeed you did.

I predicted to all in hailing distance that, as soon as Prime Minister Portia read her budget speech, Booklist Boyne (a.k.a. “Pip” and not because he has great expectations) would write in praise of the speech.

He began his weekend epistle thusly:

          “The Budget Debate has come and gone. How has the discourse advanced us? How have our options been clarified and elucidated? How better informed are we about our prospects for growth?

Apparently, Booklist wasn’t impressed with the budget debate.  But, with the very next few strokes of his pen, he made it clear there was one exception:

          “The prime minister’s speech reflected the reality of the times…….

Wait a mo, I have to staunch gales of laughter and pick myself up from the floor.  Go deh, Pip.  More? Of course.

          “There weren’t as many goodies for as many persons as is traditional for a prime minister’s presentation. Public-sector workers will benefit and the National Housing Trust has again been called upon to produce  the milk, but there weren’t many other areas to milk this year.  Austerity is the new play in town, and while it is not a crowd-puller, it’s the only one in the political theatre.

Apparently, the Prime Minister’s speech was the only one reflecting austerity which, proclaims Booklist Boyne, is the only game in town.

His concern that the debate didn’t generate much hope for development excludes the Prime Minister’s speech (N.B. here, he refers to “speech” and “presentation” not to the PM herself) which (as usual) he found exemplary.

Let’s take a look at this “reality-based” presentation.

After thanking God, family and co-workers like any good Oscar winner (anybody else feels like a winner?), this was her speechwriter’s opening salvo which she dutifully read:

          “As we did with JEEP, a unique combination of projects will be developed to provide social protection and security for as many of you as possible,………..”

Egad!  So the speech, endorsed by Booklist Boyne, identifies JEEP as the template for “reality” and “austerity”. What are these “projects” to which the speech refers?  The IMF agreement requires a massive primary surplus. If we’re to meet that target, the budget must encourage collection of new taxes without paying for new projects.  Why’d the speech promise new projects ‘will be developed’ without specifying what, when, where and, most importantly, how?  Yet, according to Booklist, “There weren’t as many goodies for as many persons as is traditional.”  Perhaps he meant they weren’t specified.

The speech didn’t stop there.  The speechwriter’s script was devotedly read by the talent on show:

          “..in a year of such fiscal constraints we’ve had to work with less resources than we did last year, with the reductions in the budget…..this Administration is duty bound to exercise the greatest care that every dollar is more wisely spent through better coordination and       targeted intervention to protect the most vulnerable members of the Jamaican family.

Is this why government bought twenty-one brand new luxury vehicles, including sixteen SUVs, and assigned them to Cabinet members with a view to eventual purchase by them at below market value?  “Reality” Booklist?  “Austerity”?  Give me a break!  What comfort is all this to, for example, a twenty-plenty lady with a skill who earns $300 per hour (when she can get hours) and must support five out-of-work siblings each with their own hungry children even though she herself is childless?  In the words of an obviously comfortably cushioned Kingston Mayor, WTF is she being told when, while walking home from work in the rain, she’s splashed by one of the SUVs?  Is the message Reality?  Or Austerity?  Help us to understand, Booklist.  You see, we don’t have highly intellectual, well-read speech writers like the PM nor do we have speech readers as brilliant and well practiced as you.  We need it in plain language.

Booklist, also, wasn’t finished.  After listing a series of impressive sounding tomes none of which bear the slightest relevance to Jamaica’s situation nor mean anything to most of his readers (except as proof that Booklist knows of them), he then redirected his attention to the PM herself, ensuring she was separated from the madding crowd of barking dogs as follows:

          “The prime minister has a developmentalist state frame of mind, but it is hard to use that framework under a neoliberal IMF programme…….

Translation into simple English; When we fail every IMF Test (save perhaps the first one); when we’re forced to cut the public service and cut waste from the budget as we should’ve done years ago; when the promised “projects” don’t materialise; when the poor become even poorer, it’s not the Prime Minister’s fault.  It’s the IMF’s fault.  The IMF forced us to apply something called “neoliberal programmes” contrary to the Prime Minister’s “developmentalist state” frame of mind whatever that is. Good God Almighty!

Who took us into the IMF’s arms?  Didn’t the same Prime Minister hug and kiss Peter Phillips on national TV and ride off into the sunset with him both praying for an IMF neoliberal Programme as our only salvation?

Once again, Booklist “Pip” Boyne, anxious to applaud the Prime-Minister-in-Power’s speechwriter, speaks out of ten sides of his mouth twisting and turning in the wind like a kite’s tail on Easter Monday in order to pay his annual homage to Prime Ministerial budget speeches.  I said he’d do it.

                   “PM:  Now, wait! Now, wait!
Give credit where it’s due.                                                                                   A lot of the glory goes to you.

                Pip:  But you’re the one who did it,
Who did it, who did it!                                                                                        As sturdy as Gibraltar,
not a second did you falter.                                                                               There’s no doubt about it,
youuuuuu did it!

Booklist’s fawning didn’t end there.  He went on:

          “Nothing said by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller or Finance                     Minister Peter Phillips showed that they fundamentally disagreed                 with Holness’ Big 10 ticket items for the State. In fact, they share                 considerable agreement on the need for an efficient, well-functioning                   and facilitatory public sector.

But this hasn’t been the “reality”.  If government truly believed we need “an efficient, well-functioning and facilitatory public sector” steps would be taken to that end.  The “reality” is that, despite a bloated public service consuming vast, unnecessary amounts of electricity; taking extended lunch hours; refusing to work a second past the end of a particular shift; and routinely using public assets for private businesses, not one single public servant has been made redundant.  Where there are corruption concerns not involving MPs (e.g. at AIC), public servants have been separated from their jobs while investigations are pending.  But, inefficiency?  Cho, man, a no big t’ing dat.

NOTHING has been done to increase public service efficiency.  To preserve votes, government allowed public servants to keep their jobs simply by agreeing to an official “wage freeze” but it’s now surfacing that “special” additional payments were promised. Also, since public service jobs are automatic facilitators of what the vernacular calls “roasts”, the “wage freeze” is a mirage.

Did the speech mention increasing public sector efficiency?  Absolutely not.  This is what was read;

          “Our public servants……..have also made huge sacrifices. They have………….once again, agreed to wage restraints.

           Whether they are teachers, police or soldiers on the frontline; whether hey are health professionals, accountants or social workers, technical or executive professionals, administrators, clerical, ancillary workers or drivers; this country cannot run without our dedicated public servants.

           Time and time again, they have ‘stepped to the plate’ to help Jamaica.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I assure them that we have not taken their sacrifices for granted.

           This is why we’ll always choose dialogue and be respectful of our public servants…… That is why, at my instruction, the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing has identified 250 acres of land at Ebony Park in St. Catherine, which will be used for the construction of houses for public sector workers. This will reduce the cost of housing for public sector workers.

           The Government will also identify other suitable parcels of land for the  same purpose……….

Booklist, is this what you meant by “There weren’t as many goodies for as many persons as is traditional for a prime minister’s presentation.”?  You did mention, en passant, that “Public-sector workers will benefit” but you didn’t mention that, in return for accepting a “wage freeze” they would be getting a new garrison, constructed by the Housing Ministry plus “suitable” parcels of land.  How come?  And, regarding public sector workers’ benefits, you wrote “the National Housing Trust has again been called upon to produce the milk” but the NHT isn’t in the Housing Ministry is it?  It’s in the OPM.

Much later on in the speech, it details additional benefits public sector workers would be getting from the NHT. So, Booklist, this is what “reality” looks like.  We’ve shown the IMF a “wage freeze”.  Then we’ve kept every single one of an overstuffed, inefficient public service in their jobs, including a heavily staffed propaganda machine to keep the Prime Minister in speeches.  We’re building houses for them under the guise of assisting the “most vulnerable”.  We’re allocating additional parcels of land AND, the NHT is doling out extra benefits.  Wage freeze schmeeze!

Now we’ve again bamboozled the IMF, we’re solidly on the path of profligate spending which leads inexorably to failure of IMF targets; more crises; “bitterer” medicine. But, let not thy heart be troubled.  According to Booklist, at least our PM has a good speech writer.

My Fair Lady (a musical based on an original Play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw), included You Did It, (lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner; music: Frederick Loewe) sung by Colonel Pickering (Robert Coote) to Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) after Higgins won a bet by passing off a cockney flower girl as a lady at a Royal Ball by teaching her to read and speak the English language. Familiar? 

Peace and Love 

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