HOUSE OF PROMISES

To thunderous banging of desks, Peter Phillips announced there’d be no increase in property tax rates for 2015/16.

The rushing sound heard Islandwide was all Jamaican’s collective sigh of relief. Except me. I’ve heard these promises too many times.

I am just a poor boy
though my story’s seldom told.
I have squandered my resistance
for a pocketful of mumbles
such are promises.
All lies and jest.
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.

I lived through the “no new taxes” promise followed by Jamaica’s largest tax package. Forty years later, I’m still waiting on the promised Luana oil refinery. It’s casual squandering of public trust by grand announcement followed by grand disappointment that’s informed the latest Bill Johnson polls where 43% of Jamaicans want to migrate.

Some of us, including me, have no dual citizenship, green card or visa. In building a life in Jamaica, we’re without option. We must rely on political vision for the future.

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy.
In the company of strangers;
in the quiet of the railway station
running scared.
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
where the ragged people go.
Looking for the places only they would know
Lie-la-lie. Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-la-lie. Lie-la-lie

Jamaica’s children have no economic hope. They can’t leave home unless prepared to live in bus stops. Traditional Christian concepts of father as provider while mother brings up children have been obliterated by decades of political promises followed by political profligacy. Sacrifice to educate children to tertiary level is fruitless as, jobless, they’re forced to eat their shiny new degrees, diplomas and certificates for lunch.

Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job.
But I get no offers
just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there.
Lie-la-lie…

Now the latest promise of relief is no rate increase for property taxes. Maybe. But the following extract from a February 3 Mello FM news broadcast muddies the water:

Land owners are facing the possibility of a new increase in property taxes… 

The increases would result from last year’s completion of [the National Land Agency’s] land-revaluation exercise….

Currently, properties valued at $100,000 are charged a flat rate of $1,000 per annum. if the property is valued [between $100,000 and $1million], the [excess] is charged an additional 1.5%.

Properties valued over $1 million are charged 2%…..

…a property valued $200,000….would have attracted [property] taxes of $2,500 per annum. If that property [is] revalued to $250,000, [the] owner’s land taxes [could] jump to $3,250 per annum.

No property tax RATE increase. But, watch for it, we could be paying more property taxes in absolute terms soon.

Maybe political leaders like playing these word games. But, we prefer plain speaking to political scrabble. The truth isn’t enough. Unless it comes with the whole truth, it’s not a lie but feels exactly the same. Until then, some of us are prepared to fight back.

In the clearing, stands a boxer
and a fighter by his trade.
And he carries the reminders
of every glove that laid him down
and cut him till he cried out
in his anger and his shame
‘I am leaving, I am leaving’
but the fighter still remains.
Lie-la-lie…

Simon and Garfunkel’s seminal 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, included a soul piercing vocal imagery of poverty and loneliness called The Boxer. The recording features some of the most creative musical production including the use of a pedal steel guitar and piccolo trumpet in unison on an instrumental melody. If you listen keenly during the second verse, you’ll hear Charlie McCoy playing a bass harmonica. You won’t hear that instrument in any modern recording. There’s also a “missing” verse (unrecorded but performed in concert).

It was the album’s lead single but initially overshadowed by other equally magnificent cuts. In 2012, high class British folk rock band Mumford and Sons recorded a superb cover. Readers missing Simon and Garfunkel’s haunting ballads should check out young folk rock duo Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan (a.k.a. the Milk Carton Kids). While listening, close your eyes so their music can resurrect mind images of Art Garfunkel.

I am your Boxer. Even though I may leave this place, the fighter will remain. I’ll expose political word games whenever they’re perpetrated. I’ll unscramble all jumbles and solve every puzzle. For you.

Peace and Love

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