How to Make A Politician Bow
July 6, 2008
Diatribalist brought my attention back to an Observer editorial that I missed last month. Speaking predictably in defense of an unregulated market economy and saluting the greed of our local capitalists, the editorial chides – in a most paternalistic and patronizing fashion – Audley Shaw for calling attention to the participation of private businesses in the kleptocracy that we have become.
Now, if many of us have bothered to think beyond the sound bytes and half-baked analyses that we have been offered about “corruption”, “violence” and “crime”, we should already know that NONE of these systems and practices are possible, nor can they succeed to the extent they have, without the active participation of the private sector. This is a truism everywhere.
In other words, Government’s specialty is losing the documents; the private sector specializes in hiding the money.
But we are so afraid to speak out, so afraid to call names, so afraid to name things as they are, because we know that the REAL power of politicians lies in the relationships they have cultivated with the movers and shakers in private sector. When we don’t ask in whose interests the politicians are working, we are also acquiescing to the power of the forces behind the scene, but in plain sight. It is (heterogeneous) THEY who bring in the guns, who sit and conspire at their poolsides, strip clubs and via I-Phones about who needs to be eliminated, paid off, taken care of, in literal and metaphoric terms.
We KNOW that when persons like JUTC’s Chambers is gunned down in broad daylight, it is far more likely that his death was orchestrated by a businessowner or a board member than a former bus driver. We KNOW this, but can’t say it, won’t say it, and certainly won’t investigate the possibility.
This is where our real problem is. This is what the Police Commissioner knows, the Prime Minister knows, the Minister of Justice knows. That our problem is not government, or only government. Its how the State has become a pawn of the business class. Its the silence that helps such a parasitic relationship to fester and take over. A friend once said to me that we often characterize, mistakenly, fascism as something that WAS of the past. What we can’t see before our faces is a new form of fascism: the rise of the corporate state. There is still much to be said and understood about this feature of our society. At the end of the day, the waste that we imagine and hear quoted in millions of dollars is really treasure for someone. We would rather not ask for whom, even as we watch and exult in the excesses of elite life and the spoils of class warfare.
So, reading between the lines of the editorial, I found some familiar (and highly successful) discursive strategies, designed to distract the public and muddy up the picture so that we, the uneducated consuming classes, won’t know our head from our ass by the time the PSOJ is done with us.
Let me illustrate using the text (in red) of the editorial:
It might have been overenthusiasm or Mr Shaw might have been trying to show Mr Moreno how tough he was on non-tax compliance, but the minister said these words:
“Customs has been a hotbed of corruption and Mr PSOJ president, I am going to be blunt, it is a hotbed of corruption because private sector importers themselves are participating along with customs officers and customs brokers in robbing the treasury of vitally needed money to run the country.”
In other words, Shaw, finding himself before such awesome powerful figures of the PSOJ, nearly pissed in his pants because he was so dazzled by the brightness of the light bouncing off the skins of the local lords and the shiny glassware, he wanted to show that he could talk TOO. He could say something of worth TOO. He was not just a monkey on strings, he could be blunt TOO.
Mr Shaw started out on good grounds. Nearly every Jamaican who is not a tax dodger, agrees with him that too many people are not paying their taxes.
Mr. Shaw really needed to stay on the general path and not get into particulars. Not point fingers but wave the hand. He needed to follow the code that says when “too many people” are not doing something, that means “the masses”, of which we the PSOJ, are not. We are not even people, we are the private sector. No people, just jargon and buildings and transactions and forums and policy.
That is one of the reasons for the heavy burden on those who are forced to pay their taxes through the Pay As You Earn, or PAYE system, where the tax is deducted before the pay packet reaches the hands of the employee.
You see, we need to keep people’s eyes on the problem. The GOVERNMENT. Income tax. The plight of the working person. It is them who are suffering as a result of a GOVERNMENT that love to tax people. Remember, we are not people, we just hire them and speak for them. And then give the employers a hell of a time to figure out how to set up our payroll and allow them to collect these taxes. All this thing is just headache. When you start making “the private sector” sound like part of the people, you also saying that we should be paying that tax too. And we not paying no tax. We helping the government, just remember that!
In any event, a small country like Jamaica cannot sustain such high levels of non-payment of taxes and still expect to meet all the pressing needs of the country, such as good schools, roads, hospitals, delivery of potable water and the like.
Yes, it is about economies of scale, and GDP, and infrastructure, globalization and what and what and what. None of this have anything to do with “the private sector”, you know. This is about GOVERNMENT. It is about a backward people who just don’t want to pay taxes. We “the private sector” don’t drive on government funded roads with our big trucks for our businesses and SUV’s for our leisure, or send our children to schools built with government subsidies or taught by teachers trained by government-funded institutions, or get sick and go to hospitals and get special treatment staffed by government-funded persons, or take hot showers with government-subsidized infrastructure etc. etc. etc.
The minister, quite correctly, quantified it an astounding $59 billion in total tax arrears, without interests and penalties, with the bulk owed being corporate income taxes.
“Sixty-eight per cent of those arrears are held by people.falling within the corporate income tax section,” said Mr Shaw. Overall tax compliance, he said, was not encouraging. GCT at 65 per cent compliance was the best performing tax group. “Every other tax type is below 50 per cent and the worst of all tax types is corporate income tax,” he disclosed.
Yes, tell us the numbers, Audley. Just don’t attach the numbers to the bodies or persons in this room. Try yuh best, please. You treading on dangerous waters now, sah!
Where Mr Shaw loses us is in not taking the care to not leave the impression that every single business person in this country is robbing the treasury.
Oh, Audley, what have you done, what have you done. We give you nice lunch and big yuh up, and now you come tell us that we are the problem. That we “the private sector” should be doing something rather than this smoking mirrors dance of big words, big speeches, and pointing fingers at the government. Look bwoy, we nuh put JLP inna power fi yuh come tell we seh we owe yuh nutt’n. Is you owe we, memba dat! We did not give you food and a podium for you to come and tell us that we are part of the problem. Ungrateful bastard!
Had Mr Shaw consulted with his PR people before making that speech, they would have edited out that section and saved him the embarrassment of himself and his Government.
But hear yah?! Shaw, me neva tell yuh seh fi call Butch Stewart fi get di speech? Is wha’ dis yah foolishness yuh a come wid? How yuh hard a hearing so? Eh! Yuh tink yuh a big shot now? Mr. Finance Minister, yuh tink yuh reach now? Wha’ yuh tink dis is? Bwoy, yuh figget yuhself? Wait till I tell Brucie wha’ yuh come yah an’ gwa’n wid? Yuh mus a figget yusself, ah mus dat.
In this regard, the concern expressed by the PSOJ president, Mr Chris Zacca, and the president of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association of Jamaica (CBFFAJ), Mr Christopher Kennedy, is quite understandable.
Unnu ‘ear wha’ di bwoy Audley a gw’an wid? Yuh nuh ear? Bwoy, smaddy affi deal wid dat! Dat cya’an gwa’an. No sah! Kenno, yuh w’an dweet? No, sah, yuh gwa’an deal wid dat. Me g’ahn a Lime Cay an’ Ochi an Cayman an me na’a come back till mont’ en’ when di next shipment suppose fi come. How dat look? Nuh too bad, y’ know. It a’right still…
But that is a problem we face in this country. Instead of facing those who are guilty, there is a tendency to reach for the broad brush and paint everyone in the same worthless colour. No one needs us to tell him or her how desperately demoralising this practice can be.
I see that, centuries later, these people have not learned that THEY are worthless and stupid and different from US, and that WE tell them what they should do, think and say. It is desperately depressing to have to teach this lesson over and over again. When will they ever learn? Don’t they realize that we have better things to do? There is land to conquer with hotels and casinos; there is money to be made from dead bodies lying around. This persistent desire to make US seem no different from THEM is just mind-boggling. I know that WE have changed our names many times over the centuries. But surely THEY know that WE are “the private sector” and that when THEY say things like this that it causes much consternation? Don’t they know that WE will punish THEM for speaking without permission? It seems some things never change.
Moreover, Mr Shaw must understand that he is dealing with a problem that has plagued every administration since tax collection began. To solve that one is going to take only the most creative approach, in order to pull everyone into the tax net.
It seems that my dear Mr. Shaw has not been reading his history books. WE don’t pay taxes, we collect them. At the very least, we will not be disciplined by any government, even one that we purchased, telling us, insulting us, by suggesting that we are part of this “everyone”. WE are the PRIVATE SECTOR! It is “everyone” who needs to be told what to do with their money, and we need to ensure that “everyone” is indeed milked and squeezed dry. No matter how we despise government, this is one thing that government can do very well. This one just needs more practice.
He needs to sit quietly with all the players and work, work and work until a solution is found. Not run off at the mouth. If Mr Shaw already has a PR practitioner, he should know what to do with him.
It seems as if WE “the private sector” need to remind Mr. Shaw that he has a specific job, and none of it includes speaking to us in language or tone that we did not approve beforehand. He is the cowdriver; he is to whip up as many workgroups, committees, taskforces, conferences, proposals, white papers and what have you, and keep himself busy with all the paper and email that we send his way until we have need of him. Please dispatch a courier immediately to apprise him of his role. Yes, our very reliable and dependable press is ready and waiting to do this job. WE the PRIVATE SECTOR have spoken. So let it be.