Monday, April 27, 2009

Taxes 'with a smile'

A worker at the Ellingsen Seafood AS salmon farm in the cold north, near Lofoten, Norway. (Hubie Chin photo)

Jamaica Observer Column |Monday, April 27, 2009

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

"I pay a lot of taxes, but I pay it with a smile." A statement like this would cause consternation in Jamaica where for too many years, too few have been carrying the tax burden for too many. This happy taxpayer is Norwegian marketing executive Svein Wara who informed me that the Norwegian counterpart of our GCT, the VAT (Value Added Tax) is 25 per cent, and that those in the higher income bracket pay 30 to 35 per cent in income tax.

So why would he be smiling? In Norway, health care is virtually free, with only a small contribution, even in the case of serious conditions that require expensive treatments. Education up to 10th grade is absolutely free and after that, tuition continues to be free up to the tertiary level, though students are required to pay for their books.

Crime is so low in Norway that in a large area called Lofoten, there are only two unarmed policemen at the station during the week and four on weekends. People leave their doors open and it is a given that no one will steal their belongings.

"Norway was a poor country until the 60s when we discovered oil," remarks Svein. "It was then that we had a social revolution, a programme to protect our natural resources for the common good of the people. We are a social democracy."

Up to the 60s, Norway had a working-class society with only a few very rich individuals, many of them shipping magnates. There were also cases of people with hidden fortunes who would evade taxes. Now the tax system is so open that you can look up any Norwegian worker and see their salary and tax status. "I'm on the web - you can look me up!" says Svein as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Tough traffic and gun laws are testimony of the high value that this country puts on human life. The allowable amount of liquor in a driver's system is .02/1000 or less than the equivalent in one beer. A first offender for drunk driving pays a heavy fine of about $400,000 upwards, depending on income, spends a mandatory 21 days in jail and has his driver's licence suspended for two years. If you are proved to be driving drunk a second time, it's farewell forever to the steering wheel, plus the same fine and sentence as the first time.

(click on title above for link to entire column)

Friday, April 24, 2009

President Obama and Brian Lara

The Champion of the World and a World Champion -- During the Summit of the Americas, US President Barack Obama got some cricket coaching from West Indies legend Brian Lara who still holds the world record for the most runs in an inning in test cricket. We call this "Barack at Bat"!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hubie's Norway photos

This is a beautiful country - the people are very gracious.

We're having a fabulous time with Jamaica's Champion Chefs Anthony Miller and Colin Hylton on their prize trip from the Norwegian Seafood Export Council! Photos show them with our hosts Svein Wara and Tatiana Fernandes, and with two chefs at the excellent Svendgards restaurant in Bodo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

'We are fit to be loved'

AUTHORS ALL... Faith Linton (left) with twin sister Joyce Gladwell and nephew Malcolm Gladwell - photo by Dr Las Newman
by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer| Monday, April 20, 2009

The photograph kindly sent by Dr Las Newman said volumes: Faith Linton, her twin sister Joyce Gladwell and Joyce's son Malcolm, all three holding their books with complementary themes: What the Preacher Forgot to Tell me, Brown Face, Big Master and Outliers. They are sitting in the beautiful gardens of the Linton's Cranbrook Flower Forest near Runaway Bay in St Ann.

By "Joyce's son Malcolm", I mean the author Malcolm Gladwell who has been on the New York Times bestsellers list for years, having also written The Tipping Point and Blink, and who was named recently by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Persons in the world.

But let us start with Faith Linton's book, also titled Identity and Gospel in Jamaica, exploring Genesis 1 and 2, the creation story. Her observation in her decades of conducting Bible studies at student camps, is that evangelism invariably begins with the fall of Adam and Eve and highlights first and foremost, man's sinfulness.

She believes that our problems of low self-esteem and desperation stem from the fact that our painful past has not been healed but exacerbated by projecting this negative image of ourselves. Faith maintains that it is urgent to begin teaching the Bible at its beginning: "We are God's masterpieces, made in His image and likeness. We are fit to be loved and to show God's character in our lives."

The book gives a number of case studies that illustrate the hunger for such a message and the very rapid transformation that takes place when it is fully accepted. One young woman commented, "My eyes were opened to the remarkable picture. of the dignity, beauty and wonder of man and woman, as God originally designed them."

Faith gives an example of the effectiveness of this message from New Guinea, when after teaching this message, Canadian missionary John Dekker wrote, "The atmosphere has completely changed. People have started to love one another. They have confessed their wrongs of the past - stealing. killing. They now want to make it right, not only by asking forgiveness but also by making restitution where possible."

Before you start thinking that Faith Linton is just a Bible-thumping fanatic, let me hasten to explain that she is an acknowledged intellectual, a Jamaica Centenary Scholar, and graduate in Modern Languages and Education from London University. She was raised in the quiet district of Harewood in St Catherine where her parents were primary school teachers, devout church members and community leaders (in the best sense of the word). They were contemporaries and friends of Mr and Mrs Tacius Golding, parents of PM Golding.

The happy circumstances of her education are vividly narrated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, in its final chapter, "A Jamaican Story". He relates the unfolding of events, described by Faith as "providential". High school scholarships were offered for the parish for the first time in the country's history, just as they turned 11, and when only Faith passed, their parents scraped together their last penny to pay for Joyce's first term at St Hilda's, wondering where the next fees would be found. In a happy turn of events, an additional scholarship for the parish of St Ann was awarded to Joyce, as the student with the next highest mark.

In Joyce's book Brown Face, Big Master, which I read many years ago, she describes the colour and class prejudice of Jamaica in the 40s and 50s, and her initial struggle to fit in as a boarder at St Hilda's and later as the coloured wife of an Englishman in London. Malcolm has supported a reprinting of his mother's book, proceeds of which are being donated to the St Hilda's Development Fund.

Faith remembers her history teacher, Gloria Wesley-Gammon, staging a mock-election in the school that "released such emotion". She said there was the PNP group, the JLP, and the JDP (Jamaica Democratic Party), a party representing the elite which got the most votes.

"This was the complete opposite of what was going on in the country," Faith remarked. "It gives you a picture of St Hilda's at the time." She recalls the exciting emergence of the parties and the adoption of Universal Adult Suffrage in Jamaica in 1944. She would hear her father, Donald Nation, who later served in the House of Representatives, avidly discussing politics with the erudite Archdeacon J J Hay, their Anglican pastor.

Faith would like to see a special ministry to Jamaica's politicians, helping to open a way for more harmonious political engagement. The reminder of man's dignity and God's love in Genesis 1 and 2, should see our leaders behaving differently, she believes.

Faith Linton, who looks much younger than her 77 years, also links this acknowledgement of our dignity to respect for our mother tongue, Jamaican Creole. So logical and persuasive was she, that I completely changed my initial attitude towards the translation of the Bible into the Jamaican language. "In every study throughout the world," explains Faith, "children who learn in their mother tongue have a higher IQ and are able to learn other languages more easily."

She describes the tears of older Jamaicans living abroad, when they heard chapters of the Bible being read in patois. And then the penny dropped. I recalled visiting CuraƧao, that orderly country, where the citizens wrote and spoke at least three languages: Papiamento, Dutch and English. They speak their mother tongue proudly and with no apology. Giving currency to our mother tongue will, like the Genesis story, help us to accept ourselves as we truly are and lead to new behaviours.

Faith strongly recommends Language in Jamaica by Dr Pauline Christie and research done by Dr Maureen Samms-Vaughan. Our creole is not "bad English", but indeed a separate and distinct language. She believes that if our boys especially understood this, they would be able to embrace learning more readily instead of feeling ashamed of their native tongue and their authentic selves. As Faith said after our long interview, this discussion has to be continued. More anon!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

FREE AT EASTER - Food for the Poor pays fines for non-violent prisoners

A fresh start - Charity gives prisoners new lease on life this Easter
Published: Sunday Gleaner | April 12, 2009
By Huntley Medley, Contributor

'Today is my daughter's seventh birthday and I can't believe that I will be able to spend it with her.'

IMAGINE BEING incarcerated because you couldn't afford to pay a court-imposed fine of a few thousand dollars after being found guilty of a traffic offence. Well, that's precisely the story of several persons now serving time in Jamaican prisons.

One Jamaican walked free from the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre two weeks ago after his fine - reduced to $517 after spending six months in the maximum-security prison - was paid by international charity, Food For the Poor.

Paid fines - Over the past two weeks, Food For the Poor paid fines totalling just over $800,000 to secure the freedom of 23 persons serving time in local prisons. This was part of a release of 69 inmates in Jamaica, Guyana, Haiti and Honduras this Easter.

Since the twice-yearly prisoner-release programme was introduced as part of the organisation's 'Fresh Start prison ministry' in 2000, the charity group has reintroduced 800 non-violent offenders into their communities.

Reflective of Jesus' own resurrection, these former inmates have just about been given life anew, which is the essential aim of Food For the Poor's prisoner-release programme, done at Christmas and Easter every year in the 17 Caribbean countries in which the poverty relief group operates.

"Jesus' resurrection verified all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry," said Robin Mahfood, president and chief executive officer of Food For the Poor." Through His resurrection, all of His people have the ability to begin a new life."

Inmates released - Between March 31 and April 2, 23 inmates from adult correctional centres - St Catherine (12); Richmond (4); Tamarind Farm (3); and one each from Tower Street, South Camp, Fort Augusta, and Horizon Remand Centre - returned home in time to spend Easter with family and friends."

Today is my daughter's seventh birthday and I can't believe that I will be able to spend it with her," said one overjoyed inmate, walking into freedom from the Richmond Park prison in St Mary."

I was not expecting this at all, especially not today, so this is the best birthday gift Food For the Poor could give me to give to her. I am a free man. This is more than words can explain."

He was convicted for possession of and taking steps to export marijuana. When asked why he got involved in drug trafficking, the Montego Bay man said: "I wanted to make some money to start a business - a car wash business - but I got caught."

His sentence was a fine of J$127,000 or one year in prison. He started serving the sentence in October last year.Prison ministry coordinator at Food For the Poor, Sandra Ramsey, said the charity recognises the importance of being with family and friends during Easter and Christmas.

"Some of these inmates are incarcerated for petty offences and because they can't pay the fine they have to do the time," Ramsey said. "The point is that everyone deserves a second chance and Food For the Poor is playing its part in this regard. It a blessing for me each time to do this and to give the inmates a chance to do something positive with their lives."

Imagine the joy of some beneficiaries and their loved ones today, Easter Sunday. "Easter Sunday is an important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. It is beneficial for families to be united on this holy day," Ramsey argued.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lester Spaulding's legacy

SPAULDING... don't give in to indiscipline

JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN | Jamaica Observer | Monday, April 06, 2009

When Lester Spaulding presented the Schools' Challenge Quiz Trophy to the victorious Kingston College team last week, I wondered if the young men realised that they were being congratulated by one of Jamaica's most excellent role models. JA Lester Spaulding CD, JP, chairman of the most powerful media group in the English-speaking Caribbean, is the scion of working-class Jamaicans, a visionary whose early decisions have ensured an enduring future for the RJR Group.

Lester admits to "enjoying myself a little too much" at his alma mater Kingston College, but was soon set straight by his mother who insisted that her children should become professionals. With his knack for figures, Lester started his accounting career at Price Waterhouse and looks back at those demanding seven years with appreciation for the uncompromising standards of the firm's Bob Humphries, Jim Lord and the late Keith Handy. He describes it as an environment of "real discipline - you never had the luxury of doing as you please. We had fun off the job but were never allowed to compromise our standards and therefore those of the organisation".

Lester believes that it is only this kind of discipline that will help our young people to succeed in an even more difficult job market. His advice is, "Concentrate on self-development, nowadays you have to be at 125 per cent, making your contribution indispensible." This has been his own approach to life. At his retirement party last year, Spaulding is quoted by Jamaica Observer reporter Tyrone Reid: "I feel very fortunate to have spent 43 years doing what I love." He personifies the German proverb, "There is no one luckier than he who thinks himself so."

The man who presided over the phenomenal growth of the RJR Group, from a single radio station to an entity with one free-to-air television channel, three cable channels and three radio stations, says it is important to operate free from partisan political bias and with no hidden agenda.

"The RJR legacy is one of openness," he says. "We are the only electronic media house that is required to report quarterly by showing our accounts. This encourages discipline as we must be accountable to our shareholders and publics."

The company was once owned by the British company Rediffusion and continued with their private-sector orientation, always aiming for profitability. Let's acknowledge that it is only a profitable company that can assure workers of ongoing employment, organisational growth, independence and improvement of shareholders' value.

RJR's unique ownership structure comprises members of the public, employees and mass-based organisations. In the 80s, when the government put up their shares for sale, 9,000 shareholders came on board, a huge vote of confidence. To this day, no single shareholder can own more than 10 per cent of the group's shares.

The forward-thinking Spaulding had applied for a television licence from the 70s, buying land next to 32 Lyndhurst Road in anticipation. It was a long wait. In 1996, the only mature television station in Jamaica, the government-owned JBC, was deep in debt and undercapitalised. Lester Spaulding and team sharpened their pencils to acquire the assets of the television station with the consent of the then prime minister and on the recommendation of the chairman of the board of the corporation, Errol Miller. Spaulding presided over a US$7-million outlay for First-World style studios and production equipment.

While he is not for stifling the enthusiasm for more media houses, Spaulding believes the policy of successive governments for awarding commercial licences is flawed. "They need to examine and take into account the absorptive capacity of the country.

Licences are generally awarded amidst publication of well-thought out principles, but enforcement rules under which they are given is in the exception rather than the rule," he says. "If the application is for a regional licence, it should not somehow become, in short order, national with retroactive approval. I don't believe the advertising pie and lack of growth in the economy can support them."

Spaulding becomes serious as he speaks about the challenges to all businesses at this time. "RJR had to contract - this crisis is not going away any time soon. But at the same time we have to try to stimulate the market. I am happy to see companies like GraceKennedy still going for growth. One of the best ways to show growth is through advertising - as they say, 'winking at a girl in the dark gets you nowhere'."

Lester is pleased that TVJ has continued and improved the JBC-founded Schools' Challenge Quiz to see its 40th year and has also introduced other winners in local programming. They have been able to marry successfully these programmes to the sponsorship market.

Spaulding says that his successor, Group Managing Director Gary Allen, understands that productivity and proper management of output have to be the focus now more than ever. "One has to insist that all departments perform," he says. "Don't give in to indiscipline and bamboozling so pervasive in the market today." He says companies must now "take the fat out of the system, stay on message and ready themselves so they can go on the economic uptick".

Even as he blazed the technology trail in media, Lester believes in the old-fashioned values of honour and integrity. "Your word should be your bond," he maintains. "I have unfortunately had exposure to people who shake hands on a decision in a meeting and then go out and do the opposite, undermining that agreement for perceived short-term gain. We have to do better than that. Fortunately, without calling names, those have been in the minority."

PS - we added info on Lester's alma mater after receiving the following letter:

Reference to your article on Mr. Lester Spaulding in the Observer newspaper of April 6, 2009..

The content was excellent , however what was missing was the fact that Mr. Spaulding is himself a Kingston College old boy.

Walter T Bygrave
KC 1965 to 1972