Monday, December 17, 2012

Minister Peter Phillips soldiers on

Jamaica's Minister of Finance and Planning Hon. Peter Phillips
Jamaica Observer column | by Jean Lowrie-Chin | 17 December 2012
Poor Peter Phillips – he is like that humble family member who settles for the least favourite part of the chicken just to keep the peace. As we heard him speaking earnestly at last week's PSOJ Christmas lunch, we reflected on his previous ministerial roles.  He had transport to sort out when he inherited a system of hard-driving “robots” back in the early 90s. Having finally reorganised that, he was rewarded with the post of minister of national security when donmanship reigned. Now, even with the least popular and most taxing (pardon the pun) ministry of them all, he declared to us, “We shall overcome! I remain confident in the prospects…there is no need to languish in the grip of panic or negativism.”

As expected, he accused the previous government of foot-dragging in their dealings with the International Monetary Fund.  Now that nearly a year has passed since his party assumed power and we hear new lows for our dollar daily, he assured us that he would “ensure that order is maintained in the foreign exchange market”. Regarding the progress of talks with the IMF, he disclosed that a “staff-level agreement” should be reached by year end, and a formal board-approved decision “early in the new year”.

Assuring us that he had made severe cuts in expenditure and implemented revenue-raising measures, Minister Phillips made a telling observation. He said other members of the Parliament have been touting expenditure, leaving only the minister of finance and the prime minister concerned about the revenue side. It led us to wonder why then create such a large Cabinet, if there is a shortage of good china.

We have no doubt that our finance minister has been working hard and that he is a sincere individual. What puzzles us is that he and other ministers of his calibre raised no objection when inexperienced people were selected to sit as their equals in the Cabinet. Despite the positive strides of some ministries, vexing issues and low productivity continue to destroy our reputation and our economy.

We sigh in frustration when we try to reach certain government offices. We can sympathise when a private sector leader noted that a letter took two days to make it from downstairs to upstairs at one agency. Meanwhile, our office policy is to answer the phone within three rings, answer e-mails within an hour and return all calls within a day. We must do this because if we do not account for every hour we expend for a client, we cannot bill for it. Yet we are in the dark about what really is produced in these expansive buildings, bleeding the UDC $109 million per month of the taxes we struggle to pay!

Although Minister Phillips assured us that “public sector reform is on track” and that he looked forward to a further wage freeze for 2012-2014 with public sector workers, the Nurses Association of Jamaica was singing a completely different tune last week – they voted unanimously that they would not entertain such a thought. How can one blame these valiant underpaid professionals who can scarcely dream of those salaries and perks enjoyed by ministers and their advisers?

But it's Christmas, so let us try this. Reach out to your minister, member of parliament or councillor. Find out how you can partner with them to help build your community, constituency and country. Walk with them, talk with them, and tell us the response.  I believe if we approach folks in a positive way, if we appeal to their higher selves, they will respond. 

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