The 11-month-old Jamaican government has spent $60m on luxury1 SUVs.
“When you drive a government car you are given a gas allowance, but when persons drive their personal cars they are not given a gas card,” was a remark from Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer on the matter. It can be concluded that the tax payers of this country are buying ministers luxury motor vehicles in order that we might also buy them petrol. Paraphrase, “driving government owned cars is important because it enables us to receive fuel from your tax money.” Does the minister seriously believe that this is an acceptable thing to say to the people? I wonder how much is on this gas card anyway. Is it an unlimited amount as long as it’s going into the government owned vehicle?
1 : Severe or strict in manner, attitude, or appearance: “an austere man with a puritanical outlook”.
2 : (of living conditions or a way of life) Having no comforts or luxuries; harsh or ascetic.
I would have been impressed and positively inspired if it was reported that one of these ministers opted for an eco-vehicle. When last I checked petrol cost $130 per litre2. Many Jamaican citizens have been forced to park our cars and rely on public transportation because we cannot afford this petrol but our Minister of Information is relating to us that they cannot afford it either so they need cars bought with our money so we who cannot afford the petrol for ourselves can afford it for them through taxes. Such a strong sense of entitlement is not acceptable in periods of austerity.
While several countries are successfully rebounding from the recession, the Jamaican economy is steadily contracting. Our government is supposed to be implementing austerity measures in view of the IMF deal3 that we are so desperately waiting to hear concrete information on. Any increase in fiscal spending should be carefully measured; one cannot simply buy vehicles for ministers so they may benefit from gas cards. It is not important that former ministers drove similar vehicles; it is never a valid excuse that a previous cabinet operated in like manner.
Several of these ministers issued with SUVs reside in the Kingston Metropolitan Region where there is a public transport system of debatable reliability which happens to have been losing us millions of dollars. I have never heard of a politician opting to use the bus service because he/she cannot afford petrol. While this would be good to hear, I know very well that it will not happen. Jamaica is a democracy – we elect leaders who pretend to be for the people but are much too self-important to regard themselves as of the people. They are high above us and must live lavishly while the masses suffer. The distribution of wealth in Jamaica is disastrously disparate.
Even our Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who never declines an opportunity to boast her love for the poor, has insisted that she is above economy class travel (especially when the US Secret Service is awaiting her at the airplane door, she simply cannot be the last passenger to disembark). I will not doubt that she is a well-intentioned politician but her arrogance and aloofness are getting in the way. No person being paid from the public purse can acceptably want to live at the high end of the spectrum while austerity measures, to a degree of which we are not yet sure, loom.
Christmas is upon us- the most wonderful time of the year where sellers outnumber buyers. Many of those peddling especially worthless items (like fire crackers, fee fees4, balloons and paper hats) will be children of poor circumstance. Most of the vendors (who will undoubtedly be harassed by police for ‘hustling’) will not make enough money to have something special on the menu for Christmas evening. Our ministers will likely be hosting or attending lavish functions with the elite corps. They will be merry and wear wide grins, much unlike the passing grimace they gave to the young boy who tried to hustle a wash of their windscreen for an extra holiday $20, the same kid who probably won’t have money to buy lunch at school on January morning, who probably will not attend for more than three days in the month because he has not the means, who will not benefit from the PATH5 programme because he doesn’t attend regularly enough to be eligible anyway.
But we buy them cars, just so we can buy them gas.
P.S. “sometimes coffee, sometimes tea” is an expression used to mean that some days will bring more fortune than others. I could never figure out which one is supposed to be better – the coffee or the tea. For me, all drinks below 80 proof are equal. What say you?