By the looks of it, the suspense around the date of the budget speech has been lifted and new measures will tumble out of Santa’s bag. In the press, many of us will unfortunately focus on the colour of the saree of the minister of finance’s wife and on what sweeteners will be thrown at us to fer labous doux, like a rupee or so off the tax on kiwi or shoe polish.
A budget is not about this local folklore. It is fundamentally about creating and preserving employment and lifting people out of poverty, i.e. about making the economy work for the welfare of the citizenry. When we talk about employment creation, we mean real jobs – mostly in the private sector. Most of the jobs created by this government have been in an already bloated public sector and reserved mostly for cronies. Try applying for a job and you will find out.
Job creation is about stimulating the economy and encouraging investment in the productive sectors which create employment. For that, there has to be an easing of red tape and meaningful measures to inspire confidence. Foreign direct investment has been dwindling by the day and the local private sector has been in a wait-and-see mode for so long that it has become wait, wait and wait some more. This is the situation which has to be reversed so that jobs – meaningful jobs – are created, particularly for the youth, many of whom are graduates.
As for poverty alleviation, when we look at the abject poverty which journalists are pulling the lid off every day in some areas of the island, we should all hang our heads in shame. And one thing is for sure: It won’t be alleviated by the morbid voyeurism of visiting destitute families as if they were zoo animals and offering a sumptuous bouquet of flowers to a blind lady and her hungry child, while posing in front of cameras shooting frantically.
We can’t afford to think we are fighting poverty by exploiting it through grotesque public relations exercises and going home satisfied that one’s duty has been done. Not while our ministers are spending millions on trivial trips whose only aim is to satisfy their wide-brimmed ego. Not when our parliamentarians have had both their salaries and per diems increased to unprecedented levels. Not when a supplementary budget had to be approved to allow them to spend more money on their luxury cars and other benefits. Not when our president has spent twice the already huge budgeted estimate of expenditure and has had another equally obscene amount of money approved to spend even more, while self-righteously throwing bouquets at those who so obviously need the basic necessities. Is abject poverty now something to be celebrated and congratulated for?
To raise the capital needed to make a dent in the level of poverty and curb youth unemployment, the minister of finance has two options: either tax even more the hard-working citizens who are scrimping to pay for those who have discovered that the manna from heaven is endless or reduce the expenditure of those who are spending our money without any accountability as if there was no tomorrow. The route he takes will decide whether we are serious about fighting poverty or we, instead, want to continue exploiting it in front of photographers and cameramen.
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