Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Daniel Thwaites | Unreal estate declarations

Published:Sunday | August 18, 2019 | 12:37 AM
File Dr Derrick McKoy (left) and retired Justice Karl Harrison, integrity commissioners, field questions from the media during a press briefing on May 13.

I quite like this meme that ‘Jamaica is not a real place’ because, in truth, there are occurrences here that are quite unreal and serve to boggle the mind. This is not to say that other places on the globe don’t have incredible, outrageous, and difficult-to-believe events popping up every now and again. But is there anywhere else that it happens with such frequency?

The PM’s integrity filings have finally been made public after all the speculation, condemnation, and peregrination. Why all the fuss? It turns out that Mr Holness doesn’t have anything too exotic going on, and certainly nothing that can’t be explained by a great lawyer, accountant, and real estate agent.

We need to be moving to where there is routine public disclosure of all politicians, those further up the food chain, and those lower down trying to scramble to the top of the pile. An unfortunate side effect, perhaps, is that there will be a major diminution of privacy whenever someone goes into public service, but that’s something I feel, as a society, we can weather. People are already very accustomed to – although I’m not sure comfortable with – the fact that the rulers are so much richer than the ordinary man.

The PM revealed assets of $161 million, with real estate assets of only $7 million. Meanwhile, the leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, declared assets totalling some $185 million, with real estate of $3.6 million.

Something has to be done about this palpable nonsense!

We cannot, as a proud, self-respecting nation, have a situation where the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition, despite being phenomenally wealthy, are unable to afford suitable accommodation. By these numbers, Mr Holness is privileged to live in a slightly better shack on the outskirts of May Pen than Dr Phillips, who lives in the bush of St Thomas without running water.

Unless … unless … could it be? Could the integrity declarations be a bunch of baloney, a heap of hooey, a pile of poppycock, a medley of manure, a farrago of feculence?

Obviously, the numbers made sense to the knuckleheads at the Integrity Commission, which is why I would like them to act as my agents for some upcoming sales. Providing, of course, that my public offers are accepted.

So I use this column to offer Mr Holness $14 million for all his real-estate assets and Dr Phillips $7.2 million for all of his. With this one condition, though: If it’s real estate and it belongs to Mr Holness or Dr Phillips, it’s part of this deal. This offer covers the FACT of ownership, which is, I’m sure, what the little man believes the bigger man is revealing in his integrity declaration.

Because if Mr Holness’s real estate is worth $7 million, and Dr Phillips’ is worth $3.6 million, I don’t see how a rational man, or even an irrational one for that matter, could refuse to take an offer to get double the value.

The Integrity Commission can go ahead and draw up the papers and work out the other little details about when I can move into my new properties and such. The various helpers, gardeners, butlers, shoe cleaners, pool boys, dog walkers, and security guards can all stay on. Please and tanks!

Consider carefully that this is the head of the stream for public declarations of unreal estate. Every other public servant, police officer, or lower-level politician will undoubtedly take a pattern from these leaders and find themselves living in huts, shacks, shanties, and sheds without running water, toilets, and electricity. We can’t have that. Things bad, but dem nuh suh bad that de top man dem nuh have nuh toilet and current.

In my imagination, the integrity commissioners had to be grabbing their bellies and rolling as they published all this ‘information’. If they weren’t laughing, add to all the other deficiencies with this increasingly silly ‘watchdog agency’ that they’re humourless.

$20m reasons to laugh

Further along the paths of incredulity, the PNP has announced that each of its presidential candidates will be debarred from spending more than $20 million on their campaigns.

What I’m trying to understand is to whom this statement was directed. To your security guard working 160 hours a week, there’s probably no great distinction between $20 million and $200 million; it’s all the same, just an astronomical number. Perhaps it’s to satisfy someone like that? I truly wonder.

But for kicks and giggles, let’s say we object to the limit being at $20 million. Where do we lodge that concern? To whom do we say: “That’s not realistic.”

If the PNP wants to know why many dismissively smirk at the intimation that the PM’s declarations are off-kilter, look no further. On what basis do you come to the public and tell such an obvious falsehood under the rubric of transparency and probity?

By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, both candidates spent $20 million in the first week or two of the competition. Certainly, they got past that mark once they began their respective road programmes.

Let me be clear: I don’t blame the candidates. They’re going to do what they can, and what they must, to win. And they will abide by the rules that are set down when they know that there are sanctions for breaching them. So it’s the administrative and managerial infrastructure of the party that has to set those rules to guide this Petrine clash.

And what a spectacular failure!

Remittances and Elections

Following on these observations about the PNP’s supposed spending limits, we can’t discount the importance of elections to our economy.

That’s what I gather from Finance Minister Nigel Clarke’s response to the poverty statistics that upend the narrative of Jamaicans marching bravely towards prosperity.

Truthfully, the dramatic spike in 2017 poverty should hardly have been a surprise given the shift from direct to indirect taxation following the 2016 election. However, Nigel sought to explain it by pointing to 2016 remittances and election spending.

It seems to me that if our very bright and capable finance minister is correct, he is inadvertently showing us the way out of poverty’s dark hold on the country. We need to take two steps urgently. The first is to arrange with the USA, Canada, and England to accept one member of each family who will be bound over to send back remittances. Next, we need to call elections annually so that the rulers are forced to dip into their reserves to curry favour with the little people.

In reality, Nigel is caught here defending the ill-effects of a policy he did not conceive. Really, it is Audley who should be forced to return briefly from his banishment tending cows and goats in the agriculture portfolio to defend the ‘1.5’ deception and trickery.

There is not one single aspect of that policy that has turned out as promised. It cost a lot more than promised. It led to massive increased taxation. It benefited fewer people than promised. It took longer to implement than promised. And it has increased the immiseration of the already marginalised. As sure as sugar, it has contributed to the skyrocketing crime, which has then served as the pretext and justification for the Government’s unending state of emergency.

Part of me wants to say that Jamaica deserves it. People who are foolish enough to vote based on rash promises deserve exactly what they get. The wages of sin and all that. But that’s not my better self talking because neither individual nor country should always live with the consequences of their worst decisions taken at the weakest moments. Were that the case, I would probably be right now living with a crack whore in Brooklyn, and that wouldn’t work, because, I dunno, I just don’t like Brooklyn.

My point is that you should avoid Brooklyn. Actually, no, that’s not my point. My point is that Nigel’s explanation of the increased poverty was worth about $7 million in prime ministerial real estate and $20 million in PNP campaign spending. Mi bredrin, leave that kind of intellectual twerkin’ to the professional politicians.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.