R. Rose
December 23, 2004
Christmas goodies call for renewed commitment

With the presentation of the National Budget now being a December affair, many Vincentians look to the budgeting exercise, not so much in the context of government’s spending out revenue-earning proposals for the upcoming year as an indication of what Christmas “goodies” the budget holds for them. {{more}}

It is not an outlook to be encouraged, but it is a sad reality, fed over the years by a political system, which makes it so tempting for incumbent governments to try to use the Budget and a “Merry Christmas” to win political support.

So, especially bearing in mind that it is quite possible for this Budget to be the last one before General Elections, should the Prime Minister be so inclined (hopefully Constitutional Reform may address this problem), the 2005 Budget has its share of “goodies” or “Christmas gifts”. These are tempered by revenue-earning measures, increase in fuel prices, small taxes on cell phone overseas calls and on lottery winnings for instance. But the Santa bag is quite large.

Public servants can look forward not only to a three per cent salary increase in 2005, but also an across-the-board $200 bonus for Christmas as well. Other employers have been encouraged to follow the government’s lead and give a similar bonus. It will be interesting to hear how many of them will take up the exhortation in the absence of any tax break for doing so, given the mentality of many in the private sector. Scrooge ain’t dead yet! There is also a raising of the income tax threshold, increased allowance for pensioners and public relief recipients plus a small bonus for the season. Tax credits for small business, government-provided insurance for students and the almost-free Christmas barrels are among other measures to gladden many hearts.

It is a package big enough to evoke concern on the Opposition benches as to whether the country can afford it. Would expected revenue be enough to justify such largesse? From a different perspective my concern is about reciprocity. If a government is being so generous to its workers and people in general (leave aside the debate on the motives), what can the country expect in return? In other words, would the outstretched hand be met with increased productivity? More positive attitudes to work for instance? Do public servants see it as their RESPONSIBILITY to insist on being more productive, more courteous to the public, more punctual in 2005?

Then there is the matter of the across-the-board bonus. Could this be seen by hardworking public servants as a reward to slackness? And therefore a disincentive to those dedicated to their jobs and country? It is a genuine concern that needs to be addressed if we are not to be discouraged by those who are propelling national development by their hard-working efforts.

In the same vein, government is to subsidize fertilizer costs to farmers to the tune of $1.75 million. If we take a figure of 2000 farmers so benefiting it works out to be $875 for the year or $73 approximately per month, per farmer. True, incentives are badly needed to stimulate agricultural revival and production but again this across-the-board approach. Does it not place the bad farmer on the same level as the good one? What is the farmer, who so benefits, obligated to do in return? What of those who would attempt to dishonestly sell subsidized fertilizer to profit on the side?

Those are all serious matters, which deal with our approach to national development, our outlook and mentality concerning work, production, productivity and innovation. We already have too many “Gimme, Gimme” in our midst, too many who think that it is their RIGHT to receive (especially from the government) but not their RESPONSIBILITY to give in return. We have to be careful not to further encourage such unhealthy attitudes and instead find mechanisms to reward the industrious and the creative ones among us.

It is all right to ensure that as many of us have a pleasant and enjoyable Christmas, but equally right for those measures to be taken in the right spirit. For gratitude to be expressed by commitment to work and country, love for our brothers and sisters and shared concern for the future of the younger ones – that, after all, is the true spirit of Christmas.