It took virtually twenty years but a Jamaican government has finally taken my father’s advice to tax petroleum. 1990 was the first time my Dad came to visit me here and he couldn’t believe how cheap gas/petrol was. Your government is subsidizing petrol? he would incredulously ask my friends who dropped by. They should be taxing it! In India we have just raised the petrol tax again. People drive too much, there’s no need to drive everywhere etc etc. (I should say that my Dad is generally full of good ideas that have earned him quite a reputation. He was recently in the news in India for having launched a ‘child-tracking system‘).
Needless to say my father gained instant unpopularity with my friends. i remember Victor Chang kissing his teeth as he left my house one evening. The fact that my Dad (Samuel Paul) was an economist who had been adviser to the current Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he was Finance Minister and a member of various five-year plan committees didn’t endear him to my friends any further. They were simply enraged by the idea that gas should be taxed.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is some irrational link between the price of gas in Jamaica and public tolerance levels. Like the proverbial red rag that provokes the bull to charge, price increases in gas have repeatedly been the trigger for Jamaican rage: the only thing that is guaranteed to make public patience boil till it erupts into violent social disorder. People will willingly put up with torture, rape, murder and corruption but touch the price of gas and you’ve gone too far.
Las May, The Gleaner, April 24, 2009
You will therefore understand why the Jamaican government had to put its security forces on alert the night before Finance Minister Audley Shaw (Oddly Sure i call him in private) announced his tax package. The Prime Minister even made a TV appearance the evening before to address the nation. As someone put it on Twitter “He was on TV basically begging us not to set Jamaica on fire come tomorrow when the new taxes are announced.” After all that the country is still recovering from the fact that for the first time in decades the much feared gas tax has been imposed without social repercussions of any sort. Surely some credit is due to the Opposition for not opportunistically inciting violence as happened in April 1999. And congratulations to the ruling party for biting the bullet and belling the cat. The gas tax was long overdue. I am my father’s daughter after all (I do deplore the tax on ‘printed material’ and computers though).
Anyhow! Those of us who Twitter and Facebook had a great time before, during and after Oddly Sure’s presentation. Below is a sample of the kinds of conversations to be had on social networking sites such as Facebook. It was initiated by a Facebook friend whose status update the night before Minister Shaw’s presentations said: “Wonda if me fe work tomorrow or start black d road fram tonight?” On G-day this was her status update and the conversation it generated: