Dear Mr. Byles:
I am shocked and almost angry at your most recent comments cautioning businesses against excessive pay rises for employees as the country continues to grapple with inflation concerns. You made these comments on or about August 21, 2023.
But only a three months ago, on May 22, 2023, you defended the massive increases in salaries for the political class, in some cases up to 300%, saying those increases would not affect the country’s finances.
Sir, do you really believe what you have said? And please do not make the trite and convenient excuse that there are only a few hundred members of parliament and councillors, so the impact of their massive increase will be inconsequential. The must be a higher logic and ethic by which you are governed.
The wife of the Prime Minister, who is a successful real estate developer has described her salary of over $1,000,000 per month as coming closer to a liveable wage. And I agree with her, a million dollars a month is about the right level of a liveable wage in Jamaica. But most Jamaicans earn less than $1,000,000 per year!
Have you no heart Sir? Are you so heartless that all you care about is protecting the political class and macro-economic indicators? Do you place the comfort of the political class over improving the quality of life of the population? Where is the concern for human beings, the sense of morality which considers the larger good? Where is the balancing act which considers the stability of the macro-economic foundations and simultaneously the well-being of citizens?
Ethics, let me remind you, is concerned with the larger good and taking decisions which promote the larger good and in doing so takes account of multiple factors. What kind of society will we have when most people in this stable economic environment are poor or near poor?
Recall in 2016 when the government increased the income tax threshold to $1.5M, a mere 5% of the population benefitted. This means that 95% of the population was earning salaries below $1.5. Your position is the perfect prescription for the deepening of income disparities for the over 200% increase that the government gave itself and those close to the political class has wiped out the mere 20% that was given to public sector workers. The majority of workers are struggling or suffering Sir.
But at least we now know where you stand. When the BOJ’s monetary policies begin to hit us hard, then we will know that it is planned and intentional and that the objective is to keep the poor, working poor, and struggling middle class in their places. We can now expect a set of harsh policies. I wonder what your response will be when the oppressed and down-trodden working and middle classes (if ever the middle class were to attain consciousness to act) take to the streets and demand justice.
The plot is clear. The political class engorge with massive salary increases, and the financial experts argue that that is okay, nothing to worry about, then the said financial experts rush to the frontlines and tell workers to keep out for their expectations will harm them.
It is a consistent playbook, also echoed by your boss, the Minister of Finance: massive salary increases to the political class represent far-reaching, necessary, and courageous policy moves, but a better deal for workers will reverse “all the gains we have made”. Whose gains? Your position is a profound example of cruelty and unconscionableness.
Canute Thompson (PhD) is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at The University of the West Indies (UWI) and Project Director of the UWI’s Governance Recommendation Implementation Committee. He is author of eight books, eighteen journal articles, and over 200 newspaper columns.
His most recent academic achievements include:
2023: Principal’s Award: Research Activity generating the most funds made to the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning.
2022: Bronze place winner in the 2022 Independent Publisher Book Awards for the book, Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean.
2021: Finalist in The Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for all-round excellent performance.