20 December 2009

A Tax on Bullas

John Maxwell

We never listen to good advice. Somebody, possibly a few dozen, including me, must have warned Audley Shaw to be careful what he wished for – because he might get it. He really wanted to be Minister of Finance.
I was a few thousand miles away from Gordon House on Thursday, yet I could have sworn that despite the sound deadening effect of snow, I could hear, far away in the gathering darkness, the unmistakable sounds of the heart of another Jamaican Minister of Finance, breaking.
As we contemplate the acrobatic expertise of Jamaican politicians doing the fiscal limbo dance (How low can he go?) it seems that Mr Shaw has outdone even Mr Patterson. PJ imposed a tax on knowledge, on books and periodicals. Mr Shaw has imposed a tax on bullas!
It now appears that higglers, the unsung engines of Jamaican development will now be forced to collect taxes on behalf of Mr Shaw. How Mr Shaw, in his turn, will collect tax from the higglers will need to await the next issue of the comic book anthology of the Mighty Atom and Dan, the Dynamite – mythological heroes of the mid-twentieth century.
I can just see Mr Danville Walker's emissaries at the Old Harbour Bay Fishing Beach – once represented I believe, by Mr Golding's father – attempting to calculate the tax on last night's catch. They will soon be wearing bullet proof vests and armed with M-16s
Nothing better expresses the vapidity of Reaganite-Thatcherite-Seagaism than Shaw's announcement taxing bullas and crackers but sparing used cars
It is at moments like these that I really miss my late great cousin Richard Thelwell. I can hear him now:
"I mean, is this cat for REAL?"
As Groucho Marx might say, "That is a good question.… a very good question!"
We have watched the worldwide mindless progression into dog-eat-dog globalisation, into the nirvana of neocon nihilism and the recent European Union preference for Central American slave-produced bananas over free enterprise bananas from the Caribbean. None of that has surprised us.
But a tax on bullas! A tax on coconut drops? A tax on the famously malleable sweeties called Bustamante Backbone?
"You cannot be serious!" as John McEnroe is reported to have said.
They'll soon be installing parking meters on Skyline Drive and on the road to Port Royal!

Drive-by Development
There's always a slip between intention and execution when it comes to writing my columns. I will go round for days, carefully composing deathless prose in my head when some human projectile, some fiscal mortar-shell like Mr Shaw explodes and rudely exposes me to the real world.

I had really intended to write about an inspired and impassioned defence of the environment by a learned friend of mine, Dr Byron Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology & Head, Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group, and normally an inoffensive scientist more concerned with keeping things calm than in raising hell. His ire has been raised by Jamaica's Prospector in Chief, Mr Edmund Bartlett, who has replaced Mr Vin Lawrence in looking for unspoiled places most needing to be clothed in concrete.
I am told by an unreliable source that Bartlett, Lawrence and Patterson, along with Tony Hylton of the Port Authority and John Ashcroft, former Attorney General of the US, are members of an arcane religious group called the Society for Elimination of Elemental Nakedness – SEEN. This group has been uniquely commissioned by God to seek out instances of natural and unnatural nakedness and unruly behaviour among human beings, trees and coral reefs and to suppress or disguise these manifestations of life in flagrante either by pruning, felling or mutilation or by dredging or alternately, where such measures may not be feasible, to cover these indecent manifestations by clothing, by grass lawns, by mega-ships or by concrete.
Mr Bartlett, probably under the guidance of the UDC, has fixed his beady eye on Manatee Bay, no doubt having been warned off Halfmoon Bay, Hellshire, pre-owned as it were, by fishermen.
Manatee Bay, further along the Hellshire Coast, is a prime candidate for the attentions of SEEN. Somebody has been exposing Mr Bartlett to Hellshire, and the minister for Tourism , properly excited, has declared his intention to turn Port Henderson's notorious 'Back Road" into the equivalent of Montego Bay's comically misnamed "Hip Strip".
The headline in the Observer was

'Back Road' to get hip strip status as Portmore looks to tourism

It may have escaped the attention of the magnates of the Back Road that as far as I can see, there isn't a single Jamaican-owned enterprise on MoBay's Hip Strip.
Mr Bartlett, according to the news item has plans:
"… tourism minister Edmund Bartlett is already examining the possibilities of developing the Manatee Bay area into an exclusive tourism product.
Manatee Bay is a prime waterfront property which extends beyond Hellshire (sic)
The minister said he has since taken potential investors there to scout out the area.
"Manatee Bay has tremendous potential for tourism development and one which could be developed into a new frontier," Bartlett said.
According to Bartlett, Portmore has great potential … as the community with its already great dormitory areas would be a good catchment for tourist workers. (As I said a long time ago, people will be trying to find a good reason for Portmore until it disappears under the sea)
Mr Bartlett's entire vocabulary is that of the real estate huckster. There is not even the hint of an environmental, cultural or esthetic consideration; it's all about cash. A country that brazenly and incessantly claims to be motivated by spiritual ideals , led by a government which invokes God at the drop of an expletive, finds it impossible to remember that life is not all about cash, that land is not all about property rights and commissions and fees.
Thirty years ago I had an acrimonious argument with the UDC who came close to accusing me of insanity because I contended that a UWI expedition had produced evidence suggesting that iguanas might still exist in Hellshire, contrary to the conventional wisdom which held they had been extinct for 40 years.
Thirty years ago I fought for the university's vision of a Hellshire that was managed to protect its natural wilderness, its biodiversity and to safeguard its scientific integrity. The UDC was for "Development" covering the wilderness with concrete, pumping sewage into a 500 million year old underground reservoir of pure water in a landscape devoid of springs and other sources of potable water.
The UDC's ideas for Hellshire have never been too short of nuttiness, of an arrogant disregard for facts as against public relations jargon and boosterish BS.
Since then, however, other things have changed and people have organised to protect Jamaica's valuable patrimony. What we have is not just our patrimony, but the heritage and patrimony of the entire human race and we need to recognise that we have serious responsibilities to protect the interests of humanity.
Dr Wilson has written to the editors of our newspapers, laying out the case against Mr Bartlett's fantasies. I haven't yet been able to ask his permission but I will quote him nonetheless because what he has to say is too important to the public interest to be kept from the public.
•" … the Manatee Bay area has, at least until now, managed to escape the major assault that has been launched on the island's other coastal areas.  Indeed, every white sand beach is a potential target for destruction by development interests.  From an environmental perspective, the Manatee Bay area contains the least disturbed and most valuable coastal habitat remaining on the island.  The area's most famous resident, the Jamaican iguana, is one of the world's rarest [animals], and its population is restricted to the dry limestone forest that borders Manatee Bay. 
•    "… in contrast to the "tremendous potential for tourism development" cited by Mr. Bartlett, the Manatee Bay area is in fact a horrible location for tourism development.      This was the conclusion reached by a joint UWI-Institute of Jamaica study commissioned in 1970; more recent research has served to underscore this assessment. 
• " For starters, the water in Manatee Bay is extremely turbid; it's usually not possible to see one's feet while standing in only a foot of water.  That is not the sort of clear blue Caribbean sea that tourists want to swim in.          
• "Second, Manatee Bay and the adjacent coastal waters are a major spawning ground for the Southern Stingray.  The combination of turbid water and plentiful but "invisible" stingrays renders the area decidedly unfriendly when it comes to water sports.
    • Manatee Bay is prime crocodile habitat.  We started monitoring the population a year ago, and have already marked and released 100 crocodiles…and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Where will the hundreds of displaced crocodiles go?
    Dr Wilson then explains why the area is scientifically important and why, although it is largely unnoticed in Jamaica, the area is recognised by the international community for its biological importance. The international community have incidentally, invested more than a million US for protection of the manatee. Dr Wilson continues:
    " Make no mistake about it:  the international conservation community knows all about Hellshire, and all about its precarious persistence.  They have also invested heavily in saving both Hellshire and the iguana, and they will not be happy to learn that their efforts may have been in vain.  Hellshire is no Pear Tree Bottom, because tragic as the destruction of that area was, it did not harbour any so-called site endemics.  Developing Hellshire would lead directly to the extinction of the iguana, because it occurs nowhere else.  The battle over mining the Cockpit Country for bauxite would seem like a friendly exchange among colleagues compared to any battle over destroying Manatee Bay and driving the iguana to extinction.  So please Minister, shelve these plans.  And after all, the Manatee Bay area sits squarely in the middle of the Portland Bight Protected Area, and is part of the Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays – which has been designated as a wetland of international importance through the Ramsar Convention.  Moreover, the government has already committed to protecting the iguana and the other unique natural resources of this biodiversity "hotspot within a hotspot." 
I (JM) quoted Edward Seaga last week speaking about the social dichotomy represented in what he called the Afro-European divide. It isn't so much an Afro/European divide as it is a divide between the humane and the exploitative, between those who care for the soil and those who see land purely as a portfolio asset. This is what is at the heart of the conflict between the so-called "Developers" and the rest of us in this country. For the developers there are no 'sacred places' in this country. They are as willing to dig down Barbecue Bottom and the rest of the `Cockpit Country as they are ready to destroy anything that can be looted.
That is why, despite solemn promises, the government of Jamaica daily shames itself by its non-ratification of the SPAW protocol which would settle most developer-conservationist disputes before they started. An ecosystem like Little Bloody Bay at Negril may not be of transcendental importance, but taken with the destruction and planned destruction of similar precious or valuable sites, its conversion to concrete would be a disgusting piece of vandalism negating our claim to be civilised .
Professor `Elizabeth Thomas Hope has been preaching for years about the need to care for our patrimony and specifically about the problem of solid waste. Yet, successive governments claiming to be civilised, refuse, for example, to put a deposit on plastic bottles or to tax capital gains or to reintroduce a progressive income tax, all prerequisites of a civilised society. Why?
Because people who give large sums of money to the PNP and the JLP won't like it.
So – they put a tax on bullas, on yam and on fresh fish.
Life is about to get extremely interesting.

Copyright © 2009 John Maxwell jankunnu@yahoo.com

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