December 14, 2017

Budget 2018: False expectations

The 2018 National Budget has been presented and naturally both sides in the National Assembly would be boisterous in stating their analyses. From the Government standpoint, Budget 2018 delivers additional mechanisms for the provision of the ‘good life’ it promised to all. The Opposition has already branded it disastrous and a failure. Over the next few days, the financial gurus would conduct their analyses and pontificate on positives and negatives. While that will be most useful, a casual perusal by the ordinary man can seemingly and somewhat instinctively evoke a sense of bewilderment.
This is posited given the impulse of the masses to part the jargon and have the impact on daily bread-and-butter issues revealed. Basically, what’s in it for them and how would they benefit? Would the budget redound in the ‘good life’ coming knocking at their doors? With those pertinent questions as tools to unearth, a bare cupboard may be revealed from the perspective of the ordinary man and woman. Budgets are obviously not panaceas to solve every issue and for the satisfaction of all. However, one would expect meaningful measures that can genuinely appeal to the masses.
This is where Budget 2018 would have disappointed. The anticipation that surrounds the presentation of every Budget is generally premised on, among others, higher salaries and lower taxes; in other words, more disposable income to mitigate rising prices. As customary here, workers anticipate increases in salary and/or of the income tax threshold either through the Budget or an end-of-the-year announcement. Of recent, the latter seemed to have dried up and no upward movement of the income tax threshold was announced by the Honourable Minister of Finance in his 2018 Budget presentation.
That may have turned noses up in disgust especially when expectations were increased through the seemingly unprecedented lavish and costly billboards, which, while a good touch, were not necessary. None can be faulted for their expectations for increases in personal financial resources through the Budget. The belief may have been, if there were resources for the billboards, then same for the people. In reality, it turned out to be false expectations even in premise. At least one group, pensioners, can bask in their fortune of an increase; a whopping five hundred dollars extra for 2018. While clearly sarcasm is intended, one has to seriously ask, what can that sum do?
This government, when in Opposition, criticised marginal increases implemented and boasted about by the past Administration. By the same standard, it must be held accountable. It appears that not just the tables have turned, but the thinking as well. As expected, State arms rush to defend this increase, which, in reality, cannot afford the luxury for any given month of two extra loaves of bread for the elderly. As a reminder, this government removed much-needed subsidies for water and electricity for pensioners. Similarly, having removed the education grant, the removal of VAT on education would now be vociferously championed as a monumental and visionary budgetary measure. But nothing can be farther from the truth.
The loud banging of tables as a show of support by Government members when the removal was announced was, therefore, astonishing. This was not the dismantling of an unpopular measure by the previous Administration. It was the reversal of an unwise decision of the said Government precipitated by sustained public pressure! Those who access private education were even labelled as elitist by some officials when the VAT was opposed. From all indications, it was a colossal blunder by the Government, having taken the position that only the financially endowed use private schools. So what was the celebration to the announcement about?
Clearly, it could not have been over a visionary decision. If it was over the acceptance and reversal of a mistake, then that would appear more acceptable. What seems very plausible is the absence of an acceptance of a mistake during the upcoming Budget debate. Like those with expectations for tangible budgetary measures, having been hooked by the billboards, any expectation of owning up to a mistake would meet the same fate. The banging on the tables may have given it away. Another giveaway may lie somewhere in the proportionality of speed and accomplishment.
With a policy of swiftly presenting new budgets in the preceding year, there is always the possibility of some things suffering at the hands of expediency. It appears that in Budget 2018, substance suffered as did expectations no less than the deceit from the billboards.