In a hopeful Budget speech that insistently focused on facts, Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips demolished the false claims of both Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw, about the state of the Jamaican economy. Ironically quoting both Shaw and former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, Phillips underscored the urgent need to place the national interest above political opportunism.
On the contentious matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Phillips emphasised the failure of the JLP to “undertake the necessary structural reforms in order to achieve a sustainable balance of payments”. Instead of administering the “bitter medicine” that Holness had prescribed in 2011, the former JLP government simply “took the money and ran,” according to Phillips. Now, the JLP insists that the passing of IMF tests is “contrived”.
In a witty aside, Phillips asserted, in reference to Audley Shaw, “him want the horse but not the bridle”. I wished there had been more of that kind of vivid language in Phillips’ rather technical speech. I kept on wondering just how many listeners really understood the ins and outs of Phillips’ arguments. I got lost at times. It struck me that the deaf were much better served than the majority of Jamaicans. They had access to sign language. For most of us, the minister’s technical words fell on deaf ears.
I believe that for important national matters like the Budget debates, translators should be employed to turn technical English into accessible Jamaican Creole. All our talk of democracy is pointless if we continue to exclude the majority of Jamaicans from public discourse. As one woman said to me, “From dem start wid dem ‘per cent’, mi stop listen. Because mi no know weh dem a seh”.
What is so sad is that “per cent” is such an easy concept to translate: “out of every 100”. But those of us who know English don’t think it’s essential to include in our national debates those Jamaicans who don’t know the language. We claim that they understand when they don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter to us that so many Jamaicans stop listening when we start to talk to ourselves.
I am convinced that many more Jamaicans would buy into the government’s Budget if they fully understood our options. We would come to accept the fact that the price of hope is sacrifice. Eucalyptus oil is, indeed, bitter medicine. But it really is therapeutic. That’s the message Peter Phillips needs to communicate in a language that everybody can understand. Including Mr. Shaw and Mr. Holness!