Workmanlike budget presentation from Phillips, but on how solid a ground personally?

Opposition Leader in waiting, Dr Peter Phillips, has bona fide credibility to staunchly rebut the presentation of Finance Minister, Audley Shaw.

After all, Phillips led the nation’s finances for four critical years, including going through virtually a full four-year extended fund facility with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which until recently, had seemed to be a feat that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), with Shaw as its finance standard bearer, had questionable capacity to accomplish.

So Phillips has not only talked the talk, but also walked the walk. He also brought stability to the nation’s fiscal programme at a time when stability was exactly what the proverbial ‘doctor’ would have ordered.

Yes, the naysayers will point to the sliding dollar under Phillips’ stewardship at Heroes Circle, but it should be remembered that it was the IMF itself that was touting the natural levelling off of the value of the local currency through a gradually depreciating exchange rate. And don’t believe that if the IMF comes back singing that tune, that Shaw will be doing anything else than humming along.

But for Dr Phillips, the whole question of his credibility in demanding the roll-back of every new or increased tax measure that Shaw announced in his opening budget presentation is an entirely different story, excepting for the reversed roles of the two men. This is because there is precious little difference between what Shaw has done now, and what Phillips did multiple times in the budget cycles between 2012 and 2016. In fact, the very same increase in fuel tax, for example, occurred under Phillips at the Finance Ministry.

Objectively, outside of the tax on group life insurance and Shaw’s plan to ‘rope in’ the excess liquidity on the hands of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), which the hoteliers are rightfully locking horns with him on, Dr Phillips was just as predatory in the big seat at Heroes Circle.

He has said measures which he employed while in office cannot work now. He has said the JLP is basically spineless, nonsensical and simply ill-advised re the tax package that has been announced. But how does all that flak stack up in consideration of Phillips’ own record as Finance Minister?

And of some note is that while much of what the Opposition Spokesman on Finance is saying does make some economic and financial sense, his message has been quite a hard sell because of the messenger, who made no complaint or gave very little, if any, attention to similar warnings when he sat in the big chair.

Look back at Dr Phillips having imposed the same $7 increase in fuel tax as Finance Minister, and now chomping at the bit for Shaw to withdraw the same measure, albeit another round of increase and an additional burden on the population.

And two years before, for the 2015-2016 budget, Dr Phillips imposed $10.5 billion in new taxes, which he defended stoutly then. But now in opposition, the difficulties with such levels of additional taxation are suddenly resonating with him.

Does either of the two examples above lend for any basis to seriously support the political scientist on his crusades?

Indeed, is the notion of some that Phillips appears to have been better at holding down the finance ministry during gritty economic times, than he is as Opposition Spokesman on Finance during times of less choppy waters, appearing to be ringing true?

Dr Phillips cited Shaw’s continued focus on targeting mainly indirect taxation to produce the additional revenues that are needed, as a case of taking from the poor and giving to the rich in an anti-Robin Hood-type syndrome. Fine, and quite a logical perspective.

But, importantly, was Dr Phillips doing any differently up to just over a year ago? Weren’t the ‘sin taxes’, fuel tax, motor vehicle-related taxes, and telephone-related tax all part of his armoury?

And for what it is worth, there are indications that it reportedly took the personal intervention of then Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, to save some critical basic food items from the General Consumption Tax. (GCT) listing when Dr Phillips really got into gear back then.

But the messenger aside, the sermon was not without foundation.

Pulling on his exposure as Finance Minister, Dr Phillips rode the right horses, blew the trumpet as needed, and mercilessly ripped into Shaw’s presentation.

That is what is expected of Opposition Spokespersons, though with a little more circumspection in his case, considering that he was not too long ago in the hot seat, and was being chided for being far more hard-headed than Shaw has been so far.