So last night the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Hon Bruce Golding addressed the nation in what was an unprecedented move to ask Jamaicans to remain calm in the face of the budget debates that will start to day. Explaining that no monies will be borrowed, and the JD$ 547.7 billion budget will be funded from internal revenue only. He was very clear in saying that a new tax package will be announced, and reminded all that given the current global and national economic crisis, the Jamaican government at this time really had no choice. Interestingly too, the national security forces have been put on alert - also an unprecedented first.
The main worry seems to be the impending tax on petrol. Already economists speculate that the Government stands to 'earn' about JD$ 1 billion from this tax - if implemented. In the past Jamaicans often react in a rather flammable way (pardon the very bad pun) to increases in the price of petrol - there have been a number of national gas riots, the last being in April 1999 which resulted in the then Prime Minister PJ Patterson rolling back the cess (ad valorem tax) that was imposed just to restore clam.
That was even calm when compared to the previous gas riots that happened while I was still in high school - April 1979. I remember being forced - like thousands of commuters - to start the long walk home from Kingston to Spanish Town (approximately 8 kilometers) , hoping that once I got there then finding my way home (still another 18 kilometers) would be easier. No such luck. Forced to stay with a classmate that lived in Spanish Town, I was 'rescued' the next day by my Mother who had braved the blocked roads, and rioting to come and get me. The island was virtually shut down during these riots - the worse on the records to date.
Public debate is divided on whether or not there will be riots in response to today's budget debates. Some say that Jamaicans are smart enough to understand that tough economic times calls for tough sacrafices from all. Others think enough is enough - with prices of commodities at an all time high, with rumours of new taxes on electricity, water and other basic essentials, in addition to a tax on petrol which in turn will send everthing else skywards, Jamaicans will once again be forced to take their issues to the streets and do what seems now to be a national pass time (in addition to daggering!) - block di road!