Energy Minister Stuart Young yesterday answered one of the topics that have been on the lips of many citizens — whether the recent purchase of a luxury vehicle was not ill-timed given the strife many citizens are currently facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Young and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh purchased luxury vehicles using tax exemptions afforded to them as state officials.
The furore this matter has sparked is understandable, coming as it does at a time when a huge sector of the population is struggling to survive due to the loss of jobs and livelihoods as a result of the pandemic’s crushing body blows.
It was only in October of last year, during the Budget debate, that the issue of Parliamentarians and other state officials benefiting from tax breaks on vehicles, while the public was asked to continue to bear the brunt of the economic fallout of COVID-19 and falling energy prices, was raised by citizens. In response, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had promised he would approach Cabinet to suggest a cap of $350,000 on tax exemptions for vehicle purchases by Members of Parliament.
But as Minister Young noted yesterday that this issue has not been a priority for the Cabinet, he was also unapologetic about his Mercedes Benz GLE 450 purchase. While saying he understood some people may be upset about it at this time and that he understood citizens’ current plights as well, Minister Young also said he was deserving of this entitlement as a hard-working public servant.
Unfortunately, Minister Young and other politicians now fervently arguing the issue may have completely missed the point.
You see no one is begrudging politicians the right to enjoying the exemption afforded to them in the law.
However, at a time when so many among us are facing unemployment, financial ruin, hunger, sickness and even death and amid a State of Emergency, the timing of these purchases only serve to expose the disdain our politicians generally hold for citizens.
The real question that must be asked is, are politicians on both sides of the aisle doing enough in their constituencies to help the increasing numbers of citizens who have fallen below the poverty line? What have they done aside from casting blame on each other for our present situation, looking for shameless political gain? This is a matter which often comes up in debate but only a few actually walk the talk.
Have these politicians led personal hamper drives in their communities, as other Good Samaritans have done nationwide? Are they even visiting communities to see how constituents are faring, even if to offer comfort and channel some state assistance their way?
Needless to say, with the COVID measures likely to stay with us for a while, it is not too late for all politicians to show citizens they truly understand their circumstances and redeem the situation.
The leaders of our nation are obligated, by the very office they occupy, to inspire and rally the population in these perilous times to persevere through the hardships we face and to be our brother’s keepers despite all the adversity we must overcome daily.
It is time for them to start setting the example.