DRIVE A HARD BARGAIN
Dr. Lester CN Simon
This is a joke. It might not make you laugh but it’s a joke worth sharing. For the next few minutes, you and I are going to help to solve the financial problem in this country. It’s not very difficult. All we have to do, is to follow the main arguments from the experts, and take them (the arguments, not the experts) to their logical conclusion. So, let’s get to work, and think. Yes, we can work and think at the same time.
Let’s start with the statement by the president of the Antigua and Barbuda Employers Federation, Patrick Ryan. He called on the government to cut public sector jobs, whilst warning that the private sector was not prepared to absorb any laid off workers. Almost immediately, members of the Antigua Labour Party chided Ryan for talking about the laying off of workers without offering a solution. Obviously, Ryan thought he had done precisely what the ALP had not done: offered a solution. What do we learn from this? The problem is not the lay off. Government can lay off as many workers as necessary, if we have a solution to the unemployment problem created by the lay off.
You lay off workers because they are in excess of the money available to pay them. They are bloating the civil service and many of them are unproductive and contributing to poor work ethic and low morale in and out of the workplace. Following this same rationale, of cutting the excess fat, let us consider what else we have in this country that is in excess that we can cut, lay off, utilize better or sell.
Not the beaches. The best ones are occupied. Not the off-shore islands. Are any spare ones left? Not the ubiquitous “cassi” bush that nobody wants to buy. Don’t even dream about the non-nationals. Many Antiguans and Barbudans, including politicians, on both sides, will leave with them if we send them home. What about a reduction in the excessive numbers of government vehicles? Many persons have called for this.
This leads to another question. Why stop at government vehicles? Why not look at all kinds of vehicles on the island, public and private? We have far too many. If we can only find a way to lay off government workers and utilize our vehicles better, we might be able to solve a large part of our financial problem.
Here is the plan. We swallow the bitter pill and lay off the excessive and unproductive government workers. But we continue to pay them a small fraction of the wages and salaries they used to get. Apart from numbering amongst the excessive workers and being unproductive, any laid-off worker must own and operate a vehicle, or must be able to drive, or they will be sent to learn to drive.
We draw an imaginary ring around St. John’s and include the popular roads that are tributaries into the city. We levy a toll to enter and leave the demarcated areas from Monday to Friday, 7.00 AM to 5.00 PM. The laid-off workers will form fleets of taxis. Only these taxis and the already established bone fide taxis will be allowed free access into and out of the toll areas.
All other drivers must pay the heavy toll or utilize the taxi service, paying much less for riding in the taxis than the toll for their private vehicles. These new taxis will be so efficient and cost effective, many of us will leave our vehicles at home until the evening and weekend. It will be a dream come true: A reliable and cheap (and quiet) transportation service. But what about the government vehicles?
The toll charge will also be levied at government vehicles. Moreover, to set an example, all ministers of government, including the Prime Minister, will have to use the new taxi service. No monies from the government treasury (or from any statutory agency) will be paid to private drivers (and private advisers) of government ministers. In fact, the toll charge on government vehicles alone, will be set so high, it would be cheaper to hand over the tax payers’ vehicles at the toll and walk, than to pay the toll charge. Brilliant!
We would have finally found a way to take back the government vehicles, which can then be leased to those laid-off workers who can drive but do not own a vehicle. Many of the laid-off workers might have some difficulty at first, in driving at the normal speed, since they are not accustomed to operating at a normal pace. In fact, many of them will show a penchant for driving on one way streets and going round the roundabout round and round and round, initially.
Think of all the advantages of this revolution. We will have fewer cars on the road during the workweek. Riding in the taxis, we will get to know each other better. We will get to work and back home on time. We will walk more in the city and be healthier for it. When the toll is lifted in the evenings, we can drive our private vehicles. But we will be too tired in the evenings because we will really be working during the day, having discovered real work, in the absence of the laid-off bloaters. On weekends, we can embrace our private vehicles and go to church, visit friends and drive to the beach.
We will save a whole ton of money and we will make a pile of money too. The laid-off bloaters will feel better about themselves. We will love them. All of us will love our little country more. We will ride, in the new taxi cabs, happily into an incandescent Antiguan and Barbudan picturesque sunset. There is only one little problem. This is a joke.