Caribbean Politics: Who said it? Colm Imbert or Michael Manley?

These days one of the big stories in Trinidad and Tobago is the contentious property tax issue. No need for me to explain what it’s all about since it’s been spoken about ad nauseam on countless platforms. Suffice to say that people are either fully in favour of it, or dead set against it with not much of a perceivable middle ground.

The government minister in charge of collecting the vexing tax is the finance minister, Colm Imbert. He has come under a great deal of fire since plans for the tax were made public and has shown no shortage of some combination of craftiness and disingenuity in issuing his public responses. One could go so far as to say that he has perhaps taken PR classes alongside the “baffle them with BS” force of nature that is White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who insisted this past week that “covfefe” was in fact a real word with a real meaning understood by a select few.

However, Spicer isn’t the focus of this post. Below, parallels will be drawn between Colm Imbert’s property tax stance and rhetoric, and former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley and what he had to say about his policies and detractors back in the 1970s.

As shown in a previous post featuring current Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister and past Prime Minister ANR Robinson, there can often be intriguing similarities between political leaders’ choice of words, across time periods. In this case it shows that it’s also the same across countries.

1) The “tough” reality: 

Manley (1977)

Imbert (27/04/17)

To people who couldn’t get their desired products due to import restrictions:

“we’re sorry about that but you know life is a tough business and we have to survive.”


On the need to implement the property tax:

“Things are tight, you know. We have a $20-billion gap in financing and Trinidad and Tobago as a country has less money available to it now than it has had for a very long time. Things are tough so we have to look for alternative sources of financing.”

2) C’est la vie: 

Manley (1977)

Imbert (27/04/17)

“We’ve said very firmly we are not going to compromise the policies because Jamaica has to be changed. You don’t change anything without a certain amount of difficulty and a certain amount of upset. This is inevitable.”


“I know people don’t like property tax. […] I don’t like it, but this country is in a very difficult position and we need everybody to contribute to the revenues of the country and unfortunately this is one of the measures we must continue with.”

3) “It’s not as bad as it looks / sounds”: 

Manley (1977)

Imbert (04/05/17)

“There was tremendous economic insecurity. A lot of people got frightened, but if you really look at the things that we have done, they have not been draconian. […] The actual things that have been done have not been that harsh.”

“Sensible people will understand that this in your best interest. We really need the revenue, we don’t want to enter into a situation where we have to take drastic measures. We haven’t taken any drastic measures so far.”

Some would say these statements merit the use of the following meme, which is called “I lied”.


4) Mentioning richer land owners’ burden: 

Manley 1977

Imbert (04/05/17)

“When land reform became more vigorous and more dynamic, people got more upset; certain kinds of land owners got more upset, and so on and so forth.”


“This property tax falls into that scenario of equity and fairness. The man in Goodwood Park would be paying six times more tax than the man in River Estate or Carenage, what’s unfair about that? It is a fair and equitable and just tax.”


5) Oil prices and the balance of payments:

Note that here the negative effect is due to high prices for Jamaica, and low prices for T&T given the country’s status as an oil exporter.

Manley 1977

Imbert (12/01/16)

“then came the oil prices, in a country that depends to the tune of 97% on oil for its energy. And suddenly the oil bill multiplied by 4, knocked the whole balance of payments sideways.”


“This dramatic energy price shock, combined with a steady reduction in domestic production, is having a debilitating impact on our fiscal and external accounts and there will be spill over effects on (the) level of economic activity and employment.”


Finally, this assurance from Minister Imbert raised more than a few eyebrows last month:

“It is obvious that people want to get involved in this process of having their properties valued and assessed, and they want to pay the tax.” (18/05/17)

Any or all of these memes may be appropriate reactions to the above statement, in line with public sentiment on the issue, or at least a certain segment of public sentiment:

Even Bob Marley could not hide his bewilderment at Colm’s brash affirmation.


When asked by an interviewer how he reacted to accusations that Jamaica was turning Communist, Manley had this to say in 1977. 40 years on in 2017, his words are echoed by many in Trinidad who are up in arms about the tax and about Imbert’s assertion that they are biting at the bit to fork over the cash:

Is it true that Trinis want to pay the tax?

“It’s not only not true, but it’s silly. […] I don’t mean to be rude but there really are some things in life that are silly and it’s very difficult to be more polite than that.” (Michael Manley, October 1977)

Forget property tax, Colm Imbert may have to pay Michael Manley’s estate royalties at this rate.


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