Phillips shuns calls for more spending
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
FINANCE MINISTER Dr Peter Phillips said on Tuesday that the Govern-ment would not bow to populist calls for more spending, saying the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government is not prepared to allow the country's economic programme to go awry.
" … Obviously, there is need for even more; obviously, we would like to provide the more," Phillips said in response to calls from Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw for greater allocation of funding to areas such as education, public cleansing, and the health sector.
He said Shaw, when he was finance minister, ignored his obligations under the previous standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which was inked in 2010. According to Phillips, Shaw "was blindly prepared to abandon his commitments under the programme and destroyed Jamaica's reputation as well as the programme".
"We are not prepared to do that," said Phillips, who was closing a debate on the First Supplementary Estimates in the House of Representatives.
"This Budget and the 7.5 per cent primary surplus are not easy. It has involved sacrifice by people right across the country in all categories; yet, even as we have done that, we have sought to meet out obligations," Phillip said.
Shaw said the Government has "apparently abandoned its very conscience on the altar of IMF dictates".
The Government has inked a four-year extended fund facility with the IMF, which requires that the country runs a 7.5 per cent surplus each year over the life of the programme. It also requires that wages to public-sector workers be frozen, and for public-sector and tax reforms, mainly aimed at lowering the country's high debt rate and restructuring the economy to allow for growth.
Shaw complained that despite this, the Government continues to boast about meeting its commitment under the IMF programme. He noted that the public-health sector, for example, is crumbling due to inadequate funding.
He pointed to the case of a man who fell over a precipice and has been admitted at the Kingston Public Hospital, but has been unable to do surgery due to the shortage of medical materials.
"The procedure, the only chance for him to be able to walk again and continue to earn a living, is postponed indefinitely," Shaw claimed.
He said it would cost $160,000 to conduct the operation, but the Government has not been allocating scarce resources properly.
"Poor people [are] taking the fall from passing the IMF tests again," Shaw said.
Phillips, however, said that the Government regrets personal tragedies, and noted that there are difficulties being faced across many sectors.
"What we are aiming to do is to try and find a way of putting ourselves in a position where such tragedies don't occur, but we have to do it in a way that is real and does not rely on burdening the public accounts with expenses that cannot be sustained over time," Phillip said.
"Anybody can jump up - and the member (Shaw) is adept - and engage in populist excess as to everything that would need more money," he added.
The finance minister noted that included in the Supplementary Estimates is $1 billion for drugs for the health sector.
The $540-billion budget that was passed at the start of the fiscal year has been reduced by $739 million. The adjustments reflected reallocation of expenditure to meet critical new commitments as well as the transfer of funds from a contingency to meet programme expenditures such as the payment of drugs and medical supplies, wages and salaries, and electricity arrears.