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'I've been touched' - Portia's contact with Master indicative of general election

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2016 | 1:00 AMDaraine Luton
Simpson Miller

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said yesterday that she has already been touched by her Master, an indication that the general election is near.

Simpson Miller's off-mic comment was made in the House of Representatives yesterday after Opposition Member of Parliament Audley Shaw begged her to delay polls until the voters' list has been cleaned up.

Simpson Miller, on the campaign trail, late last year, said that she would announce the date for the general election whenever her master touched her.

Yesterday, Simpson Miller grinned broadly as she said the words, "I have already been touched", in response to Shaw.

The general election is due in December and may be delayed for three months. However, Simpson Miller has told members of her People's National Party (PNP) that they should expect to "do the reaping early in the New Year".

The PNP on Sunday published its full slate of 63 candidates and held a high-level campaign meeting in St Ann.

With $166.8 billion added to the Budget, which was passed last March, Shaw suggested that monies could be allocated to give the PNP an unfair advantage. He also said that the reduction in the amount earmarked for voter reverification painted a worrying picture. Some $990 million was approved for the reverification exercise, but that has been cut by $843 million.

"Names are on the list that should not be on the list, and yet the Government is putting back all this money into the Consolidated Fund," Shaw said.

"Is that part of a plan to have corrupt elections in this country?" he questioned.

"It is now clear to us that their purpose is going to be achieved. An election is about to be called on a voters' list that has between 400,000 and 500,000 names that should not be on it. Don't mek anybody touch you! Don't mek the Master touch you until the voters' list clean up," Shaw said to Simpson Miller.

Meanwhile, categorising suggestions that the $166.8 billion increase in the Budget was due to electioneering by the Government and fiscal irresponsibly as "really ludicrous", Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips said yesterday that the PetroCaribe debt buy-back and increased wages to public-sector workers were the main reasons for the increase.

Shaw, opposition spokesman on finance, said that the revised budget had been constructed for election spending.

"What is taking place is an orgy of expenditure."

He questioned allocations being made to do things such as bushing in constituencies. One such project is said to have taken place in his North East Manchester seat, which, he said, he knew nothing about, and he has challenged Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier to provide a full list of all farm roads being bushed for $460 million.

For Shaw, he wants the country to be assured that "we are not seeing an abuse taking place because elections are in the air".

He pointed out that fresh funds - $347 million - have been earmarked for spending under the Poverty Reduction Programme in the Office of the Prime Minister. In addition, there is an allocation of $800 million for agriculture incentives, the bulk of which is for the transportation of sugar cane following the closure of the Long Pond factory.

"This is election money, and what the opposition is concerned about is the potential for abuse, and the potential for unreasonable division of the funds exists," Shaw said.

MPs passed the Supplementary Estimates but not before Phillips said that the Government would provide the information about the new projects over which Shaw had raised concerns.

In relation to the voters' list, Phillips said that the finance ministry provided all the funds to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica that it had requested.

Parliament passed a $641.5 billion Budget in March last year. The net increase in expenditure of $166.8 billion to $808.4 billion is made up of an increase in the non-debt recurrent budget of $2 billion, some $1.8 billion of which results from a recalculation of the nominal primary balance target, resulting from changes in the nominal GDP forecast for 2015-2016.

Capital expenditure has been increased by $4.2 billion because of the relaxation of the primary surplus target. This target was reduced by 0.25 percentage of GDP following protracted discussions with the International Monetary Fund.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com