200,000-strong business group wants Shaw to 'come clean'
The 200,000-strong Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Alliance says Finance Minister Audley Shaw should "come clean" and apologise for giving the country the impression he was not aware the money collected from a special tax on fuel was placed in the Consolidated Fund instead of being set aside in a special fund.
Yesterday's Sunday Gleaner reported from Hansard - the official verbatim records of Parliament - that Shaw was last year given information on what was being done with the money the Andrew Holness administration subsequently promised would be used to help finance an income tax break for Jamaicans earning $1.5 million or less.
Donovan Wignal, president of the alliance, said he would not go as far as to say Shaw was misleading the country last week when he made the revelations that the money had been spent or otherwise budgeted.
He agreed, however, that Shaw should not have been surprised given the update he received in Parliament last September.
"There is some amount of damage control that needs to be done now," Wignal told The Gleaner.
"What the people are looking for is honesty. Do not come with any excuses. (But) I wouldn't come out and say the country was being misled."
He added: "At the end of the day, they (JLP) consulted with their consultants. They (were) not in power, but of course they would have been privy to a lot of the discussions that would have taken place. He (Shaw) should come clean. Shaw should come and provide a fulsome explanation as to what he meant when he said what he said based on the fact Hansard has proven that he knew something contrary to what he announced."
The MSME Alliance head said Shaw's coming public to speak to the issue would "garner some amount of respect".
"Do the big man thing. Do the 'Man a Yard' (thing) and say 'I misspoke'."
Confronted with Shaw's claims, former Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips had rubbished them as "red herrings", arguing that the situation highlighted the "impracticality" of the tax plan.
Phillips told The Gleaner that, up to when he left office last month, legislation was not completed for the establishment of the special fund, the Energy Stabilisation Fund.
He also said approximately $3 billion from the special consumption tax collected on fuel was used to finance an insurance programme for oil last July.
The Holness administration had hoped to get $9.5 billion from the gas tax to fund the income tax policy.
The Office of the Prime Minister has indicated that the issue will be "addressed in the presentation of the Budget" later this month.