Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Government's priorities to be rolled out in Throne Speech

Published:Thursday | April 14, 2016 | 4:00 AMEdmond Campbell
This barricade by Duke and Sutton streets will be the boundary for supporters of the People’s National Party during today’s ceremonial opening of Parliament.

As Governor General Sir Patrick Allen delivers the Throne Speech in Parliament today, setting out the Andrew Holness administration's priorities for the 2016-2017 legislative year, low-income earners will be eager to hear if the promised increase in the minimum wage from $6,200 to $8,200 per week will be introduced this year.

In its election manifesto, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) committed to increasing the take-home pay of minimum wage earners if it formed the Government.

The JLP's plan to remove mandatory school fees at secondary schools at the start of the academic year in September, by increasing funds per child in the national budget, is also a significant item that many will be hoping Sir Patrick highlights in his presentation.

After setting out in its manifesto plans to reform the governance structure of the National Housing Trust, many contributors will be holding the Government to its pledge to ensure that contributors' money is used for the intended purpose, particularly financing for low-income contributors.

On the legislative front, the head of state is expected to highlight some critical pieces of legislation that the Government intends to pass this year.

The establishment of the single anti-corruption agency, which has been in gestation for some time now, is expected to be given priority by the Government.

A joint select committee of the previous Parliament had completed extensive work on the proposed law. The JLP had said it would revise the work already done by lawmakers to ensure the effectiveness of the proposed law.

The anti-corruption body will replace the Corruption Prevention Commission, the Parliamentary Integrity Commission, and the Office of the Contractor General.

JLP Leader Andrew Holness had also said he would start the legislative process to fix the date for general elections within the first 100 days of his governance. He also pledged to start the legislative process to introduce term limits on the office of the prime minister in his first 100 days.

Another major legislative move to be pursued by the Government is to start the process to institute impeachment proceedings in Parliament.

The reformation of the tax system, which will result in the removal of persons earning up to $1.5 million from the tax roll, is expected to be reinforced in the Throne Speech.

Finance and the Public Service Minister Audley Shaw will inform the country how the administration will fund the payment of the tax relief when he makes his presentation in the Budget Debate in May.

In its election manifesto, the JLP said it would also reduce transfer taxes, stamp duties, and estate taxes in order to expand the tax net.

In the new parliamentary year, the administration is also expected to make provisions for reports from the auditor general, the contractor general, the public defender, the Corruption Prevention Commission, and the Integrity Commission to be debated within 30 days of submission to Parliament.

The JLP also stated in its manifesto that it would introduce mandatory disclosure of integrity reports by the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and the minister of finance.

Vowing to make public security and crime control a national priority, the JLP had committed in its manifesto to allocate a minimum percentage of the national budget as an investment in improved security and crime reduction over the next five years.

As part of its strategy to reduce crime, the JLP had said that within its first year in office, it would construct or deploy 30 small police posts in areas identified as crime hot spots to place the police closer to where they are needed.

The Throne Speech will be preceded by the traditional ceremonial activities, including the governor general's inspection of the guard of honour comprising members of the Jamaica Defence Force, as well as the parliamentarians, who will march from opposite directions along Duke Street and then enter Gordon House.

In the afternoon, the finance minister will table the Estimates of Expenditure and the Revenue Estimates, which will outline government spending for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com