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Military budget slashed -- official says work could be compromised

Published:Saturday | April 23, 2016 | 4:00 AMJovan Johnson

A senior member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) says a 50 per cent cut in the Budget for spending on defence affairs and services continues less-than-desired treatment of the nation's military.

The 2016-2017 Estimates of Expenditure tabled in Parliament recently showed that the capital budget for the military has been cut by approximately a half, moving to $710 million from the $1.5 billion allocated last year.

The national security ministry told The Gleaner that the capital budget for the military was "inflated" in the last two financial years because of costs associated with "acquiring several items, including armoured personnel carriers".

"These exceptional payments occurred mainly in 2014-15 ($808m) and 2015-16 ($897m).

"Those acquisitions have now been completed," read a statement from the ministry, which did not address how the cut could impact the army.

Protected Mobility Vehicle Squadron

Last year, the army commissioned a new unit - the Protected Mobility Vehicle Squadron - which Peter Bunting, then security minister, said represented "the first reinvestment in that capability for the JDF in decades".

Outside of the last two financial years, the $710 million budgeted for capital spending is the second highest since the 2008-2009 financial year.

The Gleaner's attempts to query the military on the possible impact of the cut in the Budget were redirected to the security ministry.

However, a senior official of the army, who wished not be identified, said the impact could be "significant".

The army personnel pointed to the recent maritime drug bust in Jamaica, the largest in 14 years, saying that the capacity of the army to do more of that work could be compromised.

The official told The Gleaner that the JDF was committed to "doing its best", but the Government must be "willing" to provide the military with adequate financing and other resources.

Jamaica is deep into economic reforms aimed largely at reducing the country's debt which currently stands at over 120 per cent of gross domestic product.

The JDF and other state agencies are competing for $120.5 billion budgeted for capital spending this fiscal year, of which about $30 billion comes from multilateral and bilateral support.

A total of $200 million has been set aside in this year's Budget to start the construction of new accommodation, office and storage facilities at Lathbury Barracks, Up Park Camp.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com