Sat | Oct 21, 2017

NHT raid formalised! - Approved law gives Gov't power to take $46b from NHT through 2021

Published:Thursday | June 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Minister of Finance Audley Shaw

Legislation has been approved to allow the Government to take $46 billion in budgetary support, or $11.4 billion yearly, from the National Housing Trust (NHT) over four years.

But Finance Minister Audley Shaw is insisting that if revenues perform well, the drawdowns will be limited.

Shaw, in opening the debate on the bill to amend the NHT Act, reiterated that while the Government was "reluctantly" using the money, the other options were less attractive and included the imposition of new taxes or expenditure cuts.

Peter Phillips, the opposition leader and spokesman on finance, noted that the Holness administration was going back on its promise in opposition that a Jamaica Labour Party government would not use NHT money for budgetary support.

 

Election promises

 

Though saying that the issue is now "water under the bridge", Phillips said that the Government had to go to the NHT because of its election promises.

"What arises now," Phillips said, "is, what assurance can the Government give that at the end of any period, this is going to come to an end, or, is the view now that the NHT is to be a continuing source of fiscal financing for the recurrent Budget?"

Before Shaw answered, Holness noted that even though his party, while in opposition, criticised Phillips's administration and threatened a lawsuit over a similar drawdown in 2013, it acted "responsibly" and backed down and allowed the Portia Simpson Miller administration to secure the deal with the International Monetary Fund in 2013.

"I don't want it to be said that we were an opposition that opposed mindlessly and did not look at what was best for the country," Holness said.

He added: "The same conditions that necessitated that move while you were the Government are the same conditions that exist. They might be less severe but severe nonetheless and emergency nonetheless."

... First-quarter data show revenue $5b ahead of target

Audley Shaw has said that "if revenue buoyancy continues" the drawdowns from the National Housing Trust (NHT) would become unnecessary. And he added, "It has, in fact, started fairly well in the first quarter of the fiscal year."

"My preliminary figures in the first quarter (April - June) of the fiscal year are showing that to Monday (June 26), our revenue was J$5 billion ahead (of target).

"I want to give the honourable House and the country the assurance that to the extent that the revenue is ahead, if we don't have to draw down the funds from the NHT, we will not draw the funds," he added.

The bill passed without amendments and heads to the Senate. It will expire on March 31, 2021.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com