Mon | Aug 21, 2017

JHTA wants Gov't to back off TEF

Published:Wednesday | April 5, 2017 | 4:10 AM
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives yesterday.
Robinson
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Western Bureau: 

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) is continuing to object strongly to the Government’s plan to have inflows from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) centralised into the Consolidated Fund.

This comes following the announcement in Parliament yesterday by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett that the decision to redirect the funds from the TEF was in line with non-negotiable directives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“As one of the fastest growing sectors and the largest suppliers of foreign exchange, we feel that this will be an impediment to the growth and development of our sector,” JHTA President Omar Robinson told The Gleaner yesterday.

“One of the main benefits of the TEF is to be nimble and to be quick to respond to the various and wide ranging needs of the industry as they arise. The bureaucracy of Government systems will not allow the fund to maintain this flexibility.”

Robinson further added that industry stakeholders are very concerned, especially since they have had first-hand experience of the days when central Government could not adequately provide the financial resources required for the industry.

“It wasn’t that long ago when funds could not be found for the marketing, cleanliness and maintenance of our resort towns,” he noted.

“Neither could funds be found for the renovation and maintenance of our cultural and heritage sites, which are all important aspects for the success of tourism in any destination. We strongly feel that we would be heading back to those days with the pending change, which stands to make the destination less competitive.”

In his contribution to the 2017 Sectoral Debate which opened in Gordon House yesterday, Bartlett however said that while he was aware of and fully understood the concerns raised by the JHTA and other stakeholders, the country could ill-afford at this time to run afoul of the IMF.

“I am fully aware and deeply involved in the discussions concerning TEF and its readjustment based on IMF stipulated public financial management requirements, more specifically Central Treasury Management guidelines, to which the government is obligated,” Bartlett pointed out. “I have noted the very strong concerns from stakeholders here and overseas about the integrity of the fund going forward.”

The Tourism Minister noted that TEF has and will continue to do wonders for tourism and by extension the entire country, adding that some $30 billion has been spent by the Fund to improve infrastructure, "preserve our heritage sites and to enhance Jamaica’s overall visitor experience".

“I want to give every assurance that money from the Fund will only be used for tourism related expenditure, as approved by the TEF Board,” Bartlett further declared. 

The JHTA is however in no mood to listen, noting that any unilateral change to the TEF Act would be illegal.

"The TEF Act clearly outlines how the fund is to be operated," Robinson added.

"Therefore, any change to the operations of the Fund without amendments to the Act is unlawful. Hence the Government would be in breach. As it relates to the IMF, they possibly would make recommendations and it would be the Government’s decision to adhere or not."

Bartlett has however insisted that Government is acting in good faith, pointing out that Finance Minister Audley Shaw has promised the JHTA and other stakeholders that this commitment will be put in writing. 

Robinson countered in saying that it was in the best interest of the Fund if the planned meetings be held quickly to remove the impasse so "we can all go back to focusing on the business of tourism growth".

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com