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Opposition in the dark - Davies, Bunting say information out of Government not detailed enough

Published:Tuesday | April 20, 2010 | 4:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE PARLIAMENTARY Opposition yesterday said it refrained from offering a more detailed package of solutions when it contributed to the Budget Debate because it was in the dark about the country's macroeconomic situation.

At the same time, Dr Omar Davies, who is the opposition spokesman on finance, has said the People's National Party (PNP) is not impressed with the cherry-picking of proposals the Government made in the Budget Debate last year.

"There was a sort of selective way in which it was treated. The only thing that was taken from it was related to the TEF, and we certainly don't like the way in which it was adopted," Davies said yesterday.

He was speaking during a post-Budget press conference hosted by the PNP at its Old Hope Road headquarters.

During last year's parliamentary debate, the PNP advanced several proposals for Government to carry out capital spending while at the same time reducing the need to burden taxpayers.

"We were presenting a global programme whereby there could be increased state expenditure but with the funds not coming directly from the Consolidated Fund, thus increasing the deficit," Davies said.

The proposal accepted by Government was to use $1 billion from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) to build houses for hotel workers along the tourism belt.

Quizzed yesterday as to the reason the Opposition did not make any such proposal this year, Davies said the PNP was unaware of the total macroeconomic picture and thus was not in a position to diagnose or give any prescriptions.

"I can't recall any period when access to information on valid data on the state of the country has been worse," Davies said.

Critical issue

He told the press conference that when the PNP presented its solutions last year, it was because the party had identified the need for government spending to stimulate the economy.

"This time around, the critical issue is that we have a fiscal crisis. Our job in that process is to say we have entered into an IMF agreement ... but we are totally in the dark. The Opposition is hoping that somewhere, somebody, hidden or transparent, knows what is going on," Davies said.

He was supported by Peter Bunting, the opposition spokesman on national security, who gave the example of what appeared to be a dramatic cut in the allocation to the Anti-corruption Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force from over $500 million to $78 million.

Bunting sought clarity on the issue in the Standing Finance Committee meeting of Parliament and was promised a response in writing. Yesterday he said that he had been informed by the permanent secretary in the national security ministry that the allocation, presented in the 2009-10 Budget as being more than $500 million, was actually $80 million.

Davies was not amused. He pointed to the need for Government to disclose the true state of affairs regarding arrears.

He also said the Opposition had "very, very grave doubts as to the capability of the administration to manage, in the absence of the data".

"The fact that we have signed ourselves to firm targets under an IMF programme, and in that event we are not even in a position to assist the administration in sticking to these targets because we do not know the present state of affairs," Davies said.

- daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com