Dave Lindo, Gleaner Writer
FINANCE MINISTER Dr Peter Phillips has said if necessary, he would be tabling a motion in Parliament to amend the National Housing Trust Act (NHT) in light of a lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court last Friday to block the NHT from handing over J$44 billion to the Government for budgetary support.
The suit was filed by Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity (CAPI). CAPI is contending that under the NHT Act, the board of directors are the trustees and the fund is to be held for the benefit of the contributors to provide housing solutions for them.
"Let me make it clear that we will do what we will have to do, and if there is a plan to try to throw a spanner in the works in order to delay or destroy the economic reform programme, we will carry the necessary legislation to Parliament," Phillips said.
He was speaking at the People's National Party's Region 5 Regional Executive Council meeting at Knox Community College, Cobbla compound, in Manchester yesterday.
Phillips added: "The resources from the NHT would be devoted to enable the Government to undertake the necessary expenditures to deal with the social infrastructure that goes into community, building a house is not a community."
Phillips' statement comes even after Attorney General Patrick Atkinson said last week that the Public Bodies Administration and Accountability Act passed in 2001 makes borrowing funds from the NHT "perfectly legal". However, CAPI in its suit is contending that this law does not apply to the NHT.
Phillips reiterated that using the funds from the NHT would prevent possible tax pressure on citizens.
"In the absence of being able to utilise those funds, what it would entail is additional tax measures, which have the greatest impact on the very beneficiaries of the funds, and so it is win-win for the beneficiaries."
Phillips added: "In effect, in whatever motivates those who want to stop the distribution, we are not prepared to do that, and are prepared to undertake legislative amendments to ensure that the resources are used."
abuse of democracyDennis Meadows, co-convenor of CAPI, told The Gleaner: "CAPI will frown on any attempt by the Government to go to Parliament to retrospectively make legal what is perceived to be illegal. We will deem as a vulgar abuse of democracy, their majority in Parliament, and Parliament itself."
A disservice to democracy
Meadows continued: "I believe the practice of successive governments going to Parliament to retroactively make laws to suit them, in my view, it is a disservice to democracy and the rule of law."
In 2005, $5 billion was taken from the NHT for what then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said was to "transform the education sector once and for all".
As a prior action to an IMF agreement, the country was required to raise its primary surplus from six per cent to 7.5 per cent. In order to achieve the target, Phillips announced earlier this month a $15.9-billion tax package as well as an $11-billion-per-year extraction from the NHT.