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Opposition strident against ministry’s COVID strategy but …

Published:Tuesday | March 30, 2021 | 9:12 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Karim Youssef, IMF resident representative

While there has been robust opposition to the Ministry of Finance’s COVID recovery plans, there are those praising the measured response. Some of those praises come from very high places, as The Gleaner revealed on Friday.

Published March 26, 2021

IMF salutes Ja’s targeted COVID-related spending

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has confirmed with The Gleaner that the data published in the 2020 IMF Regional Economic Outlook report last October was based on data obtained in March and did not include all the fiscal measures for the COVID-19 response.

The development comes as Opposition Spokesman on Finance Julian Robinson accused the Government of spending less than other Caribbean countries on the COVID-19 response.

But the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) data, on which Robinson relied, was incomplete, with the IDB confirming in a letter to Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke that there were omissions.

For instance, the report Robinson used did not include the $189 million to the Constituency Development Fund, $140 million to the municipalities, or $40 million for the disabled community.

The report also did not include the $1.85 billion in laptops in Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) and non-PATH welfare benefits for families.

Robinson has insisted, too, that the IMF report of October 2020 backs up the IDB report.

However, IMF Resident Representative Karim Youssef told The Gleaner on Thursday that the report relied on March 2020 data.

“As everyone knows, subsequently, in the following supplementary Budget, there was [the] CARE Programme (COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees), so it is important to note it was a snapshot in a point in time, rather than a comprehensive review of all the programmes that have been undertaken or implemented by the Government of Jamaica,” Youssef stated.

Since March 2020, however, in the first and second Supplementary Estimates for 2020-21, there have been additional fiscal measures, including additional allocations for a full expansion of the CARE Programme, and more fiscal allocations to the ministries of Health and Labour, and Social Security.

In the third Supplementary Estimates of 2019-20, tabled in March 2020, some $2 billion was added to the budget of the Ministry of Health. This amount was increased by $6 billion in the first Supplementary Estimates of 2020-21, which was approved late May after the IMF Staff Report was published.

The CARE Programme spending from the $7-billion contingency announced in March 2020 was increased to approximately $20 billion in the supplementary estimates.

This allowed for the funding of the compassionate grant in the amount of almost $4 billion. This additional allocation also allowed for the extension of the SET Cash and BEST Cash grants, where approximately 50,000 Jamaicans were supported with monthly payments of $18,000 per month for nine months, instead of the three months as initially announced.

“Credit goes where credit is due, and [the] Jamaican authorities have been pioneers and leaders in ensuring that COVID-related spending is very well targeted and very well designed, and in line with international best practices,” the IMF resident representative stated.