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PM: No cash to splash - Holness reels in UDC chairman on talks of improved fiscal space

Published:Thursday | March 28, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday issued a caution against exaggerating the country’s financial well-being during the awards ceremony for the House of Parliament Design Competition, following a statement from Urban Development Corporation (UDC) Chairman Ransford Braham.

“The chairman of the UDC made a point, which, if you were to unpack the statement, you would begin to realise what has been our challenge for development over the last four decades. The chairman’s statement was that the UDC wasn’t able to – and I am paraphrasing – do all that it wanted to do because the Government didn’t have the fiscal space.

“The chairman also said that our fiscal space right now is well; it has improved. Let me hasten to say that is not the case,” Holness said while delivering the keynote address at National Heroes Park, downtown Kingston. “Our fiscal space is improving – it is in the process – but don’t get any ideas that somehow we have a great unbounded ability to spend. That is not the case,” he reiterated.

Braham, earlier, had painted a glowing picture of the UDC’s ability to continue its “iconic development” of downtown Kingston in particular.

“There have been times when the UDC has not been as active as some of us would like it to be, and that, generally, is due to economic constraints if the country is going through certain economic difficulties, and so forth. But I am privileged to be the chairman of the UDC at a time when I am told, being no economist, that our fiscal space is excellent, and, therefore, the UDC can shake itself up.”

Braham then went on to enumerate some of the projects in train, as well as pending, as testament to the great fiscal space the country now enjoys.

“That’s what I want to tell you about today, that the UDC is alive and well and that the UDC, in recent times, has facilitated development downtown – the new foreign affairs building, the UDC has facilitated the Victoria Pier. The UDC has more work to be done, and as times comes along, you will see what those are, including new housing developments on the waterfront,” he disclosed, citing other projects in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay as further proof of the increasing fiscal flexibility.

“To get more fiscal space, you have to spend what you have wisely. You have to make strategic decisions about the use of your tax revenues, particularly as it relates to supporting investments that will promote growth,” Holness added, before going on to defend the decision to build the new parliamentary building for which the Ewan Williams-led team won the award for its ‘Out of Many, One People’.

The decision to house it in National Heroes Circle has come under sustained objection from a number of quarters, including residents of Allman Town and other neighbouring communities that will be displaced.

“The parliamentary building will not just be an edifice. It is not here as someone’s grand expression of ego … . It is a working building. It is not a waste of taxpayers’ money. The building is necessary to improve the governance of the country, and, as referred to by chairman of the UDC, to effectively create the fiscal space, not just the physical space within which the economy can grow and all the things that we as Jamaicans want to see happen.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com