Thu | Feb 25, 2021

COVID bailout cry - Robinson calls for stimulus amid economic downturn

Published:Friday | January 22, 2021 | 12:15 AMRomario Scott and Edmond Campbell/Gleaner Writers
Opposition Spokesman on Finance Julian Robinson said many struggling Jamaicans are not captured in official economic statistics.
Opposition Spokesman on Finance Julian Robinson said many struggling Jamaicans are not captured in official economic statistics.

Another stimulus package is needed to give Jamaica’s tanking economy a fighting chance, Opposition Spokesman on Finance Julian Robinson has asserted.

Robinson said the bailout funds should be channelled into the productive sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing and to those most vulnerable.

“We need a stimulus that will jump-start our economy, incentivise production, boost job creation, and unleash spending so that we can break through poverty and the strangling stagnation and get on a path of real and meaningful recovery,” Robinson said.

Addressing a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of North St Andrew at the Police Officers’ Club in St Andrew Thursday evening, Robinson made the case for another CARE-type programme to save many families struggling under the weight of the pandemic.

CARE – The Government’s COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees Programme – was implemented at a cost of $10 billion, with reports of 430,000 Jamaicans benefiting.

But there has been a decline of real gross domestic product of 11.6 per cent for the current fiscal year. Unemployment stands at 10.7 per cent as 41,000 more Jamaicans were unemployed as of October 2020 measured year-on-year.

Further, the inflation forecast for the fiscal year has moved up from 5.6 per cent to 6.3 per cent.

Robinson contended that their realities are often not captured in official statistics.

“Not enough is being said about the job losses and the grave financial challenges that are faced at both the individual level and in our communities,” he said.

Citing landmarks in his St Andrew South Eastern constituency, Robinson framed the economic downturn in granular terms – the absence of events at the National Stadium, the shutdown of the Mas Camp entertainment spot, and nomadic vendors selling soup and snacks.

NO NEW ALLOCATION

Robinson’s call comes amid the disclosure by Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison on Thursday that there is no allocation in the Third Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure to finance another COVID-19 stimulus package for businesses and the poor.

She was responding to a question from chairman of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), Mikael Phillips, who wanted to know if another assistance programme would be rolled out any time soon.

Her remarks on the issue were terse.

“The minister will address that question for you, sir. So there is nothing in this supplementary,” Morrison said.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke will debate the Third Supplementary Estimates next week.

Morrison comments came during Thursday’s examination, by the PAAC, of the Third Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure that were tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

Clarke recently told a Mayberry Investor’s Forum that the Government was still assessing whether it would implement a similar CARE programme in the next fiscal year.

Robinson’s idea of funding the stimulus is cutting the primary surplus, which now stands at 3.1 per cent, by one percentage point.

Cutting the primary surplus by one per cent could free up $20 billion, the opposition spokesman said.

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