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Protect the vulnerable from COVID-19 economic fallout – Golding

Published:Tuesday | March 31, 2020 | 12:09 AM

People’s National Party Shadow Minister of Finance Mark Golding is calling on the Government to put in place a comprehensive safety net to protect vulnerable Jamaicans from the severe economic contraction now under way as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

“While supporting the thrust of the various measures announced in the Government’s COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) programme, it must be acknowledged that they total a mere $10.65 billion, or about 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Other countries have recognised that to protect their economies and societies from lasting damage and improve the prospects of recovery after the health crisis subsides, public resources in amounts which are many multiples of 0.5 per cent of GDP must be expended,” said a release from Golding.

New paradigm

Golding, an attorney and former investment banker, said: “Jamaica has moved rapidly into a completely new paradigm, and the former fiscal targets must be put to one side so that adequate resources are found to tackle this existential crisis head-on.

The Government must be willing to take a courageous fiscal stance and fund a comprehensive safety net to protect our society from unravelling and our economy from lasting damage so that Jamaica can emerge from the crisis as well positioned as possible to resume sustainable growth and development.”

The member of parliament for South St Andrew, which includes communities such as Trench Town, Jones Town, Admiral Town, and Rose Town, further noted that “Jamaica’s informal economy, which exists largely among lower- income groups, comprises over 40 per cent of the national economy, so the $1 billion allocated for informal business operators is woefully inadequate.”

Golding continued:“The design of the announced CARE programme, with its emphasis on bureaucratic verification of the eligibility of beneficiaries, builds gaps into the safety net, leaving many vulnerable Jamaicans exposed and unprotected. These informal business persons, such as many of the 10,000 bar owners who have been shut down without any prior notice in the interests of public safety, cannot comply with the verification procedures, which have been made a hurdle for accessing benefits.

Creative and flexible ways of including them must be put in place as a matter of urgency.”

Golding is also calling for:

· A moratorium on student-loan payments to the Student Loan Bureau for the duration of the crisis as has already been announced for National Housing Trust borrowers;

· Measures to support Jamaica’s small farmers, who are badly affected by the demise of the tourism industry and should be facilitated to feed the society and reduce the country’s food import bill; and

·A special upfront grant of $15,000 for National Insurance Scheme pensioners to supplement their normal pension benefit and assist them to survive this crisis.