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The People's Business

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Thwaites
Phillips
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Thursday is Budget day

Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips will on Thursday tell the nation how the Government intends to fund its $612 billion expenditure for the fiscal year.

While the nation waits anxiously for a projected tax package to make up for the anticipated shortfall in revenue, parliamentarians last week went through the Estimates of Expenditure during sittings of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament.

While many stories have been reported from the deliberations of the parliamentarians, some major issues did not make the headlines.

Here are some that you might have missed.


JPS owes state agency millions

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE JAMAICA Public Service Company (JPS) owes the Rural Electrification Programme (REP) millions of dollars but the exact amount is yet to be disclosed.

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell last week told The Sunday Gleaner that while he was not able to state the exact amount owing, it is substantial.

Paulwell said he has given instructions to the board of the REP to recover the outstanding funds.

The Government is proposing to spend $96.6 million on the REP this fiscal year.

The REP aims, among other things, to provide the entire country with access to electricity.

Some 4,500 houses have been targeted for wiring under the REP this year.

to construct power lines

By way of notations in the 2012-2013 Estimates of Expenditure, the Government has indicated that it intends to construct 250 kilometres of distribution power lines in rural Jamaica.

"The amount that has been provided in the Budget is inadequate to carry out the programme of the REP," Paulwell admitted.

He said, however, that the budgeted sum will be supplemented by the money which is owed by JPS.

Paulwell also told the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament that the REP has $180 million worth of inventory from last year which it intends to use to power the programme this year.

Last fiscal year, the Government spent $358.5 million on the REP. Of the amount, $244 million was spent on land and structures.

Then, the Government targeted the construction of 35 kilometres of distribution lines and 630 houses were earmarked for wiring.

Up to press time yesterday, the JPS had not responded to questions from The Sunday Gleaner about its debt with the REP.

In the meantime, Paulwell said the Government intends to access funds under the PetroCaribe agreement for the use of renewable energy.

"The intention is to use renewable energy to provide electricity to areas where it would be uneconomic for the grid to service," said Paulwell.

Education short-changed - Thwaites

Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites is claiming that Jamaica has been short-changed by an unfocused allocation of resources in the education system.

Pointing to an example, Thwaites said the country has provided the education system with several mathematics teachers who are better trained to perform the roles of guidance counsellors.

Thwaites, who was addressing the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament last week, said there are a vast number of student-teachers in the system who are upgrading themselves with many being trained in guidance and counselling but who are teaching mathematics.

"That doesn't make sense, and they are getting an advance pay because they have upgraded their qualifications," added Thwaites.

He was responding to a call from North West St James Member of Parliament Dr Horace Chang for a more targeted use of the country's educational resources at the tertiary level.

least expensive course

"We are getting hundreds of very bright people but they choose a course that is least expensive," Chang said.

He argued that many students, especially the less privileged in the society, because of cost factors, decide to choose bad courses.

"Some of those courses are required but most of them are liberal arts courses which are less expensive than technical subjects and we are finding that when they leave school they cannot get jobs or pay loans," said Chang.

Thwaites quickly agreed with Chang.

"Our human-power needs require that we be far more focussed and targeted."

The education minister announced that his ministry will be partnering with the ministry of labour to determine those professions which are most required for national development.

"We must prioritise our grant of scholarships and student loans to those areas," Thwaites said.

He said universities will cease getting subsidies by virtue of their existence.

"The universities' grant must also be tailored to national human-power needs and towards targeted research and development," said Thwaites.

He added: "The taxpayers require that."

It is not the first time that a government has signalled an intention to redirect funding for tertiary education into the most critical areas.

In 2009, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding said the Government would be seeking to influence the Students' Loan Bureau to offer loans at cheaper rates for certain disciplines.

"We are going to offer preferential terms for those areas of study that we feel are in national demand, and we are also going to improve access to those funds," the then prime minister said.

"The Students' Loan Bureau is faced with a dilemma. They are financing studies for students, many of whom, having qualified, are unable to find employment and therefore unable to pay back the money, and they become the subject of some persistent pressure from the Students' Loan Bureau to pay back," added Golding.

"But at the same time, within the public sector and the private sector ... we have a critical skill shortage that makes it difficult for us to deliver services."

- D.L.


Not so sweet

Sugar production down this year despite privatisation

Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:The increase in output that was expected as a result of privatisation of the local sugar industry has not materialised.

The Sunday Gleaner has confirmed that the yield for the 2011-12 crop, which will end in three weeks, will be substantially lower than the 2010-11 output.

However some stakeholders in the sector are confident that the 2012-2013 crop will bring the kind of improvement they were hoping for this year.

"We had an expectation that our output would have risen from 139,000 tonnes (last year) to somewhere in the region of 157,000 tonnes this year," said Allan Rickards, chairman of the All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association.

According to Rickards, he now expects the final output to be between 135,000 and 137,000 tonnes that some industry experts are now projecting.

"My view is that we will not be getting more than 132,000 tonnes of sugar for this year," said Rickards.

"But this is all due to the weather that prevented the producers from making more sugar than they have," he added

According to data obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, the Frome Sugar Estate in Westmoreland, Golden Grove in St Thomas, Monymusk in Clarendon, Worthy Park in St Catherine, Long Pond in Trelawny and Appleton Estate in St Elizabeth, produced a combined total of 120,088 tonnes at last count on Tuesday, May 15.

Over the corresponding period from the 2010-2011 crop, some 121,181 tonnes were produced.

Frome is the only one of the six factories to complete its season, finishing with 32,920 tonnes in April.

Long Pond has struggled to a mere 2,435 tonnes in 69 days as its miserable season continues.

To date, Appleton Estate has produced 26,369 tonnes; Worthy Park 19,146 tonnes; Golden Grove 14,790 tonnes and Monymusk 24,428 tonnes.

Confirming the projected reduction in output for the year, Karl James, general manager of Jamaica Cane Products Sales (JCPS) are now watching the weather to determine if they should continue the season.

"Based on what I have received from the producers, it looks to me that we are going to be down somewhat," James told The Sunday Gleaner.

"They (the producers) are weighing their options, whether or not they should stop, but if the rain holds we could end up with about 134,000 to 137,000 tonnes."

JCPS, the marketing arm of the Sugar Industry Authority, has also had to backtrack on its plan to supply the domestic market with between 40,000 and 60,000 tonnes of brown sugar it requires annually.

Only a fraction of that amount was available for domestic consumption with imports from Guyana making up the shortfall.