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A summary of Holness, Simpson Miller Budget debate

Published:Wednesday | May 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr André Haughton

THE JAMAICAN economy is looking better in the global eyes as confidence increases in our ability to achieve economic growth, this year, especially since the country grew by more than one per cent in the last two quarters and has passed four consecutive International Monetary Fund (IMF) tests.

In the meantime, our exchange rate continues to depreciate and huge handicaps have developed in our quest to source cheaper energy. Notwithstanding this, the Budget debate continued as Opposition leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller gave their presentations.

What did Holness recommend?

His presentation addressed four main issues: deliverance, institutional reform: knowledge economy and social reform. He emphasised the need for the country to become more efficient in its operations and the need to continue public sector, tax and pension reforms.

Holness outlined that the IMF tests have taken the forefront in government policy decisions, putting help for the poor and needy on the back-burner. He believes the Government has not been making the most optimal decisions to please all groups of citizens. In most instances, the Government makes decisions to please themselves and ends up displeasing others.

What deliverance?

It is a difficult task to increase tax, especially in a country like Jamaica where the percentage of tax paid is extremely high. It is bad enough to take more taxes from the people who are already bearing the bulk of the tax burden, but it is even worse if these taxes are not for infrastructural development, creation of new services or increased opportunities. Holness supports the recent decision by the Government to withdraw the withdrawal tax proposal as it would have done more harm than good.

What institutional reform?

He highlighted that several government institutions were established more than 50 years ago and have not been updated to suit modern times or adapt to new government objectives. Furthermore, some of these institutions have not been fulfilling their mandates and need to be revitalised. The Opposition leader believes institutional reform should be more than an auditing exercise; it should be clear and purposeful, and efforts should be made to align their action with the Government's objectives for the country.

How about knowledge economy?

He wants to create a knowledge economy by increased training, ensuring knowledge transfer from foreign workers, and establishing a system for national internship and apprenticeship for Jamaican youth, and ensuring that skills taught are congruent with job market requirements. Holness also wants Jamaica to be developed as a regional training hub with identified opportunities for linkages, supported by market intelligence.

Social reform

Holness spoke of social reform including the legalisation of ganja, which we all will benefit from. This is the only way Jamaica can achieve the economic growth beyond two per cent, noting that the Government needs to act expeditiously on the legislation.

What about the prime minister?

Last week, Simpson Miller gave her presentation. She spoke, as she always does, about love for the poor. "The Government is equally focused on protecting the people, especially the poor and vulnerable." This, she said, is being done by "balancing the books, while balancing people's lives". JEEP generated jobs for more than 40,000 people. The prime minister encouraged people to remain strong, courageous and fearless despite the challenges. She outlined that, this year, the Government has developed a creative mix of programmes intended at reducing economic and social pressure on all the people, especially the lower and middle class.

How will the Government move forward?

The Government believes in the dignity of labour, and that everyone should earn a decent wage for their work. Simpson Miller's presentation outlined how the Government has and will continue to create employment and investment opportunities, and job creation. Investment projects arising from strengthening partnerships and collaborations with international agencies and firms has resulted in a reduction in unemployment and marginal GDP growth, over the last two quarters. She highlighted emerging areas for emphasis including: cultural and creative economy, science, technology, knowledge and innovation.

What else?

Simpson Miller also addressed plans for the nutraceutical market, entrepreneurship, infrastructure development, such as the national physical plan and infrastructure projects such as roads and gullies. Community development was also addressed in regards to education, youth, persons with disabilities, women, sports and rural development. Expanding ownership in Jamaica, land titles, National Housing Trust; contribution to national development and housing expenditure were the other issues addressed. For a full copy of both presentations and please visit www.jis.gov.jm.

Dr André Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton; or email editorial@gleanerjm.com.