Contribution to the Appropriation Act by Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid


Mr President as I rise to lead and contribute to the tabling of the Appropriation Act, 2018, I first wish to thank The Most Honourable Prime Minister, Andrew Holness for allowing me to continue to serve the people of Jamaica in this esteemed Chamber.

Even more so Mr President I am sure I speak on behalf of the members of this side of the House that we treasure this opportunity to serve the people of Jamaica under the excellent direction of the Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness; as we continue to deliver the prosperity agenda to our beloved citizens. I am praying that he will have many, many more long and fruitful years as the first Prime Minister born Post- Independence.

Mr. President, the Appropriation Act 2018 sets out the Government’s capital and recurrent expenditure budget for the 2018/2019 financial year and we can say Mr. President, without fear of contradiction, that this is a Prosperity Budget for the people of Jamaica.

Let me emphasise at the outset what I consider to be one of the highlights of this 2018/2019 budget: NO NEW TAXES. I repeat, no new taxes!

This is a credible budget, a plausible budget, a likeable budget, no, a loveable budget! Caw we dweet fi di love, we nuh dweet fi di likes![1]Mr President, we have no need to tax our citizens on this round as we have planned our programme of expenditure with such surety… to be delivered in such a manner, so well-managed that we have no need to impose new taxes.

The Government is doing well, and the people are reaping the benefits after difficult financial times during the past few years, that saw a move to the expansion of consumption taxes, on a wider pool of goods. It is thanks to these difficulties that the Government was able to raise the threshold last year from just over five hundred thousand- to one point five million dollars. That one point five million dollar tax break has allowed ordinary citizens to participate more in the Jamaican economy. Those savings allowed persons who were not always able, to study, to add to their resources to pay down on a house, or car and meet other long-planned projects. Eight thousand more youth are able to study full- time, and three thousand five hundred more are studying part time, since the introduction of the one point five ($1.5million) tax break

Jamaica has consistently had new tax packages each year, which is a direct result of periods of economic mismanagement, periods of low growth, high debt and high interest rates. I can proudly say that we are on a path to change- a path to prosperity. This is perhaps the best budget that I have seen since I began following politics.

Past Struggles

This is ESPECIALLY SO when you consider how this economy has been struggling because of poor fiscal management, poor planning and exorbitant debt to GDP ratios. Can you imagine where we’d be had it not been for the reckless fiscal decisions made during the 1970s and the 18 and a-half years of PNP government, ending in 2007? Let us just take a moment to recall that very statement from one former Prime Minister, telling persons who did not like his policies that they should leave the island on one of the five daily flights to Miami. Can we even quantify the amount of human capital that was lost at that point as a result of the loss of entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and other trained professionals? Jamaica became so desperate, that after boasting about getting rid of the IMF, that same party leader summoned the IMF once more and engaged in a deal that he later described as “vindictive savagery” and “a disastrous programme as retaliatory punishment.” The country had no reserves, consecutive years of negative growth (following years of double digit growth), the dollar was abruptly devaluated by 30% and the poor were suffering! Months later, Jamaica failed that IMF test.

Formula One

Let us compare that to where we are now. This government has been reaping success where others failed. Let the facts speak for themselves: employment at historic highs; inflation and current account deficit, modest; net international reserves, comfortable; and external borrowings cost at historic lows according to the most recent report from the IMF[2].

So weh you say Senators, we winning right now[3] don’t it! We have the winning formula!

The report from the IMF dated March 9, 2018 went on to say that “early childhood education, interventions to improve school attendance, and skills training for the youth would foster a virtuous cycle of lower crime, higher wages, stronger growth, and increased economic opportunity, particularly for the young.”[4] And in response, I’d like to say that this has ALL been done, or is being done![5]

As proof of these successes, the World Bank’s Doing Business publication has awarded Jamaica an increase of 0.57 in their 2018 Report, as compared to 2017. Our current rating is 67.27, or 70th place rank overall. Jamaica also recorded its highest ever rating in the Global Competitiveness Index. If this is not winning, I don’t know what is. This but only demonstrates the good work being done by the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance- ably led by Minister Audley Shaw. Last year was the year of the $1.5 million tax break which proved to be a resounding success, bringing greater revenue to the Government and allowing us to increase expenditure in key areas; not to mention increasing the spending capacity of the working class.

The inflation rate has been going down for the past few months! This means that not only is more money going to the poor, but employees are able to do more with the money that they earn. According to STATIN, inflation stood at 0.0 in January of this year! Prices are not increasing, yet businesses are still doing well.

And it’s not just international reports saying this!. The public has spoken; public opinion shares these views. We are going up, and we’re going up together! We are going up to prosper. God has blessed the nation of Jamaica and is slowly but surely bringing us out of the bondage of financial constraints and high debts.

We observe from polls and comments from the Chamber of Commerce from Jamaica Exporters Association and from our Tourism linkages programme chair Adam Stewart that there is increased confidence in Jamaica’s business environment, as expressed by these local and regional business owners and shapers of commercial activity. This sentiment was largely due to convictions that the economic indicators are moving in the right direction, and I quote:

“The previous administration started the ball rolling, and this government has continued it, where we have been fiscally responsible; and that is yielding dividends where our dollar has been stable, interest rates are coming down and investments are up. We feel that those are the things that have (significantly boosted confidence levels),”[6]

And this is good governance. Gone are the days of ridiculous partisan politics where we discontinue one administration’s policies and programmes and try to reinvent the wheel. We have continued the good initiatives, and introduced some of our own. These successes are well overdue, and we are reeling them in by the barrel!

The 2018/2019 Budget

Now Mr. President for FY 2018/19, the Central Government expenditure is programmed at a total of $807.1 billion. Of this sum $773.7 billion will be funded from the Consolidated Fund and another $33.4 billion from Appropriations-in-Aid.

Of that Consolidated Fund, the Public Debt Service amounts to $289 billion- which is $89 billion LESS than what was spent on debt servicing for the FY 2017-2018. In total, the Public Debt Service represents 34.7% of the overall expenditure budget for the FY 2018/2019, and 23.7% less in debt service payment as compared to FY 2017/2018. Might I just ad that this is a major achievement, especially when compared to the level of debt servicing that we were paying between 1989 and 2007. This is excellent progress, and clearly a sign of prosperity.

As I said earlier, our good fiscal management has allowed the government to take even better care of the country, as we have been able to increase our non-debt spending by $58.1 billion, coming from the Consolidated Fund.

The budget for the 2018/2019 FY is SMALLER, and for this reason, we are able to reduce our debt to GDP ratio and can declare NO NEW TAXES! This will allow the private sector to invest more in the economy, and to be the engine of growth.

If you look at the budget for Central Government Investment Programme this year you would notice that the greatest allocations have been awarded to the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

The Ministry of National Security has been earmarked as the main priority for this upcoming financial year. This is demonstrated by an increase of $7.0 billion or a whopping 132% over the 2017/18 Revised Estimates for the Ministry of National Security, which will facilitate the implementation and continuation of a number of projects, including the construction of new JDF facilities, namely the Lathbury Barracks Project and others; the construction of a training facility for the Jamaica National Service Corps and commencement of construction of two Western Bases – Burke Barracks in Montego Bay and Barham Wharf in Savanna-la-Mar, to support critical services and operations in western parishes; for the procurement of transport, technical and other specialised equipment (motor vehicles, surveillance equipment etc for physical and cyber-attacks); for the construction and improvement of policy stations and other buildings; the   construction of a western base for a Mobile Reserve Operation Facility for the JCF; and for the construction of an autopsy suite in Kingston- which, if you’ve ever suffered the death of a friend or a loved one- you know is an imperative investment.

For FY 2018/19, $16,728mn or approximately 81% of the $20,676mn allocated to the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation is earmarked for the works-related projects aimed at developing and improving the country’s infrastructure. Ninety five (95) per cent of the allocation under the works portfolio is attributed to two major road works project; the Major Infrastructure Development Programme and the commencement of civil works under the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project.

Approximately $3B in additional capital expenditure by MDAs will be financed by Self-Financed Public Bodies through appropriations-in-aid:

  1. The National Health Fund will provide $2.2B to the Ministry of Health to continue work in various areas of the health sector including : meeting GOJ’s obligations for the construction of the Western Children’s Hospital; providing maintenance grants to the Regional Health Authorities and continuing with the restoration of the Cornwall Regional Hospital.
  2. The Universal Service Fund will provide $450M to the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology to support the E-Learning Project.
  3. The PetroCaribe Development Fund will provide $125M to support the Sanitation in School Programme being coordinated by the JSIF.

This administration has worked arduously to relieve the economic stress on the people, while somehow also increasing the social benefits that the population is receiving.

A number of infrastructural improvements have been initiated across the island on roads, buildings, and especially schools, and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation is right there leading these improvements.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security will be directing its investments in the provision of numerous social services, and to PATH in particular, as 13.3% of the Central Government investment programmes’ funds have been allocated to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

I have never witnessed this level of collaboration across the ministries, notably, the partnerships shared with the Ministry of Health to ensure that students are healthy and attentive in classes, and that our young girls are protected against cervical cancer; the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has been partnering with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to ensure the continuation of our social net- the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), and has recently partnered with us again for the roll out of a Rural School Bus Programme, which began in September of 2017.

This programme required an investment of $200 Million and has yielded tremendous results. Out of the sixteen schools sampled in Region 2, ten of them have yielded increases in attendance records since the introduction of the programme. These increases ranged from 1.3% to 10.5%. Robert Lightbourne High School in the parish of St Thomas had the highest increase, coming from 66.2% in the Christmas term of 2016-2017, to now a well improved 76.7%.

Crime Fighting

We are fighting crime with a multi-disciplinary approach. All ministries are playing their part in developing strategies and programmes to combat crimes. Just look at all the investments being made in the Ministry of National Security. Look at the success that the Special Zones of Operations have recorded where they have been implemented. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has also developed several crime-fighting initiatives.

We believe that education, training and increased productivity are good mechanisms to fight crime.  This is why we have come up with strategies and programmes such as Learn, Earn Give, Save (LEGS) and Housing Opportunity Production and Employment (HOPE) and National Unattached Youth Programme (NUYP) that the Prime Minister refers to so frequently, as these programmes have been rolled out in field. Mr Holness also indicated this Tuesday National Unattached Programmes will be anchored through an absorption into the LEGS Programme – what this will mean is a means of rebuilding character and family and reduce negative family associations which they Gangs have become for many young men and women.

The merger of HEART Trust/NTA, JFLL, NYS and the Apprenticeship Board has facilitated a broad range of opportunities for the development of Jamaica’s human capital. The merger has created increased opportunities and access points to deliver current and projected labour market demand programmes. It was thanks to the merger of the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) and the Child Development Agency (CDA), now forming the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) last year that the government was able to find extra funds last year to provide assistance to UWI students who were not being allowed to sit exams! It is thanks to the brilliant balancing of this budget that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is going to significantly increase the funding provided to Early Childhood Development! What is remarkable too, is the partnership that will be strengthened between the Early Childhood Commission and the National Parenting Support Commission, and the planned merger with the CPFSA. This represents the government’s consolidation of social services and efficient use of existent resources. This is a sign of the good financial management of the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information, who, apart from the Ministry of Finance and Public Service, received the largest share of the FY 2018/2019 budget.

Mr President, we must remember that socialisation begins at home. Parents are the biggest influencers on a child’s life.

These mergers in fact represent what happens when you stitch a quilt- it allows connecting pieces to work closer together, for the peoples’ interest! We have listened, and we are tackling what the population has indicated to be its biggest issues.

 

Social successes

As proof of that, this is the first time that unemployment has fallen below 11% in 10 years! Most importantly for me, the youth unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest since 2008! It stood at 25.4% at the end of last year, which is 7% below what it was the year before. The youth are finding more jobs, and the women are finding more jobs. These jobs aren’t only in the business processing industry or in tourism as some may assert.

 

Mr President, we must note that according to STATIN, the health and social work industry received the biggest increase in employment, with 54,600 workers — a 28 per cent increase over October 2016. It was also the primary industry among females, who accounted for 26,000 of the number. The manufacturing industry recorded 49,200 workers in October 2016, compared to 54,600 workers in October 2017.

We’ve made significant strides in the provision of social services in the country. We are moving closer and closer to universal quality education for ALL students up to age 18, and for that, I must thank Team Education. Thanks to the expansion of the Education budget, we have been able to eliminate all tuition fees for primary and high school students in the public system, and we have ramped up our social net programmes for those who are most vulnerable and or impoverished. PATH has evolved now to provide one meal for five days per week to beneficiaries. Provision is being made for the payment of cooks so that meals will be provided free to all PATH students without the need for any financial contributions. We are providing IDs for students, we are providing free insurance, rental of literature books; we are paying for eight CXC subjects, as compared to four in the last administration. We have introduced the free CAP programme, and we are pushing to ensure that all students have a full seven years in high school. We have ELIMINATED fees for high school students because we want to release the poor from financial burdens and lift them out of poverty. When the Ministry realised last year that the rate of absenteeism in rural areas for PATH students was a dismal 70%, we knew that we had to do something to address this serious issue. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and if the students are unable to go to school, we do not know what they may get up to.

Mr President, we are responsive. That’s what this government does. We see a problem, and we don’t hesitate to find a solution. Our solution is social change. All the issues we have can be remedied through social change. Through progress, prosperity and partnership, we can make a difference. That is what the government is here to do.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information rolled out a Rural School Bus System at the end of last year, at a cost of $200 Million Jamaican dollars. It has so far targeted eight parishes, and was aimed at ensuring that no child has to miss school because of issues with financing transportation to and from school either via funding private contractors, through the JUTC or the Montego Bay Metro. We are hoping to expand the programme soon.

So, Mr President, I am confident that we have a balanced budget before us, the BEST budget I have ever seen. We are balancing the books while balancing peoples’ lives. We are creating jobs and wealth for the population; we are creating opportunities for ALL persons, and striving to build the foundation on which to achieve a prosperous, productive and equitable society. In two years, I can safely say that this administration has done very well in advancing the prosperity agenda. Bright and brighter days are ahead! We are pushing forward for levity, positivity and prosperity!

So in closing, I leave you with this beautiful message from a talented artiste, who goes by the name of Prohgress, “When I look back to where I was four years ago, to where I am now, I have to say Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you…Thank you Father God.” [7]

Earlier this week, in closing the Budget Debate in the Lower House, Finance Minister Shaw urged us all to build our nation on the cornerstone foundations of developing the minds of our young people, respecting human life, creating stronger bonds of family life, and improving productivity at the workplace.

Mr. President, we must all recommit ourselves to work together to unleash the energy of the Jamaican people to express our ingenuity and industry to the benefit of all.

So we seh, dis ya budget way up, and it ago stay up! [8]

Stay Up for the People of Jamaica Mr President This is Team Jamaica’s Budget. I commend this budget to colleague Senators for consideration and approval.

Thank You Mr President.

[1] Chronixx- Likes

[2] International Monetary Fund. March 9, 2018. “Jamaica: IMF Staff Concluding Statement of the 2018 Article IV and Third Review under the Stand-By Arrangement”.

[3] Agent Sasco- Winning Right Now

[4] ibid.

[6] McIntosh, Douglas. April 12, 2017. Jamaica Information Service. “Private-Sector Leaders Give Views on High Levels of Business and Consumer Confidence”.

[7] Prohgress- Memory Lane https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3C7x1ZAjlA

[8] Popcaan ft Chi Ching Ching- Way Up Stay Up



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