Editorial

National self-denial over NHT funds

Thursday, May 02, 2013    

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THERE is a palpable naiveté running through some sectors of our society about where the administration is to find funds to do all the things that are desperately needed.

In these quarters, the decision of the Portia Simpson Miller Government to resort to National Housing Trust (NHT) funds has become a cause celébre.

The question that we should all be asking ourselves is, if not the NHT where? Should the Government turn to the HEART Trust, or the Education tax, or the National Insurance Fund or the National Health Fund?

The latest hand-wringing has emerged out of the announcement by the prime minister that in addition to the $45.6 billion earlier committed to the country's economy over the next four years from NHT resources, the Trust will be contributing hundreds of millions more this year "to the very survival of Jamaica in these difficult times".

The latest drawdown from the NHT is to fund a resumption of the Inner-City Renewal Programme (ICRP), under which the Trust has already built 3,000 houses in poverty-stricken areas; increasing the contribution to the "YUTE Build" initiative this year to $25 million, to train 100 inner-city youths in construction-related disciplines; and $10.6 million in prize money for a special business entrepreneurship award category in its annual best schemes competitions.

We can hardly find any fault with the decision to put the funds into the specified areas which will go directly to those deprived areas that remain a shameful blot on our body politic, that they have existed in such horrific conditions for so long.

Pardon us, but we must find common cause with our prime minister when,as she said in parliament on Tuesday: "No one can disagree that the Inner-City Housing Project has positively transformed the lives of persons in some communities..." To believe otherwise is to remain in blissful national self-denial about the state of Jamaica and the Jamaican economy.

Furthermore, in light of the five-year wage freeze affecting public sector workers, we will not begrudge the plan to provide new NHT mortgage benefits for workers in that sector. Those who receive a one per cent interest rate reduction to March 31, 2013 will have this benefit extended for another two years, to March 31, 2015. And effective January 1, 2014, public sector employees with NHT mortgages will be eligible for contribution refunds during the period 2014 to 2017.

The NHT will also review its policy that contribution refunds due to mortgagors are automatically applied as payments to the mortgage in January of the year when the refund is to be paid. This restriction will be removed for all public sector workers during the next four years. So starting January 1, 2014, public sector workers can opt to apply for the contribution refunds due for the year 2006. This initiative will benefit 31,000 public sector mortgagors and will give them access to approximately $790 million annually.

Starting September 1 also, public sector employees will be given a 15 per cent discount on peril insurance premiums, while they continue to benefit from a 15 per cent discount below NHT standard insurance rates for the period through to March 31, 2017.

We have a practice of calling on our governments to fight crime by uplifting the conditions in which our urban poor exist. Yet, the ideas as to how to fund such a programme are never part of the equation. It's time to wake up.

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