NHT lookalike not a good idea, Senator Crawford

Thursday, February 07, 2019

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We don't immediately share the enthusiasm of Senator Damion Crawford for his proposal – broadened in scope by child advocate Mrs Betty Ann Blaine – to create a National Housing Trust (NHT) lookalike to help finance tertiary education.

Mr Crawford specifically tailored his suggestion to benefit tertiary students who fall victim to deregistration because of inability to pay tuition fees.

For her part, Mrs Blaine called for an escalation of Mr Crawford's idea to help finance what she termed “bright but poor high school graduates who never get to register in the first place at a tertiary institution”.

We would like to invite Senator Crawford and Mrs Blaine to consider that what in essence they are proposing is another tax on already burdened taxpayers. Government should be seeking ways to give back money to the citizenry, not take away more.

Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) employees already have income tax, NHT, education tax, NIS, plus, in many cases, deductions for health insurance, not to mention that there is GCT on nearly all goods and services.

This is why, we suspect, Jamaicans went heavily for the Jamaica Labour Party's promise to give back $1.5 million that would have been taxed, which, it is widely believed, handed the party the 2016 election that the People's National Party was expected to win.

Well-meaning as they are, the duo must take into consideration that, despite positive macro-economic indicators, the impact of an improving economy is not yet reaching enough of the ordinary taxpayers. It is still hard to make ends meet.

The more money that is put in the pockets of working people, the more they will be able to afford things like tertiary education, supported by the Students' Loan Bureau and the many private sector scholarships available.

The NHT can help to increase disposable income by making faster refunds of contribution. The concept is that one begins to receive refunds in the eigth year of contribution. This year, the Trust is making refunds for the year 2011.

We can hardly see any damage being done to the integrity of the NHT if refunds begin from the fifth year of contribution and that people who joined the Trust before 2012 be given their refunds for all the years they are owed up to 2018.

After all, both the Portia Simpson Miller and Bruce Golding Administrations raided the Trust of a combined $8 billion without shaking its foundation.

If a fund is to be created for tertiary education, let it be with money from off-budget institutions such as Petrojam, the Tourism Enhancement Fund, the Universal Service Fund, and the like, which are often regarded as slush funds by the dishonourable.

Senator Crawford's companion suggestion that the NHT establishes a rent-to-own system that would make home ownership easier for young people bears more hope for implementation.

Under the rent-to-buy proposal, the Opposition senator said that the NHT could make houses available to young people at a monthly rate that would include the rental cost and a savings component.

“There is nothing to prevent the NHT from saying, 'Listen, $50,000 or $40,000 for rent, $20,000 to maintain the property, and $20,000 is your savings,” he said. “In five years, that is your down payment, and you move on into having a mortgage,” said Mr Crawford.

That could work.

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