THE Government took its threat to protect its agreement with the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT) to withdraw $45.6 billion from the Trust's resources a step further yesterday, when it tabled a Bill to ensure its right to draw down on the funds over the next four years.
The Bill, titled An Act to Amend the National Housing Trust Act, was tabled by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips on behalf of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller under whose office the NHT falls. It is expected to be debated when the House next sits on Tuesday, March 5.
It proposes to give the Government the right to draw down funds from the Trust at the will and determination of the minister of finance until March 31, 2017.
The tabling of the Bill fulfilled the vow made by Dr Phillips to a People's National Party (PNP) Region Five meeting in Manchester on Sunday that the Government would not be stopped in seeking to access the funds.
Phillips made it clear that the Government was prepared to alter legislation governing the NHT in order to protect the planned withdrawals from the Trust's reserves.
Phillips has insisted that using the funds would prevent additional taxation measures to achieve a 7.5 per cent primary surplus, targeted for 2013/14, as part of a likely new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
But the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has opposed the action, and its spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw, has accused the IMF of "partnering" with the Government to "raid" the NHT, instead of pushing for a sustainable tax reform programme to advance the economy.
In the meantime, a civil society body, Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity (CAPI), has filed an application in the Supreme Court for an injunction against the passing of the funds to the Government. The group contends that, under the NHT Act, the directors of the NHT are its trustees, and the fund is to provide housing solutions for contributors.
The application for the injunction is to be heard on Friday.
The Memorandum of Objects and reasons for the Bill tabled in the House states:
"This Bill seeks to amend the National Housing Trust Act to enable the NHT to provide financing support for fiscal consolidation for the period beginning financial year 2013/2014 and ending at the end of financial year 2016/2017. It is further provided that the financing may be by way of distribution, grant or otherwise as the minister responsible for finance may determine.
"It is recognised that the National Housing Trust (NHT) has, since its incorporation in 1976, operated profitably while delivering on its mandate of providing affordable housing solutions," the Bill also stated.
"The NHT is therefore in a position to facilitate the Government in achieving these fiscal targets by making a contribution of $11.4 billion annually for the above-mentioned period. Importantly, this contribution will enable the Government to undertake necessary expenditure to bolster social and physical infrastructure, particularly in areas where construction is being undertaken by the NHT," it added.