PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller said yesterday that, in addition to the $45.6 billion committed to the country's economy over the next four years from National Housing Trust (NHT) resources, the Trust will be contributing hundreds of millions more this year "to the very survival of Jamaica in these difficult times".
These contributions include a resumption of the troubled Inner City Renewal Programme (ICRP), under which the NHT has already built 3,000 houses in poverty-stricken inner-city areas, including a number of communities in her own South West St Andrew constituency, but which was halted by the previous Jamaica Labour Party Government.
"No one can disagree that the Inner City Housing project has positively transformed the lives of persons in some communities, such as Monaltrie, Denham Town, Majesty Gardens, and Trench Town," Simpson Miller said.
The prime minister said that the programme will resume during the next financial year.
In addition, the NHT is to increase its 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.
Turning to the economy, the prime minister said that, in recognition of the enormity and complexity of the challenges, Cabinet has approved a National Task Force to co-ordinate work to ensure that the country benefits from the significant interest being shown by serious investors.
She announced that the principal of the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Gordon Shirley, has agreed to chair the task force.
The prime minister, in the meanwhile, insisted that her Government had made significant strides in solving the country's problems.
"We know we were not able to solve all the problems. It could not be done in one year, but there is no doubt that we have made significant strides," she told a packed Gordon House, as she made her contribution to the 2013/14 Budget debate which ends today.
High on her list of achievements was securing a still unsigned staff level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), over which there is still speculation if it will go to the Fund's board today as anticipated.
She also announced new NHT mortgage benefits for workers in the public sector who are in the middle of a five-year wage freeze. 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 four year period 2014 to 2017.
Previously, it was the NHT's 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. 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.
And there is still more benefits from the NHT for public sector contributors starting September 1, when they 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.