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PM speaks in budget debate today

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, April 29, 2014    

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PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller will make her contribution to the 2014/15 Budget Debate when the House of Representatives resumes sitting this afternoon.

Simpson Miller is expected to respond to last Thursday's presentation by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, but it would not be surprising if she spends most of her time trying to defend the $6.7-billion tax package her Government revealed on April 17, as well as responding to the claims by the Opposition that her Government has failed to fulfil its promise to "balance people's lives".

In his presentation last week, Opposition spokesman on finance and planning Audley Shaw noted that the Economic & Social Survey 2013 showed that the household poverty rate increased by two percentage points, moving from 12.4 per cent in 2010 to 14.4 per cent in 2012.

Shaw also pointed out that Jamaica had slipped seven places on the UNDP's Human Development Index, from 79 to 86, which he said was evidence of "worsening poverty", while suggesting that poverty has increased further in 2013.

"You can feel the poverty," Shaw claimed. "You can see it as you travel the length and breadth of Jamaica. It is palpable."

Shaw quoted a social scientist as claiming that 1.1 million Jamaicans are currently below the poverty line, while there has been no publication of the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions for over three years.

These are definitely issues the prime minister will have to address to assure her position as a leader with the less fortunate as her priority.

Last year, in her budget presentation, Simpson Miller told the nation that her Government was committed to transformation in action, as "lies at the heart of the notion of balancing the books, while balancing people's lives".

In that presentation, Simpson Miller called for "a new political order", suggesting that "we campaign at election time, and we campaign vigorously, for that is the nature of politics. However, when the campaign is over, we must all focus on nation-building".

However, things have changed dramatically since then, with Holness stating in his presentation last week that the proposed financial transaction tax marks a point of departure in their post-2011 general election political cooperation, and strengthened by his threat of "withdraw the (financial transaction) tax, or else".

Simpson Miller is expected to leave the island within 24 hours of her presentation to lead Jamaica's delegation to the Sixth Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Association of Caribbean State in Merida City, Yucatan, Mexico on April 30.

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