FINANCE Minister Dr Peter Phillips says he does not foresee any adjustment to the tax package passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Dr Phillips said, however, that he was open to suggestions and concerns from all sectors, and was not averse to discussions. "It is not a perfect solution, but it is the best solution that could be found in the circumstances," he said in a reaction to his critics, including the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
He was responding to questions at a press briefing at Jamaica House, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the tabling and passage of the new $16-billion tax revenue package.
Phillips described the package as the result of a range of choices "between difficult and more difficult, between bad and worse" decisions.
"Quite frankly, and I don't know how else to say it; this is essentially a matter of the survival of the Jamaican nation as a viable nation state in the community of nations where we can preserve not only the foundations of the dream of nationhood... but the preservation of a viable economic infrastructure," Phillips said as he pleaded his case to the media.
Dr Phillips also tried to defend the secrecy surrounding the tax package and the failure to brief the Opposition and private sector, by insisting that in no jurisdiction does a minister of finance brief any segment of the population about impending tax measures because of market sensitivities and the possibility of unfair exploitation.
But the minister also admitted that his hands were tied by the rigid position of the team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on transparency during their talks.
"I argued with myself that we needed to have a process which incorporated all stakeholders, and that was the purpose of the committee on taxation of the Parliament. The answer, and I am paraphrasing the answer now, was essentially, 'if you want an agreement, what you need to do is to define the measures now, otherwise, to quote specifically what one (IMF) official said, 'all we would really be doing is running the risk that we have an agreement to disagree later on about tax measures'," Dr Phillips explained.
He said that if the issue was one of ideal solutions, in the context of a global crisis, utilising expenditure to stimulate the economy could have been considered.
"But, the fact of the matter is, to engage in that kind of expenditure, you have to have somebody willing to lend you, and those people do not exist. Not with our debt at the levels they are at," he explained.
He argued that it was not a time to seek political advantage, or other sectional advantages, as the country needed to demonstrate a collective capacity to what mature countries do, "which is to take the tough, collective decisions that can guarantee national survival and progress".
Phillips confirmed that in addition to the tax package, the Government was also seeking $45 billion from the coffers of the National Housing Trust (NHT) over the next four years to help the gGvernment meet a 7.5 per cent primary (budget) surplus target.
However, he insisted that unlike concerns raised by the Opposition, the Trust's mortgage and housing targets over the past three years would be maintained, as directed by the IMF, although he admitted that there would be need for some financial juggling at the Trust to fulfil the obligation.