Holness says most vulnerable must be protected

KINGSTON, Jamaica— Prime Minister, Andrew Holness says it makes “good business sense” to protect the society's most vulnerable citizens by being “fair and conscientious to everyone”.

His comment comes against the background of the recently announced introduction of fees by commercial banks for transactions at automated teller machines (ATMs) that will range from $25 to $60.

Holness said the prevailing pandemic impacting Jamaica is not only manifesting as a threat of a virus.

“Persons whose income disappeared or was significantly reduced [due to COVID-19] still have mortgages piling up on them, still have credit bills that they were not able to pay, children are now going back to school, so fees are now coming back in, bus fares and lunch money have to be paid… then they have to now hear about increases in bank fees,” he stated.

The prime minister maintained that Jamaica's economic potential exists in a social context and emphasised that “the leaders of the economy must pay close attention to [this]”.

“My job as the leader of the Government is to facilitate as much with market-based approaches and solutions, but I have a higher duty to protect the vulnerable of the country,” Holness added.

He was speaking during the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) 17

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 semi-virtual Regional Investments and Capital Markets Conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday, January 25.

Holness said that as Jamaica prepares to celebrate its 60

th

 Independence Anniversary this year, it is an opportune time to return to the task of building and growing the country “to secure our economic independence and charting a course to achieving full political independence”.

He noted that people at all levels of the society have a part to play in this regard, underscoring the need for parity and equity across the board in this process.

“I cannot preside over a Jamaica where existing inequalities and unequal endowments follow us into the future. The future [must be about] prosperity, not a continuation of the existing social and economic structure,” the prime minister emphasised.

Holness underscored that the Government is facilitating the unleashing of business “not to create a wealth gap… [but] to lift everyone's income prospects, opportunities, and prosperity”.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr Nigel Clarke, who spoke at the conference on Wednesday, January 26, noted that no charges were previously levied to use ATMs, adding that it is understandable and accepted that banks have costs to recover.

He also acknowledged that the capital investment required by the financial institutions to undertake digital transformation of their products and services is significant.

“We understand that banks face the same costs that we all face… security and other costs are high [and] we understand that and that a return must be made [on investments]. But for those Jamaicans who are on an income of $15,000 a week or less, when you dock them $60 to take out their money [from an ATM] that they got paid, it is a material amount,” he argued.

Dr Clarke said banks must take Jamaica's economic and social structure into account when setting prices, and “at a very minimum, there have got to be breakpoints for persons on lower incomes and who have lower balances”.

He maintained that these persons “must be made to feel comfortable with using banking products”.

“They must feel as if their realities are taken into account in the way a bank designs and prices its products, and they must have confidence that they are going to be treated equitably and fairly. The banks have to be sensitive to the economic structure of the country,” he stated.

Dr Clarke advised that he has had dialogue with the banks on the matter, “and I expect them to be responsive”.

“The economic growth that we are [pursuing] is [one] that must be inclusive [where] everyone sees their interest [materialising],” he added. 

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