MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Opposition Senator Peter Bunting has criticised Prime Minister Andrew Holness for recent comments that the mandate of the National Housing Trust (NHT) is that of a financial institution and not a charity.
Holness, while addressing a ground-breaking ceremony for a housing development on Friday in St James, said the NHT is not a “welfare institution”.
“There is an illogical thinking amongst our people where it is believed that if we run our business as a charitable organisation we will have the resources to be charitable. I want that point to sink in. The NHT, by virtue of Government policy and certainly by the direction that I have given, has a duty to ensure that it can provide affordable housing,” said Holness.
Bunting took Holness to task as he pointed to a WhatsApp message he received from a People’s National Party (PNP) supporter.
“The Comrade was vex. ‘What kind of rubbish Andrew Holness talking about NHT not a welfare institution?’ Michael Manley created that organisation so more people, and even poor people, can have houses to live in this country,” Bunting said while addressing the PNP’s Mandeville Divisional Conference on Sunday at Manchester High School.
He added that Manley, who launched the NHT in 1974, focused on social justice in the housing sector.
“Jamaica has no shortage of financial institutions. We have enough commercial bank, broker-dealer and securities dealer, mortgage bank and building society,” he said.
“Michael Manley created the NHT to help those who needed help and some call that welfare. Michael Manley called that social justice and that is what the NHT is created and designed to bring to Jamaica — social justice when it comes to housing,” said Bunting.
The Government, he claimed, is “bankrupt” of ideas.
“Things that they were cussing PNP for proposing in the last election they are now on the quiet announcing it as if it is their idea. At a minimum it is intellectual dishonesty,” he said.
Holness on Friday, while speaking at a handing-over ceremony for houses under the social housing programme in St James, announced that the Government is going to develop a rent-to-own agreement for housing.
“We’re going to develop housing that we can lease the persons that pay for it over time and then eventually, they can have it,” he said.
A similar idea was pitched by the PNP in its 2020 election manifesto.
However, Bunting, while not being specific, said the party deserves credit.
“If you wah borrow something that you did cuss couple years ago at least give credit for it and say you were mistaken at the time,” he said.
He suggested that a similar approach might very well be taken by the Government following Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s proposal to cap the special consumption tax (SCT) on fuel at an oil price of $67.50 US per barrel and also the equivalent for the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“The party leader has made an excellent suggestion to cushion the pressure of inflation and cost of living on the ordinary people of Jamaica,” he said.
“Fuel prices affect everything else and capping that SCT would be saving over $4 billion in the first instance, more than what the JPS [Jamaica Public Service] subsidiary is supposed to be, yet it is dismissed,” he added.
The subsidy to JPS customers at the lower level is being paid for by the Government.
“When these positive suggestions are made in the interest of the Jamaican people, a caring Government would accept it. Not just because it came from the Opposition, but would say, ‘Thank you, Leader of the Opposition, that is a good idea. We are going to adopt it in the interest of the Jamaican people.’ But they prefer to reject it and make the people suffer so they look like they are the only ones who have the answer,” said Bunting of the PNP’s proposal to cap the consumption tax on fuel.
“Maybe all later in the year they make a big announcement that they have now decided that they are to cap the SCT and hope that you would have forgotten where the source of the recommendation was,” added Bunting, a former Member of Parliament for Manchester Central.