Gov’t pledges increased benefits to the poor, vulnerable
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (third left) and Isratech Jamaica Chief Executive Officer Benjie Hodara (centre) cut the ribbon to officially open the company’s new superstore in Kendal, Manchester, on Wednesday. With them are (from left) Isratech Jamaica General Manager Joseph Foster; the company’s Chairman Shalom Hodara; Government minister Floyd Green; Manchester Central Member of Parliament Rhoda Moy Crawford; and Councillor Jones Oliphant.

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Prime Minister Andrew Holness has pledged to respond to the hardship being faced by Jamaicans with more cash benefits for the poor and most vulnerable.

At the same time, Holness lashed out at the Opposition, accusing it of trying to score political points from the situation.

“… The present circumstance of our country offers great opportunity for political one-upmanship, it offers great opportunity for persons that take advantage of the frustrated masses to divert that into selfish and narrow political gain. And maybe it is the way it is because that is just the nature of our politics, but I urge Jamaicans to reflect very carefully on our current situation and to acknowledge that this is not the making of the Government,” Holness said at the opening of Isratech Jamaica’s superstore in Kendal on Wednesday.

“We have managed through a pandemic to keep the country safe, to provide care for those who would have lost employment, to provide support for the most vulnerable,” he added.

“In the coming weeks we will be announcing even further cash transfers to the most vulnerable and the poorest to ensure that they can survive this difficult time until matters in the geopolitical arena are resolved and some stability can return to our global energy and food market,” he said.

The prime minister said when he was leader of the Opposition during the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government he had refrained from taking political advantage of the country’s crisis.

He said the record will show that as long as matters were in the interest of the country he stepped aside from “the politics” and supported the then Government.

“When I was the leader of the Opposition and the similar situation existed I was visited by a very prominent Jamaican, in my office, and he said to me ‘You know, the circumstances exist that you could be incendiary’, meaning that the condition on the ground was such that the people were very frustrated with the Government,” he said.

“I had long made a commitment that you don’t have to be destructive to be effective. As leader of the Opposition then I made a commitment that I would be constructive, that whatever I placed on the table would be what is in the best interest of the country, even if it were not popular,” he added.

“… I think the country needs that at this time, because, let me tell you, the opportunity sets are not many and those who believe that a change in Government will mean a change in outcome would be thoroughly disappointed,” said Holness.

Meanwhile, he urged Jamaicans to remain focused on the positives occurring in the country.

“I urge Jamaicans that as difficult as the situation is, now is not the time for us to take our eyes off the good things that are happening in the country. There is a reason why Jamaica is edging closer and closer to full employment — 6.2 per cent unemployment, the lowest ever in our history,” he said.

He pointed to his recent attendance at the Summit of the Americas and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting where leaders highlighted the hardship being faced globally.

“It is clear that the entire world is convulsed in great difficulties as it relates to the volatility in energy prices and the constant increase in energy prices and food security and the increased cost of food. It is having a generally devastating impact on economies and societies right across the world,” he said.

“Jamaica is no different and we have not been spared. The impact that this has had on persons who are on fixed income, persons who are minimum wage earners, low-income earners, it has been significant. The Government is very much sensitive to this, very much aware of this and we have been making deliberate and instrumental efforts to ensure that we are able to transfer cushioning support to those who are vulnerable and in need,” he added.

He likened the proposal by the Opposition to cap the special consumption tax on fuel at US$67.50 per barrel and also the equivalent for the price of liquefied natural gas, to that of United States President Joe Biden’s call for there to be a three-month suspension of federal gas tax.

“It is an amazing thing to hear the conversation there, because the same proposal is being made here and if you review the conversation in the United States, you would see that there is no unanimous agreement that this makes sense. In fact, [the former US President] President Barack Obama had made some comments on the wisdom of that move as to whether or not it would really result in a benefit for those who need it,” said Holness.

He said the Government has to act with caution.

“… If it acts irresponsibly the situation could worsen and so the approach of the Government is one that seeks to ensure that our economy can withstand the shocks and so far, the Jamaican economy, under my Administration, has withstood several shocks and have withstood them very well,” he said.

“I understand the mood of the country. I understand how the minimum wage earner is feeling. I understand how people feel when they see their electricity bill and how upset they must be. I understand, but this, too, will pass,” he added.

He pointed to the Government’s 20 per cent subsidy on electricity usage of up to 200 kilowatt hours per month.

“When has there ever been a Government that has been able to respond in this way? This is not the first time that we have been through an energy crisis. Between 2012 and 2014 we went through this crisis. Was there ever a response from the current Opposition, who was the Government then? Holness asked.

“But now they have, in Opposition, all the solutions. We went through this in 2011 to 2014 when we had a massive devaluation in our dollar and massive food price increases. When did the now Opposition, then Government, offer any care package or support? I ask when?” he added.

“They weren’t able to do it even if they could or wanted to, because they didn’t have the resources,” said Holness.

Kasey Williams

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