OPPOSITION Leader Mark Golding insisted Sunday that his suggestion the Government spend $40 billion of projected debt payments on post-COVID-19 pandemic rescue is not an irresponsible response to the challenges faced by a number of Jamaicans.
"These are not pie-in-the-sky irresponsible ideas. These are important and responsible ideas that the people of Jamaica would like to see happen," Golding told members of the People's National Party (PNP) National Executive Council (NEC) attending a two-day pre-Annual Conference meeting at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus.
He said that he had approached Prime Minister Andrew Holness about the Government's budget being predicated on a number of things, including an average oil price of US$67.50 per barrel, and the ad valorem taxes on fuel being collected impacting oil prices out of the Petrojam refinery — which has reached US$100 per barrel and higher this fiscal year.
"Pass through some of that windfall to consumers who need the help — that could be part of cushioning the price," he suggested.
Golding also noted that although the Opposition is totally committed to a sustainable level of public debt, it should be recalled that it was his party that inherited the "mess" from the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) back in 2012, when the Government changed hands, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 147 per cent and an International Monetary Fund Agreement that was "on the rocks".
He blamed the situation on the "Bruce Golding Government and Andrew Holness, who followed him, for not delivering on their promises to the IMF, putting the country's name in the "mud" with the international financial community.
He said that it was the efforts of the PNP Administration of 2012-2016, including then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips, "who built back the reputation of the country".
He pointed out that the debt was reduced to 115 per cent of GDP by 2016, and the Government also built a fiscal responsibility framework into the governance of the country by law "to ensure that our future was sustainable in relation to public debt".
"So nobody should accuse us, and certainly not me, because I was instrumental in ensuring that those benchmarks were achieved on time. I put in a lot of work to deliver the legislative deliverables that were part and parcel — in fact the major part — of what the IMF agreement required," he stated.
"... Nobody should say when I say spend two per cent of GDP in this fiscal year and support people who need help, that we are running with it and we are being careless or irresponsible. To the contrary, it is an investment in the future...but so far it has fallen on deaf years," Golding lamented.
"We have been ignored...but I am not letting go of this...The reality is that this year is a special year — a year of hardship, a year of intense price increases, a year when interests rates are being raised by the Bank of Jamaica...So people who live on the margins of the society, sufferers, the inner-city and rural poor, unemployed, pensioners, they need help and the Government has a responsibility to the people to do what is necessary in this time," he added.
Ironically, Golding's promotion of the idea to pull back the $40-billion spend on debt reduction has not won favour with neither the Government nor his former party leader Dr Peter Phillips.
Dr Phillips, in a recent radio interview, refused to join his former Cabinet colleague in his call for the cut in debt repayment projections.
Instead Phillips, who was mainly responsible for the fiscal successes of the 2012/2016 PNP Administration's debt policy, supported Government's decision to continue to meet its debt commitments, using the safeguards for which he was mainly responsible.
He has called for increased dialogue, at all levels, on the importance of short term trade-offs for long-term stability, noting that debt reduction has to be seen in the context of the country's vulnerability to disasters.