Prime Minister’s Quarterly Press Briefing – September 2017
Most Hon. Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Quarterly Press Briefing
September 21, 2017
The tax revenue is at $54.5 billion dollars compared to $51.2 billion budgeted and this is the best tax revenue performance since 2002/ 2003 fiscal year. According to the World Bank, Jamaica is ranked 12th best place to start a business in the world.
The income tax threshold (the second phase) took effect on April 1, 2017. This resulted in the threshold moving to 1.5 million dollars. In fact to be specific, $1,500,096; very important.
This adjustment also resulted in an additional increase of $499, 824. The effective threshold for the 2017 year of assessment will therefore be $1,375, 140 and the full threshold of $1.5 million will become effective on January 1, 2018.
I’ve spoken a lot already about the NHT and just to run through some of the benefits that we’ve given because we’ve had several policy changes. The policy changes will increase the amount of money persons will be able to access on the open market.
Previously only contributors who were constructing or who were buying into new development whose practical completion certificate dated the 1st of September 2015 and after could borrow up to $5.5 million dollars for open market loans. Now a qualified contributor can access this loan category and borrow up to $5.5 million to purchase any house on the open market. The loan limit for what they call the Fifteen Plus category has been increased from 1.5 million to 2.5 million dollars.
The government also increased benefits to persons with disabilities. The government will provide a grant to NHT mortgagors with disabilities; for those who reside with and care for a family member with disabilities. The grant is to be used to retrofit or upgrade the dwelling to make it suitable to serve the needs of the disabled
Low income construction subsidy – we have a housing micro-finance and mortgage financing programme and now all of these will increase the uptake of housing loans for low income earners particularly those in the tourism sector. The Housing Micro-finance Project which began on April 1, 2017, will target low-income contributors. It will allow contributors to repair or improve their existing homes or build their own homes one step at a time with a maximum of $850,000 loan with a tenure of six months to five years.
Self-employed individuals and some private entities that have challenges in keeping up with their mortgages and they also benefit from this programme and there is a contribution arrears programme to assist them.
In terms of employment and job creation, data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica show that the number of persons securing employment peaked at a historical 1,204,800 in April 2017 which was 35,800 more than the 1,169,000 persons employed in April 2016.
The out-turn bettered the employment level of 1, 187,000 in July 2016 when the country recorded the lowest unemployment figures in five years and the highest employment level for a single month since October 2008 when 1,174,500 persons had jobs.
Very important to note that this figure of 35,900 is net new jobs and it is also important to note that the labour force rose so the number of persons seeking jobs increased, net new jobs have increased.
I recall seeing a figure that the gross new jobs created was somewhere in the region of about 50,000 new jobs so that is an amazing performance for the economy. That is really the first sign that you’ll get growth but not just growth in terms of expansion in stocks or increase transaction but growth that is inclusive, growth where people can participate in the expansion of the economy and the way to participate in the expansion of the economy is through employment. That is something that the country can be very proud of and it is the first sign that the economy is starting to turn for the better.
In education, there is an increase in budgetary support allocation for schools. The budget increased from $2.6 billion dollars to $5.3 billion dollars at the secondary level.
We’ve seen quite a bit of back and forth between some schools and the Minister; some of it I think has been too confrontational. When it comes to education I think that is the platform where we can have a certain partnership and the facts are that the government acknowledges that what is required to deliver a first class education. We’re not yet at the point to support the budget to that level but it should also be acknowledge that the government is doing the best it can in increasing its allocation to schools and whilst we’re increasing the allocations to schools, schools must be accountable for this so that the output in education increases both in terms of certification, in terms of skills and competence, it makes the growth agenda that much more easier to attain. Certainly it also helps the employment agenda so I would like to see a more cooperative consultation and more cooperation between schools and the Ministry as it relates to the implementation of the ‘no tuition’ policy and the Ministry’s thrust for greater accountability for the use of public resources that we are putting under the stewardship of educational leaders.
The HOPE programme is moving apace, we’re still in the development phases; I have here in my notes that we have just about found jobs now for five hundred persons but I recall reading an email- I think you told me now that you were going up to about two thousand. In another week or so you’ll be able to tell me where we are with that. What we’ve done is to instead of going with a full scale implementation we want to develop the protocols around it, we want to develop the framework so we’ve started almost with a proof of concept and then we’re going to rapidly expand. I believe we’ve now proved the concept, we’ve worked out the protocols and now we’re moving in the phase of rapid expansion.
Tourism continues to be a great performer. The country has earned a record two billion dollars during the first eight months of the 2017/2018 financial year. The figure represents an increase of 8.3 percent in gross foreign exchange earnings more than the 1.83 billion earned last year over the same period.
Some of you would’ve been here when we launched the GOJ Portal in August and that is a major milestone towards providing information on a digital platform, on one platform for the citizens of the country to access. In terms of National Security, we implemented the National Service Corps and that has begun. The army in particular has implemented their segment of it with the National Service Corps Enlistment and the first batch is due to graduate on Saturday at which I will be speaking. The programme is continuing.
In terms of water one of the projects that I feel so good about is opening the water supply for Rosewell in Clarendon. I had toured that area before during the election campaign and made a commitment that I would deal with their water problem when I won and became the Prime Minister. I’m fulfilling my obligations and I went there and turn the tap and water just came gushing out and the people were very happy. I still have a few more of those promises to fulfil and I’m going to make sure that they happen but outside of that advances are being made on the non-revenue water project for Kingston and St. Andrew. This project is supposed to last for five years and we’re making steady progress in mapping our meters and finding leaks so we’ll be able to reduce non-revenue water loss.
The NWC hosted a regional water-financing conference in partnership with the IDB in May 2017 and the conference was a huge success. In terms of rural water, rain harvesting, solar power systems were installed in ten schools. I think this is something to note that we’re moving towards the sustainable provision of water in areas where we cannot supply water using the conventional piped system. These will become good test cases to see how we can expand water by using water catchment and solar pumping as alternative solutions.
There are some other major water projects. The head of the NWC is here and I’ll allow him to face some of the questions and tell you more about those major projects. I wanted to spend just two minutes on the legislative agenda again.
The MOCA bill will come to parliament- well it is already laid but I will open debate on the MOCA bill on Tuesday. Minister Chuck, the Anti-corruption Bill that is in its final stages and on Friday the senate will complete its debate on that bill and we’re also hoping that this Friday the Senate will take the pension bill so we would have completed I think an astonishing year of passing legislation. I don’t think any other government has managed to pass so many significant pieces of legislation as we’ve done given our parliamentary circumstances but we have done it.
Ladies and gentlemen I’ve given you my brief overview.