The Jamaican Diaspora is reacting positively to the economic situation in Jamaica, with most joining Jamaicans at home in hailing the 2019/2020 budget recently tabled by the country’s minister of finance. But, at meanwhile, the Diaspora continue to be disturbed by the reports of a persistent wave of violent crime.
The budget tabled by Minister of Finance Nigel Clarke has earned him the swift nick-name of “Santa Clarke” because of the ‘gifts’ included. In the budget the minister has cut several taxes, and interest rates amounting to some J$14 billion dollars.
The benefits apply to reduction on interest on student loans, property transfer tax, stamp duty on property purchase and sold, and taxes paid by businesses.
The Finance Minister said the tax reductions are part of the government’s move to give back to the nation after almost 20 years of tax increases. He added that this move by government would incentivize micro and small business activity.
The government has also made significant increases in the budgetary allocation for the Program of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). With this increase grants made to an estimated 284,000 beneficiaries including children and the elderly will increase by 7 percent.
In addition, increases will be allocated tol major social protection programs from $16 billion in 2018/19 to $20 billion in 2019/20.
The major share of the budget pie is allocated to the Ministry of National Security to “improve the security of the citizens of Jamaica.” That ministry has been allocated $20.2 billion an increase of $7.5 billion over the 2018/19 budget.
Financing tax benefits
A prevailing question being raised among the Diaspora is how will the government cope with a significant reduction in tax revenues? The finance minister explained that the measures are possible through improvements in collection of income and business taxes. In addition, the country has made significant strides in reducing the national debt.
Dubbing the budget “Growth with Equity”, Clarke justified this title by explaining Jamaica’s Debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio is set to fall to 96 per cent, the lowest ratio in nearly 20-years; the first time the ratio has fallen below 100 per cent over that period. He attested the debt reduction is a “shining example to the world of what can be achieved when there is unity of purpose.”
Still, with the positivity associated with the budget and the kudos the government has been receiving in its wake, there’s criticism that the budget, and the surpluses gained by the government, hasn’t been designed to benefit the poorer classes of Jamaicans generally.
Critics claim no benefit to the poor
Some people in the Diaspora agree with the People National Party’s Opposition spokesman on Finance, Mark Golding, that poor people who are struggling to find food and shelter for their children and themselves will not benefit from more favorable transfer taxes or stamp duty. They too believe more of the $14 billion could be directly channeled to the poor and needy.
Although the feedback has been more favorable, than critical, there’s strong concern among the Diaspora about initiatives to reduce violent crime in Jamaica. While people are pleased a huge chunk of the budget is allocated to national security, they need information on the finer details of the planned crime fighting measures.
Diaspora crime concerns
Reference is being made to the recent resurgence of violence in western Jamaica following the ending of a state of emergency in the parish of St. James. The Diaspora is divided about the ending of this sate of emergency, and those in other troubled regions of the country. The majority would rather the government and the opposition collaborate in strategizing on a pragmatic crime reduction plan. “Crime isn’t a divisive political issue, it’s a national issue,” some have stated.
There’s also increasing concern over potential damage to Jamaica’s vibrant tourism industry from reports of violent crime. Last week, the US Department of State issued a level-2 travel advisory to Americans traveling to Jamaica cautioning against violent crime.
This advisory may be unjustified, but it’s nonetheless damaging. The government of Jamaica has a responsibility to ensuring that every effort is made, and no budgetary funds spared, to effectively counter crime in general
The positive news of economic growth, reduced debt and lower taxes is refreshing, but this positivity should not be negated by persistent news of ravages on the society from violent crime. The ministry of finance have provided the necessary funds, now Jamaicans home and abroad want to know how these funds will be applied to reduce crime.
Jamaicans, home and overseas, would also like to see more of the funds being realized from improved tax collection, and the reduced national debt, directly applied to alleviate the plight of poor urban and rural Jamaicans.