Clarke, Phillips wres­tle in fis­cal rules spat

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Edmond Camp­bell/Se­nior Par­lia­men­tary Reporter edmond.camp­bell@glean­erjm.com

LEG­IS­LA­TION TO amend the fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity law was passed by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Wed­nes­day with­out amend­ment but not be­fore a lengthy and con­tentious de­bate over the route taken by the Govern­ment and the short no­tice given to the Op­po­si­tion.

The pas­sage of the law is the first of sev­eral steps that will clear the way for the Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee to ex­am­ine the First Sup­ple­men­tary Es­ti­mates of Ex­pen­di­ture.

Last week, the com­mit­tee said it could not re­view the re­vised Bud­get un­til the rules in the Fi­nan­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Au­dit (FAA) Act were ob­served.

The leg­is­la­tion passed yes­ter­day will amend the FAA Act, which seeks to ex­tend the debt-to-GDP tar­get of 60 per cent by March 31, 2026, to March 31, 2028.

The two-year ad­just­ment be­ing sought by the Govern­ment in the leg­is­lated tar­get is oc­ca­sioned by the on­set of the COVID-19 pan­demic, which has shred­ded the eco­nomic pro­jec­tions of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, leav­ing in its wake a max­i­mum six per cent con­trac­tion fore­cast for the econ­omy and an $81-bil­lion loss in rev­enues for the cur­rent fis­cal year.

Dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s de­bate, opin­ions clashed fiercely as Leader of the Op­po­si­tion Dr Peter Phillips and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Dr Nigel Clarke squared off, with both law­mak­ers shout­ing at each other from across the aisle.

“What they want is for us to de­lay, de­lay, de­lay – there is no room for de­lay,” a spir­ited Clarke de­clared.

NOT TIME FOR DE­LAY

With deci­bel lev­els ris­ing sharply, Clarke said: “If it was up to them, all they are in­ter­ested in is de­lay, de­lay, de­lay. The need is now. The peo­ple need as­sis­tance now; there is no room for de­lay.”

Phillips rose on a point of or­der, charg­ing that Clarke was mis­rep­re­sent­ing what the Op­po­si­tion had said.

With the shout­ing match at full pitch, Phillips urged Clarke to with­draw his “disin­gen­u­ous” re­marks. How­ever, Clarke dis­missed his call.

Clarke said that the Govern­ment could not de­lay pas­sage of the re­vised Bud­get, which con­tains $6 bil­lion in ex­pen­di­ture for the health sec­tor and $17 bil­lion for so­cial pro­grammes.

He said that be­cause of the COVID-19 cri­sis, the ad­min­is­tra­tion had to find an av­enue through which sus­pen­sion of the fis­cal rules could be pur­sued.

Clarke said that the bill pro­poses to amend the FAA Act to in­clude as a trig­ger for the sus­pen­sion of fis­cal rules the dec­la­ra­tion of Ja­maica as a dis­as­ter area un­der Sec­tion 26 of the Dis­as­ter Risk Man­age­ment Act.

An­other step to trig­ger sus­pen­sion of the fis­cal rules is the mak­ing of an or­der un­der Sec­tion 16 of the Pub­lic Health Act.

He said that this amend­ment would pave the way for the ini­ti­a­tion of the process to sus­pend the rules.

How­ever, Op­po­si­tion Spokesman on Fi­nance Mark Gold­ing said that from the on­set of the COVID pan­demic here, the Govern­ment was ad­vised that a dec­la­ra­tion of a pub­lic emer­gency within the pa­ram­e­ters of Sec­tion 20 of the Con­sti­tu­tion was the ap­proach to have taken.

He said that Clarke, while in the Up­per House, had strongly rec­om­mended that the fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity rules be en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“Here we are to­day, where he is amend­ing the FAA Act by cir­cum­vent­ing the con­sti­tu­tional rule,” Gold­ing said.

FILE

Fi­nance and the Pub­lic Ser­vice Min­is­ter Dr Nigel Clarke.

FILE

Op­po­si­tion Leader Dr Peter Phillips.

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