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Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and Public Service, Senator Don Wehby, has called on Jamaicans to hold Government accountable to budgetary targets as the country works towards achieving a balanced budget.
Senator Wehby, who was speaking at the Lions Club of Kingston luncheon held on (Jan. 9) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, said that Jamaica can achieve greater fiscal discipline if the focus is placed on restraint in public expenditure.
“When we have a budget, you the public must hold us the government officials accountable in terms of achieving those budgets. You must hold me accountable as a Minister in the Ministry of Finance in terms of those budgets,” Senator Wehby said.
He informed that “since 2004, we have not met our budgetary targets once, hence the deficit.”
According to the Minister, Government’s number one priority “is to achieve a balanced budget as quickly as possible, but with the numbers on the books pointing to a challenging year ahead, it’s not going to be easy.”
He pointed out that much of the fiscal challenge stems from inefficient services, but fiscal tightening measures are already being implemented in the form of the divestment of non-core assets such as the sugar factories this year, and Air Jamaica. The national airline, he noted, is a major liability for the country, as it is losing some $100 million annually.
A comprehensive tax reform programme and a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with public sector workers, are other measures that the Government is working on towards achieving a balanced budget.
As it relates to the MOU, which would be the third between Government and public sector workers, the Minister informed that Senator Dwight Nelson is in advanced stages of negotiations with 77 combined groups of public sector workers and bargaining units.
In addition to these measures, Senator Wehby said that the Government has to also grow the economy, while the groundwork is being laid for the establishment of offshore financial centres in the island.
He also cited the establishment of a skills bank; and junior venture market or small capital market to facilitate small business enterprises to list on the Jamaican Stock Exchange. The latter move, he said, will provide “access to cash to revive some of the old entrepreneurial spirit in the Jamaican business sector”.
The fiscal deficit up to November 2006 stood at $35.6 billion, but the Government has been able to keep it at $28.2 billion to date, Senator Wehby indicated. “So we are ahead by $8.3 billion. We have managed to run a very tight ship so far,” he said, expressing confidence that “in the medium term, we will achieve all that we want Jamaica to be.”