Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding on Tuesday (April 20) announced major improvements in benefits for pensioners, as well as low income earners contributing to the National Housing Trust (NHT), in his contribution to the 2010 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Mrs. Golding arrive at Gordon House, Tuesday, for his contribution to the Budget Debate.
The improvements for pensioners include a 20 per cent increase for National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pensioners, as of June 1. Other increases cover maternity allowance, employment injury, disablement and death benefits, funeral grants, old age grants, invalidity grants, widows and orphans grants, with the increases ranging from 11 per cent to 33.5 per cent.
Over 25,000 Government pensioners are also to benefit from the allocation of an additional $500 million for increases in their benefits during the course of the financial year.
National Housing Trust (NHT) mortgagors are to benefit from a reduction in interest rates as of May 1, along with several other measures, aimed at making it more affordable to own a home, including an increase in the maximum mortgage loans allowable as of May 1, with scheme units, open market purchases and build-on-own land moving from $3.5 million to $4.5 million; loan ceiling for serviced lots moving from
$1.2 million to $1.5 million; construction loans from $2.3 million to $3 million; and home improvement loans up from $1.2 million to $1.5 million.
Mr. Golding, making his contribution to the 2010/11 Budget debate at Gordon House, said that the Government was aware of the difficulties Jamaicans were facing, especially the poor, unemployed, low wage earners and the middle class.
The Prime Minister said that while, in her contribution, the Leader of the Opposition spoke passionately about the needs of the poor and vulnerable, she has no monopoly on compassion.
“I say, with absolute respect and with no offence whatsoever intended, that she has no monopoly on compassion. We know that many people are having it hard and there are needs to be met,” he said.
He said that, despite the tight fiscal constraints and IMF obligations, the Government has sought to protect the most vulnerable by expanding the social safety net programmes.
He reassured the House that his Government would remain committed to the abolition of hospital charges at public institutions, and tuition fees, both of which were removed by his administration fulfilling pre-election promises.
He said that on the basis of a US$2.6 million grant approved by the World Bank and funded by the Japan Social Development Fund, the Government will be able to target some 10,000 persons in the most vulnerable group this year, under the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
In response to questions raised by the Opposition about the delay in tabling the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, Mr. Golding said that the 2008 survey should be published in July and the 2009 survey by October.
In response to the Leader of the Opposition’s concern about the delay in building dialysis centres, Mr. Golding said while conditions have not allowed for that to be done, the Government has increased the number of available dialysis machines from 38 to 63.
In response to the Opposition Leader’s concerns about the National Insurance Scheme, he noted that the Government has decided to increase the wage cap used in calculating NIS contributions from $500,000 to $1 million, which will increase the value of the contributions and mitigate the reduction in interest income resulting from the debt exchange.
An actuarial review will be carried out this year, which will provide the basis for determining what changes are needed to ensure the sustainability of the Fund over the long term, without diminishing the real value of the benefits to contributors.
“The Fund, however, remains robust with a net asset value as at the end of February of $61 billion,” Mr. Golding assured.
He also said that while some have expressed disappointment that the budget doesn’t contain grand announcements of mega projects, the estimates will finance growth and investment.
“What the budget seeks to do is to create conditions that will facilitate investment and growth-proper fiscal management, reduced deficit, lower interest rates, less borrowing, confidence building transparency and accountability,” Mr. Golding said.