Fitz-Henley bullish on economy, says Gov’t will do more for Jamaicans

Government Senator Abka Fitz-Henley making his contribution to the State of Nation Debate in the Senate.

Government Senator Abka Fitz-Henley says he’s confident that the Jamaican economy will continue to grow and place the Government in a position to improve on what, he said, is its track record of taking a series of direct actions to improve the lives of the masses.

Fitz-Henley made the remark during his opening of the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday.

“I am optimistic about the future of Jamaica’s economy. The latest figures suggest in the near future we will see additional and notable expansion. In the January to March quarter of this year, the economy grew by 2.7 percent when compared to a similar phase last year, an indication that we are heading in the right direction,” Fitz-Henley told the Upper House of Parliament.

Fitz-Henley told the Senate that the state of the nation is such that the Jamaican economy has been “so well managed” by the Holness administration that it has presided over eight consecutive quarters of positive expansion.

He also took a swipe at the former PNP administration’s handling of the economy.

“Unlike what often transpired when the former PNP administration was in office, we have not levied any new taxes on the people for eight consecutive years”, Fitz-Henley commented.

But the Government Senator says the administration is far from satisfied and recognises the need to do more for the Jamaican people.

“Despite the economy being skilfully navigated to reasonably safe territory, the Jamaican people can be assured that this Government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness is seized of the fact that there is a crucial need for more of the Jamaican masses to benefit directly from the gains being made as our economy continues to expand and we are making moves in this regard,” Fitz-Henley said.

Fitz-Henley alluded to the Government’s increase in the income tax threshold to $1.5 million which reduced the amount of taxes low to middle income earners pay and noted the prime minister’s comment in parliament on March 7 this year that in the future there will be a further revision of the threshhold. He noted that this reflects the administration’s awareness of the need to do more to ease burdens being faced by the masses.

The Government Senator also touted the increase from $9,000 to $13,000 in the minimum wage which takes effect this month and the prime minister’s handing over of 137 houses to families in need under the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme as signs of actions taken by the administration to respond to current challenges.

Senator Fitz-Henley noted that the 50,000 water tanks which are to be rolled out beginning next month are intended to help residents respond to drought conditions even as the Government works on additional steps to implement a more sustainable water supply system across the country.

“Mr President, further evidence that this administration is sensitive to the challenges being faced by people is the $2.7 billion in additional support which was announced in the last fiscal year in a bid to give back to pensioners and people on the PATH programme. Additional support of half-a-billion dollars was also given to people who are not on the PATH programme but are considered among society’s most vulnerable. We are responding to the challenges facing our people in particular society’s most vulnerabl,” Fitz-Henley stated.

The Government Senator also weighed in on the issue of the public sector salary restructuring initiative and reasoned that some “soberness” is needed in the debate.

He told Parliament that the Holness-led Government is the only administration in the history of Jamaica that has spent over $100 billion of the national budget in order to ensure that the vast majority of public sector workers see the most significant increase in their salaries that they’ve seen in a long time.

Fitz-Henley reasoned that the doubling of the salary of some nurses, some educators along with sizeable increases given to public sector maintenance and ancillary workers is significant.

“The fact that the salaries of public sector maintenance workers and ancillary employees have been doubled are steps in the right direction and an indicator that this administration governs with a conscience and with compassion is taking concrete steps towards further advancing our people towards the attainable goal of prosperity for all,” Fitz-Henley declared.

On the issue of a significant increase for political representatives, Fitz-Henley noted comments from the Member of Parliament for St Ann South East, Lisa Hanna, who in a column in the Jamaica Observer wrote that the combined salaries for political representatives amounts to less than 0.29 per cent of the total budget for salaries.

He then took a swipe at the PNP’s posture on the issue.

“No Opposition MP or councillor, not one has declined the increase which came after 37 years without an adjustment. Therefore, when an Opposition Senator tweeted a few days ago ‘PNP standing for fairness in salaries matter, JLP taking the lions share’, quite frankly he is not speaking the truth. It’s propaganda. Patently false”, Senator Fitz-Henley declared.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding also found himself in the cross hairs of the newly minted Government Senator.

“Indeed, the state of the nation is such that we have an Opposition Leader who cuss di increase but decided to take some of it. But we have a Prime Minister who has made the personal sacrifice by saying I hear the discord and I want to stand in solidarity with people who are having a tough time and hence I will not accept a cent of the increase. A noble stance taken by Prime Minister the Most Honourable Andrew Holness,” Fitz-Henley said.