KINGSTON, Jamaica – In an historic maiden budget debate presentation by a woman Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller last night rolled out a host of new Government initiatives, including a $500 million-per-year plan to assist thousands of National Housing Trust contributors to qualify for loans.
The new NHT initiative and other housing plans accompany early childhood education and job creation as the focus of Government’s programmes for the current fiscal year.
“I am determined that more of our people at the bottom of the economic ladder, who are contributors to the trust, should be able to qualify to own a home,” Mrs. Simpson Miller told Parliament. “Some of these persons cannot now afford to purchase a house, even at the current minimum interest rate of two per cent.”
The Prime Minister said the thousands of NHT contributors who, because of their earnings, cannot qualify for a housing benefit, deserve “not just a chance, but balance in their lives.
“In this regard, the NHT has been requested to allocate $500 million annually to bring them into a special pool of beneficiaries,” she said.
Mrs. Simpson Miller said that when these contributors qualify, the NHT would determine the criteria for repayment, based on what they can afford to repay.
The Prime Minister also announced that the NHT would be providing 1,205 housing solutions in schemes in the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine, Trelawny, St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland.
These and other housing initiatives announced yesterday are expected to provide a total of 7,900 new benefits at a cost of $13.2 billion this year.
On education, the Prime Minister announced that 97 basic schools would be repaired and upgraded at a cost of $1.2 billion by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and through the Lift-Up Jamaica Programme. On these projects, 11,500 persons will receive employment.
“Mr. Speaker, early childhood education is my focus during this financial year. The Government is providing the largest ever allocation to early childhood education, over $1.7 billion, an increase of 14 per cent,” she said.
Meanwhile, responding to threats by Opposition Leader Bruce Golding to oppose any move by the Government to use money from the National Insurance Fund (NIF) to help in loans for small businesses, the Prime Minister said she was in disagreement with the Opposition.
“I urge him not to continue his threat of confrontation and bangarang. This is not the kind of example the people of Jamaica are expecting from us as leaders of this nation,” she said.
“Let us not give the wrong signals to a country too tribalised and divided and desperately in need of peace. God knows we have had enough bangarang in this country!” the Prime Minister said to applause from colleagues on her side of the aisle.
She assured the Opposition that the NIF would be protected under her watch, and maintained that she would be putting the money to good use.