Pushing aggressively for herd immunity in Jamaica within the new fiscal year, the Holness administration announced on Tuesday a $60-billion allocation aimed at purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and dedicated to social and economic recovery under an initiative dubbed – The SERVE Jamaica Programme.
A one-off dividend of $33 billion from the Bank of Jamaica will help to fund the SERVE programme. This also includes $31.1 billion to be spent on infrastructural development – the largest sums to be spent in any one fiscal year on infrastructure projects.
Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, who made the announcements while opening the 2021-22 Budget Debate in Gordon House, told the country that there would be no new taxes this financial year.
“We are prioritising economic recovery,” said Clarke, adding that this was the sixth consecutive year in which, on a net basis, “we have not raised taxes”.
“This is the fourth fiscal year where there are no new taxes,” Clarke said to thunderous applause from the Government benches.
As part of the SERVE Jamaica Programme, the Government will provide $10,000 to more than 100,000 persons aged 60 and over who have been vaccinated.
“If you are over 60 and you are not in receipt of a formal income and you have been vaccinated, you can look forward to your conditional cash transfer,” he said.
Under the Conditional Cash Transfer for the Vaccinated (CCTV) sub-programme, persons 60 years and over who are not employed or receiving a pension greater than $1.5 million per annum are eligible for the benefit.
However, before they can access the payment, the Ministry of Health’s records will have to confirm that they have received the jab.
Jamaica received 50,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from India on Monday and is expected to start administering the jab today.
Under SERVE Jamaica, the Government will also set aside $3 billion for continuation of the CARE Programme’s SET cash unemployment support grants for those earning below the income tax threshold and have been unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of this amount, sums will also be allocated to the CARE Programme’s BEST Cash grants that support tourism employment for the quarter April-June 2021. Clarke said that 50,000 Jamaicans would benefit from these grants.
And Clarke provided good news for students struggling to find two guarantors before applying for a loan at the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB). He announced that effective April 1, this year, students applying for a loan at the SLB would only require one guarantor.
The finance minister said the Government was also pursuing plans to change the annual income tax return and collection date from March 15 of each year to April 15.
He said this change was not only appropriate for the Government’s finances but would also give taxpayers an additional month to prepare their tax returns and to make the required payment.
“It is extra time for taxpayers to organise themselves to achieve tax compliance. For the Government, it will mean that the Revenue Authority will now collect the highest 50 per cent of annual income tax revenue in the very first month of its fiscal year,” Clarke said.
The $60b SERVE Jamaica Programme will consist of the following elements:
• $10.5b in special resources for the Ministry of Health including:
- $6b for the procurement, storage, distribution and administration of vaccines;
- $1b for personal protective equipment.
- $1b for drugs and reagents.
- $2b for regional health authorities to pay arrears to suppliers.
- $500m for other COVID-19 related expenditure.
Breakdown of the $31.1b for infrastructure projects that will create jobs and spur economic activities:
· $17.7b allocated to the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project.
· $8b for special public investment infrastructure programme.
· $3.7b for secondary roads, repairing roads across Jamaica.
· $1.2b for the Montego Bay Bypass.
· $0.5b for construction of new police divisional headquarters in Westmoreland and new forensic pathology suite.
· $5b is targeted financing for businesses to accelerate the digital transition of the economy.
· $1b to the DBJ so that MSME’s that qualify for the Go Digital grant will also be eligible for up to $800,000 in 2% interest loans to be used to support the digital transition.
· $2b to seed two equity funds exclusively focused on providing equity financing to MSME’s in Jamaica.
· $2b for lending to MSME’s.
· $1.7b for Production Incentives to farmers and continued rehabilitation of roads in rural farming communities to boost recovery in the agricultural sector; • $1.8 billion to expand WiFi and broadband in schools, communities, and town centres, in particular in rural areas through the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology.
· $200m to the National Works Agency for river training activity, which will employ Jamaicans in rural Jamaica in necessary disaster mitigation work.
· $140m to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for Municipal Corporations to provide digital devices in collaboration with e-Learning.
· $40m to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security for COVID-19 grants for the disabled community.
· $1.5b in other social programs to be announced by the prime minister that will benefit thousands more.