Finance Minister pleased with public sector response to wage offer
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 22, CMC – Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has dismissed opposition suggestion that the Andrew Holness government is seeking to pay down Jamaica’s debt faster than needed, acknowledging that an estimated 95 per cent of public sector workers had accepted the government’s wage offer under its compensation restructuring programme.
Winding up debate on the 2023/24 budget on Tuesday evening, Clarke told legislators that he was pleased with the response of the workers to the offer.
He said agreements had been reached with several bargaining groups and staff associations in recent weeks and that he expects the Jamaica Police Federation to sign off soon.
Clarke said more than 86 per cent of the rank-and-file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) had voted in favour of the Government’s offer.
“We expect that, certainly for the groups who have signed, the retroactive payments will be paid out this month. It may not come on the 25th, clearly because a lot of the agreements were just signed, but we will endeavour that the funds will leave the Consolidated Fund by the end of the month,” he said.
Clarke, who had presented a trillion dollar (One Jamaica dollar=US$0.008 cents) budget to Parliament earlier this month, had announced that J$4.3 billion had been allocated in the budget for this fiscal year to settle wage agreements with some of the major public sector groups, which ends on March 31.
Clarke said the government had allocated J$10.2 billion for rank-and-file police officers, with an additional one billion for District Constables and J$600 million for members of the Police Officers Association, totalling J$11.8 billion.
On Tuesday, he told Parliament that the fiscal risk to which he had referred in relation to the need to wrap up agreements before the end of the current financial year would be averted if the outstanding agreements are made.
In his rebuttal, Clarke, who is also the Public Service Minister, dismissed criticisms made by Opposition Leader Mark Golding that the government is seeking to pay down Jamaica’s debt faster than needed.
Golding had during his budget contribution, accused the government of not doing enough to provide support to Jamaicans suffering from the high cost of living.
The Government is projecting to bring public debt to below 60 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by March 2027, a year earlier than the target in the fiscal rules.
Golding said those funds could be better channelled to provide relief to Jamaicans.
“How is the government deploying the massive amounts of additional taxes it is taking from the people? Instead of strengthening the safety net and investing heavily in the developmental needs of the people, they are intent on reducing the public debt at any even faster rate than is required by the fiscal rules.
“It sounds good, but is it wise and prudent? Why accelerate and bring forward the repayment of debt when the society is under so much pressure,” Golding said.
But Clarke told legislators that Golding has no ambition for Jamaica.
“When I hear the opposition leader talking about paying down debt too fast, he doesn’t get it…he has no ambition for Jamaica,” Clarke said, as he explained why Jamaica is aggressively seeking to lower public debt.
Clarke said the fact that Jamaica is projected to reach the 60 per cent debt-to-GDP target a year earlier, in March 2027, is “a good development”.
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