The Gleaner, Jamaica: Edmund Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 – Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that if Jamaica doesn’t reinvigorate the economy, the fallout will be incalculable.
WHILE INDICATING that the Government is not contemplating laying off public-sector workers owing to the impact of COVID-19, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has warned that if the country’s economy does not change gears and accelerate towards near capacity, the effects of the pandemic would be “incalculable”.
Addressing a Jamaica House press conference yesterday evening, the prime minister was blunt, arguing that the country was faced with a reality that “we keep dancing around”.
He said that an inability to place the Jamaican economy back on the road to recovery would mean that the Government’s intake from revenues and taxes would dry up.
Continuing, Holness charged that a failure to kick-start the economy, which is projected by the International Monetary Fund to contract by 5.6 per cent, could land middle-class and poor Jamaicans in big trouble.
“If we don’t get our economy to full capacity, the little savings of the Jamaican middle class will evaporate in a matter of weeks. For those people who depend on the constant hustle – that can’t get out there and make a living – whatever daily savings they have, that will evaporate,” he emphasised.
“So let us not fool around with the understanding that we must return our economy to as close to capacity as possible,” the prime minister added.
He suggested that Jamaica does not have the luxury of other economies that have large savings and are able to pump significant sums, over time, into relief packages to the unemployed.
“More than other countries, Jamaicans have to learn to live with the COVID pandemic,” Holness said, adding that the country must display responsible behaviour in relation to the orders given to curtail the spread of the highly contagious virus.
The island has recorded 505 coronavirus cases and nine related deaths.
He observed that for the first time in a major crisis such as COVID-19, Jamaica was able to offer a cash transfer, “showing that we care, to persons who have been displaced from their jobs and for persons who are not employed”.
Tourism Preparing to Reopen
Holness vowed that the Government would not allow the coronavirus crisis to “cripple us”, noting that tourism, the country’s major foreign-exchange earner, was taking preparatory steps to reopen.
“Jamaica must be the number one destination for travel when the tourism market reopens,” he said.
The prime minister said that the broad-based economic recovery task force was studying the various protocols for reopening the tourism sector. However, he said the group had to ensure that all the health protocols were considered to mitigate risks.
Giving a further update, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said that protocols for the reopening of the tourism sector were far advanced, but not yet finalised.
He said that some 153,000 of the 170,000 tourism workers are now out of a job.
The Holness administration is preparing the first supplementary estimates of expenditure to be tabled in Parliament soon, which is expected to show dramatic shifts in government spending for the current fiscal year.
In February, the Government projected to spend $852.67 billion to finance the affairs of the country for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.