General elections are five days away, I have been pouring over the political manifestos and election promises and I am still not certain who I should support. The primary promises are all essentially the same, prosperity and progress. At this point in time, there is little difference in the ideologies espoused by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP).
The JLP hinges its election campaign, on what is has deemed a “partnership for prosperity,” wherein a 10-point plan was presented, in summary these are:
1. Establishment of a Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. This ministry, they claim will cultivate public-private partnerships that will facilitate economic opportunities.
2. Restoration of the junior stock market which will raise equity to finance small and medium businesses.
3. Tax reform that will abolish the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income tax for persons earning JMD$1.5 million or less annually. The JLP’s tax reform plan also promises, reduction in stamp duties, transfer and estate taxes.
4. Enlist Government of Jamaica (GoJ) entities, such as the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.
5. Fix Jamaica’s water infrastructure, to reduce the impact of droughts.
6. Reform the National Housing Trust, the Housing Agency of Jamaica and the Jamaica Mortgage Bank; reduce interest rates on mortgages and create 50-60 year mortgages.
7. Create a special council of investment ambassadors.
8. Invest in skills development in order to attract “high-value” investments. Skills development will take the form of two new programmes ― National Apprenticeship Programme and the National Services Programme. These initiatives will offer participants stipends whilst they learn a skill and work towards certification and gain work experience.
9. Advance Jamaica as a digital society, by digitising GoJ services and offer GoJ businesses and services online.
10. Revitalize and rebuild town centres.
The ruling PNP administration has promised that Jamaica will become a first world country or is on track to do within the next five years. The PNP are campaigning under the banner of securing a better future for Jamaica. The PNP offers what they have dubbed “21 further steps to progress.” Here are the steps:
1. Add 100,000 new jobs.
2. Continue to actively support a National Security Policy.
3. Establish a single anti-corruption agency.
4. Eliminate shift systems in primary and secondary schools.
5. Increase investments.
6. Continue the modernisation of the island’s infrastructure.
7. Accelerate the logistics-centred special economic zones.
8. Facilitate investments in Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs).
9. Transform micro, small, medium enterprises (MSMEs) into competitive enterprises.
10. Accelerate the modernisation of the agriculture sector.
11. Continue to diversify sources of energy, particularly, solar, wind and liquefied natural gases.
12. Facilitate housing solutions.
13. Improve health care by upgrading community health centres.
14. Develop a national shelter network for victims of gender based violence.
15. Establish a fund to support cultural and creative industries.
16. Improve the capacity of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities.
17. Establish an agency for meteorology and climate change mitigation.
18. Continue to implement tax reforms, including lowering general consumption tax (GCT) and transfer and asset tax.
19. Expand the sewage system for the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA).
20. Continue public section transformation to ensure efficient customer service.
21. Strengthen Jamaica’s foreign trade and foreign affairs and deepen the relationship with the Jamaican Diaspora.
These are the campaign promises as outlined in the parties’ manifestos that were launched last week. The most outstanding difference is the JLP’s promise to remove PAYE income tax for persons earning less than JMD $1.5 million per year. This sounds wonderful. I would love to take home that extra $15-20, 000 each month, and I am certain, all low to middle income earners would appreciate the extra money. But is this really possible? Economic and political pundits say no, it is not feasible. I am not sure if it is possible, but I like the idea. More certainly, I think PAYE deductions should be lowered, income tax at 25% is just too much. But here is the main issue, the GoJ has always been plagued with tax collection challenges. In the past, policies of tax breaks and holidays for foreign investors and the super-rich Jamaican businesses, has meant that annual revenue targets were calculated, primarily from, the PAYE taxes directly taken from the public sector workers.
There is another matter, that I find interesting. It appears that in the JLP’s imagined future of Jamaica, there is no International Monetary Fund and Jamaica is not under a rigid austerity programme.
I am not yet, truly decided on where to place my x, come Election Day. My next step, is to take a closer look at the two candidates running in my home in St. Mary. I will thoroughly review their policies, programmes and assess their promises, before Thursday February 25.