Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated that the limited availability of waivers for Jamaicans seeking to import donated items forms part of a fiscal strategy to ensure that the country’s public revenues are safeguarded from leakages.
“I understand the frustration. It’s very difficult to explain to someone…, but it’s part of the process of securing our economic stability, (and) our economic independence,” Holness said while responding to the calls for more waivers during the ‘Let’s Connect’ Virtual Forum with Jamaican Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks, in Washington on Wednesday.
The issue highlights the challenges faced by Jamaicans abroad who often bear substantial costs to facilitate the importation of donated goods, despite not having contributed financially to the sourcing of the goods.
For years, persons who undertake back-to-school treats or free medical missions, among other humanitarian initiatives, have been clamouring for a waiver on their respective imported items.
In further responding to the concerns, Holness emphasised the necessity of a fiscal management system that safeguards Jamaica’s public revenue and prevents potential leakages.
“Well it is the way it is because of the fiscal, meaning the management of our public accounts and public financing, that we have to manage in such a way that we don’t leave holes and opportunities for leakage,” he said.
“So, we must make sure that we capture all public revenue(s), and that is why we can say, ‘No new taxes’, because we have managed to remove the possibilities of variability in revenues, and to do that, you have to have a straight forward and transparent system with very little exceptions,” Holness added.
Once waivers are granted, they will “create waves in your revenues,” he asserted.
Holnes explained that, “Once you give a waiver for something, then somebody else will come and say, ‘But you need to give me, (or) why you give them?’, and then you start a downward spiral.”
He further elaborated on the country’s commitment to fiscal discipline, citing the establishment of a monthly budget of J$10 million for waivers.
“… And so, when we engaged in our IMF (International Monetary Fund) reforms to get to what we call fiscal discipline, part of that was to set the number of waivers that we will give in our system.
“We give J$10 million a month in waivers, and that’s it,” said Holness.
While recognising the frustration being experienced by Jamaicans seeking waivers, Holness assured that as efforts continue towards securing the nation’s economic independence, the Government remains open to making adjustments.
“Once we get to a point – I’m not going to say this will happen quickly or tomorrow, but as we secure our economic independence, we can start to make variations,” he stated.
He highlighted the recent plan to raise the duty-free threshold for the importation of small items through Customs from April of next year as an example of such adjustments already being made.
“Now think of it, we’re gonna give up revenue in order to do that. Why could we do this? It’s because our economic situation has improved,” Holness stated.