Jamaicans are being warned to brace for greater economic fallout from what the parliamentary Opposition is calling a cost-of-living-crisis that threatens to worsen with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
Citing the meteoric rise in the prices of basic food, fuel, and other commodities, Opposition Spokesman on Finance Julian Robinson said “the Jamaican people are suffering” after being battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The price of food is too high, and the people are hungry,” Robinson told the House of Representatives on Thursday in his Budget Debate address in Parliament.
The St Andrew South East member of parliament dismissed the Government’s assertion that the annual inflation rate that consumers will be faced with will be between eight and nine per cent, declaring that it will be much higher in the context of rising prices.
Referencing basic food prices from the Consumer Affairs Commission for the calendar year January 2021 to January 2022, he said consumers have been subjected to increases of up to 40 per cent.
Presenting a chart, Robinson said that the price of cooking oil price had increased by 44 per cent; rice by 38 per cent; counter flour by 32 per cent; chicken by 26 per cent; hardough bread by 22 per cent; and condensed milk by 16 per cent.
“In the past two months, most of these prices have gone up higher than what is reflected in the chart, and many are expected to go up even more as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which together account for some 25 per cent of world wheat production, continues to rage,” the opposition spokesman insisted.
On the issue of petrol, he said that over the last year, prices have risen by more than 60 per cent, putting a significant burden not only on the travelling public but on businesses faced with increased transportation costs.
Referencing the declaration by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke that there would be no new taxes, Robinson said revenue inflows, from higher prices, to the Consolidated Fund would automatically increase, obviating the need for new taxes, with that burden being borne by the poor.
A grave error by the finance minister, he said, was pegging oil prices at US$67.50. Oil is now trending at double that value on the world market.
“The Government earns a windfall in revenue as oil prices remain above this level. It is the poor consumer from whom more is sucked out,” Robinson charged.
On the issue of transitioning to renewables, Robinson also accused the Government of dropping the baton on its leg of the relay in the bid to diversify the country’s energy mix.
“Once again, Jamaica finds itself at the mercy of international currents, with every step toward economic growth stymied by the threat of fiscal destabilisation due to energy costs,” said Robinson.
“When the PNP left office in 2016, Jamaica was on track to achieve the very ambitious target that we set for the country: to have 20 per cent of its energy mix from renewables and 30 per cent by 2030. This prime minister has expressed his desire for that to be 50 per cent by 2030. But vision without execution is mere hallucination.”