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Gleaner confirms: Shaw knew money wasn't available

Featured Former Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips Former Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips
MONTEGO BAY, April 3, 2016 - The Jamaica Gleaner is this morning corroborating former finance Minister Peter Phillips' argument that Finance Minister Audley Shaw was well aware that the money collected from a special tax on fuel had been placed in the Consolidated Fund, where all money collected by government goes.

The Gleaner took Phillips’ advice and went over to Duke Street to peruse the records of Hansard, the verbatim records of Parliament. The publication found that “during a sitting of the Lower House last September, Shaw, the then opposition spokesman on finance, was given a full account of what was being done with the money by then Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips.”

"The source of funding for the energy stabilisation and energy efficiency enhancement fund is the new fuel tax that has been imposed since April 2015. In the meantime, while the legislative amendments are being undertaken, a sub-account of the Consolidated Fund has been established to receive the proceeds of the tax," Hansard records Phillips as saying in response to questions from Shaw on September 29, 2015.

Shaw however told a Private Sector Organisation President's Forum last week, that now that he had taken over the country's purse strings he has found out that the money has been spent or otherwise budgeted.

"We had suggested that part of the payback of the $1.5 million tax break would be use of the tax on fuel that was supposed to be a special fund that was set aside," Shaw told the forum.

"We have found that the oil hedge fund was not set aside, that it is actually already accounted for in the Consolidated Fund," added Shaw.

Shaw and Prime Minister Andrew Holness had given a commitment in the run-up to the February 25 elections, that the money set aside for the oil hedge would be used by the Jamaica Labour Party administration to help fund a new tax policy to provide relief to persons earning up to $1.5 million.

Phillips, for his part, insisted that Shaw, the then Opposition Spokesman on Finance was given a detailed written response to his September 29 query which was also read into the records of Hansard.

"We indicated that we were using the funds for hedging and other purposes such as capital expenditures. Cabinet, in September, gave drafting instructions for the creation of a segregated fund, and so that process was under way," added Phillips as he noted that approximately $3 billion from the SCT was used to finance oil hedges in July last year.

Phillips explained that the oil hedges were purchased with advanced sums that were being paid back with revenue from the SCT. Those sums, he said, were not expected to be recovered until this month.

"Everything came through the Consolidated Fund and it could only be spent for the purposes for which it was meant to be spent ... which was to purchase the hedge and, in any event, $3 billion could not account for all that was to be done," Phillips said.