NHT PERK

Contributors or mortgagors of the National Housing Trust (NHT) who have lost their jobs for 12 months or more will be able to access their contribution refunds one year in advance, effective this July.

The initiative will expire in July 2022.

And the NHT contribution refund for the more than 26,000 public-sector workers will be extended to April 2022. The refund was slated to end in 2021.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness made these announcements on Thursday during his contribution to the 2021-22 Budget Debate in Gordon House.

He also offered details on far-reaching infrastructure projects, including the Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project, which will be funded solely by the Government.

Holness said that if the NHT refund was due for 2013, the contributor could access the refund for 2013 as well as 2014.

CREATIVE WAYS

“This is a way to get some cash in your hands if you have lost your job. These are creative ways the Government has come up with to help people survive the pandemic,” the prime minister said.

Turning to infrastructure projects, Holness said that the country was preparing for economic recovery by embarking on significant development projects that would improve productivity, stimulate growth, and boost employment.

The Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project comprises four sections. They are the Montego Bay Bypass, spanning almost 15 kilometres; Barnett Street-West Green Avenue road rehabilitation; Long Hill Bypass, which spans 10.5 kilometres; and the Drainage Study of the Montego Bay Bypass area.

For almost two decades, a bypass for Montego Bay has been on the cards with the significant growth of the resort city and the development of the tourism industry.

Holness explained that the long-term effect of the project would be to provide interconnection to the toll road and other major corridors.

At the completion of these works, a four-lane highway network will connect Kingston to Montego Bay.

As part of the overall project, Barnett Street and West Green Avenue will be rehabilitated and widened to complement works being done on the Montego Bay Bypass.

Initially, the administration had contemplated borrowing from China to implement the project, but the decision was made to fund the infrastructure development with its own resources.

“This would be the first major highway development financed with our own resources and not linked to a loan,” Holness said.

The prime minister said that China Harbour Engineering Company would be awarded the contract as provided for under the Public Procurement Act of 2015.

At the same time, major infrastructural work has been earmarked for the Kingston waterfront. The prime minister said that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) would advance the development of the Kingston Harbour Walk.

This is a comprehensive project that includes both climate-resilience infrastructure and related public open space in the form of a 28-kilometre linear park from Ocean Boulevard in downtown Kingston to Port Royal.

According to Holness, the transformative Harbour Walk development would comprise a combination of scenic vistas and parks and a coastal and roadside promenade providing active and passive spaces for recreational jogging, cycling and entertainment purposes.

“Economic activity will also flourish with commercial opportunities all along the walk, featuring restaurants and spaces for pop-up entertainment, bringing an enhanced quality of life to the capital city,” he said, likening his vision to the Malecon in Cuba.

And after coming under severe criticism late last year for overturning a decision by a state watchdog not to allow mining and quarrying at the Dr Harbour Mountain in Discovery Bay, St Ann, the Holness administration is taking steps to craft legislation to enable the creation and regulation of a national protected areas system.

As part of this move, Holness said that the Government would promulgate a new protected areas act.

He said that the legislation would include provisions for management of private lands in protected areas under a new comprehensive statute while preserving specific statutory functions under other enactments.

The National Environment and Planning Agency, in consultation with partner agencies, has already selected 15 areas that are proposed for protection.

WATCH: #BudgetDebate2021​: 10 quotes from Andrew Holness

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com