Another butch stewart initiative_ – editorial – jamaicaobserver. com

In two days it will be 24 years to the day since Mr Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart lit Jamaica afire with patriotic fervour by launching the now famous ‘Butch Stewart Initiative’.

Mr Stewart, the Caribbean’s leading hotelier, announced on April 14, 1992 that he would shock the black market by pumping US$1 million a week into the official foreign exchange market at below prevailing rates to help halt the precipitous slide of the Jamaican dollar.

Not even he could have foreseen the avalanche of support that his initiative would generate, or the outpouring of patriotism that it would unleash as Jamaicans grabbed the idea and ran with it.

This past weekend, in the same month of the initiative, Mr Stewart, who is chairman of the Jamaica Observer and a pre-eminent newsmaker himself, floated another winning idea that is again meant to help ease the suffering of Jamaicans.

He suggested that the Government could contribute 50 per cent of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) receipts towards financing its promised income tax offer to individuals earning up to $1.5-million, which he has embraced on grounds that the Jamaica taxpayer has been under severe stress and badly needs the break.

The 15-year-old TEF, which was mandated to promote growth and development in the tourism sector, collects between US$40 million and US$50 million a year from a head tax on visitors, payable by the airlines flying into the island.

The suggestion to use half of the TEF revenues to support the tax break would amount to as much as US$25 million or nearly J$2.5 billion a year. The fund is in a healthy position and is one of the few places from which the Government could draw funds without trauma to the budget.

At the risk of betraying familial pride, we suggest that Mr Stewart’s idea carries much moral weight as his Sandals Resorts International chain of hotels brings in the largest chunk of visitors and is, by extension, the single largest contributor to the TEF.

Few will disagree with him that tourism is the “shining light” in the economy, and is perhaps in the best position to make this vital contribution.

“It is no secret that the country is struggling to find the means to honour the Government’s commitment to give a tax break to those earning $1.5 million or less per annum,” the Observer quoted Mr Stewart as saying.

“It is my view that the entire tourism community, the owners of accommodations, the managers, the various stakeholders would regard it as an honour for their sector to assist in providing this relief to taxpayers who are extremely stressed at this time,” he argued.

Mr Stewart was already on record as embracing the proposal to offer Jamaicans earning $1.5 million and below the income tax break, which was first made on the campaign trail as the Jamaica Labour Party sought to woo voters. But since taking office, the Government has found that the gas tax on which it was partially relying to fund the income tax offer was already spent.

“I, for one, would be very proud to see tourism coming to the rescue of the plan and giving this well-needed contribution to the taxpayers,” said Mr Stewart. “After all, everyone knows that it is the Jamaican community at large which has made it possible for tourism to be doing as well as it doing. Tourism has a vested interest in the well-being of the rest of the society.”

We suspect that most Jamaicans who feel deeply for those suffering hardships will embrace this idea and so should the Government.

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