The $4.71 billion budget estimates and the proposed expenditure presented by Tobago House of Assembly Finance Secretary Joel Jack is putting the country in further debt, Minority Leader Watson Duke says.
Speaking to the media after the near three-hour long budget speech yesterday, Duke said Jack made a compounded bad judgment since there are no plans for generating revenue for Tobago
“It means, therefore, that the budget that he read today was not properly thought out and that the PNM plan has failed because they have gone now from talking nice talks, as if it is the good times, to talking talks that people would question. How, what are the plans for generating revenue, revenue that will match the expenditure?” Duke asked.
He said the budget estimate was a rehash of past statements presented by the PNM-led THA and is putting Tobago and the country by extension in further debt
“We already have a national economy that is in debt by some $10 billion. He wants to put Tobago now in a position where we must be in debt, an island debt of $4.5 billion, because all that they can make, as so far as revenue, is about $200 million. Something is wrong with that,” he said.
Duke is scheduled to respond to the budget at a special sitting on Thursday.
Meanwhile, THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said he was comfortable with the fiscal package presented by Jack, adding it represented the needs of Tobagonians.
“Well, I think it is a very comprehensive budget. It represents the views, the wishes, the aspirations of the people of Tobago at this point in time,” Dennis said.
He said while the island might not get the entire sum requested, the THA would utilise what is given to ensure priority projects are completed.
“To be quite realistic and quite practical, we will not get the level of funding that we are requesting but of course we have a responsibility to submit draft estimates which represents what we think are the needs of the people of Tobago at this point in time. So when the time comes and we are allocated what we are usually accustomed to, which is somewhere around 4.03 per cent of the national budget, we will do what is required to ensure we give priority to the most important areas,” he said
Dennis said these are challenging but exciting times and emphasis will be placed on a number of areas, including agriculture.
Asked about Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley statement that Tobago needs to grow its own food, Dennis said he agreed.
“The Prime Minister is correct. We have not been able to produce food as we ought to,” he said.
“Yes, I am seeing for myself during my visits and my interactions with the sector that there is some element of food production taking place on the island but we can do much better. The THA can do more to support the farmers, in terms of irrigation issues, in terms of incentives, in terms of training, in terms of that critical resource called land.”
He assurance those in the agricultural sector that they will see positive action within the next few months.