Economist Hayden Blades says Finance Minister Colm Imbert has failed to address ways in which T&T could grow its shrinking economy when he presented the 2020/2021 fiscal package.
Speaking at the OWTU’s post-budget forum held on Tuesday, Blades said T&T had six years of economic contraction and long before COVID-19 struck, the economy had been shrinking.
“When the economy is shrinking, income and employment shrink,” he said.
Blades said the first thing Imbert needed to do was to tackle ways in which the economy could return to some level of growth.
“The economy has been subjected to shocks and we knew about one of them long before now. The energy sector faced shock with prices. We had a natural gas deficit at Point Lisas, so we had the closure of ammonia, urea and methanol plants. It was bound to happen but where is the new employment and growth to come from? The Minister just glossed over the issue,” Blades said.
He noted that while incentives were needed to generate change, the private sector and farmers had lost confidence in the government policies.
“The problem is credibility. Will the private sector and farmers respond. Farmers are confronted with predial larceny, land tenure. Structural issues are not being addressed,” he said.
Blades also expressed concern that with the increase in public debt T&T has faced 11 years of fiscal deficits.
“Our reality is our government is unable to drive the kind of economic growth needed and what is happening is that the economy continues to shrink and we are witnessing rising unemployment,” Blades lamented.
He said T&T’s revenues were down and 40 per cent of revenues typically came from energy-related activity.
Meanwhile, the political leader of the Movement for Social Justice David Abdulah said he was not satisfied that the $500 million injections into agricultural were enough to stimulate the economy.
Abdulah said, “I would have liked to see the construction of a Carnival museum ensuring that we have a heritage building.”
He said the school feeding programme was shut down because of COVID-19 so that presented no immediate opportunity for local food content.
He said there should be a progressive tax system.
“There is no wealth tax on the wealthy. This budget has proved to be pro-business,” Abdulah said.
Youth officer Shenice Webb said a proper transportation policy was needed.
“In all digitalization how do we decentralize work so people can work from home. With floating fuel prices, what is the impact for the travelling public,” Webb asked.
Marlon Pierre from the Cooperative Credit Union League said the Cooperative was looking forward to getting more details on the initiatives proposed by the Minister of Finance.
“The League stands ready and open to collaborate with the Government. We monitor that what is proposed is implemented in a timely fashion so people who are supposed to benefit will benefit,” Pierre said.