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Dr Vanus James

The proposed 6.8 per cent minimum share of the national budget, up for discussion by the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament on the two Tobago self-government bills, will stunt national growth.

This was the view of economist Dr Vanus James on yesterday’s The Morning Brew with host Jessie-May Ventour on CNC3.

“What the Government has resorted to is a kind of gratuitous approach with respect to budgeting to provide Tobago with a 6.8 per cent minimum, which is unfair to itself and Trinidadians. There is also the creation of this Fiscal Review Commission dominated by the Cabinet, to then decide if Tobago should get anything more,” James said.

He said once Tobago gets its fair share of the national budget and the island’s economy grows, it will become less dependent on Trinidad and contribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

He said there is no economic principle to justify giving Tobago 6.8 per cent of the annual budget.

“What is important is that you allocate to Tobago based on best practice principles…(That) means on the recurrent budget, each citizen is treated equally, so on the principle Tobago will get five per cent of the recurrent budget, not 6.8 per cent, so I do not know where that 6.8 per cent comes from.”

He said to determine Tobago’s development budget, an average is taken after the island’s land space and population size are known.

On the issue of how Tobago’s economy can lead the national diversification thrust away from oil and gas, he said the island’s tourism industry can play an important role.

“Some industries are driven by the tourism platform that you can export on the tourism platform, high-quality healthcare, high-quality exportable education, the creative industries … all of which could be exported on a high-quality platform, creating what I used to call industrial tourism.”

The JSC held two virtual consultations on the Tobago bills in Tobago on April 30 and May 1. The one carded for Trinidad on May 3 was cancelled as only four people registered to air their views, the JSC said.

The JSC’s findings and recommendations on the two bills—one to amend the national constitution and the other to create a Tobago Island Government, must be presented to Parliament by May 31 this year.