Describing the national budget as a mixed bag of goodies, Deputy Leader of the People’s Democratic Patriots (PDP) Farley Augustine says the 2021 national budget was a tough one for the Minister of Finance.
He said the closure of the economy due to the global pandemic has put the country in a difficult position but what has to happen now is that citizens need to look “beyond the budget.”
Augustine called on the government to do what it must to protect the citizens and re-energize the economy.
“I don’t think it was enough for the minister to just encourage banks to lower their rates and encourage banks to give more loans to small businesses. I think we need to bring to bear the weight of the parliament ensuring that the financial sector responds in a way that makes it easier to be innovative.”
He commended the government’s move to increase the importation tax on luxury food items but he suggested that concessions be given to the hotel sector as this would make the destination more competitive in an environment where owners are in recovery mode.
The move to reduce recurrent expenditure by placing a one-year moratorium on new recruitments by the public service was also commended. Augustine said he awaits further details on the proposal especially as it relates to Tobago.
According to the PDP deputy leader, the government could have also cut expenditure be looking at the finances spent on the rental of properties for government offices.
“COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to really reassess how many persons are able to work from home while producing the same deliverables.”
He also said that persons at the “lower end of the economic ladder” may have it the hardest through the increase in cost of electricity and the removal of the subsidy on gas.
“An increase in the cost of gas will have an impact on everything as its directly related to transportation and in turn manufacturing – we need fuel.”
As it relates to Tobago, he said $2.134 billion would simply not be enough, and this he said is nothing new as the island keeps going through the same cycle every year.
“We send down a budget request of just over $4 billion, we get $2 billion they ensure they get within the recommendations of the Dispute Resolution Commission and we get at the bottom of the end of that spectrum.”
Augustine, who will lead the PDP in the fight for the next Tobago House of Assembly elections, says the allocation still doesn’t address the many areas in need of development on the island.
“We heard the Minister speak about the need to revitalized tourism which was practically dead before COVID and we also heard him speak about the need for more houses in Tobago the need for special incentives for small businessmen and food security.”
He said he like the rest of the island would have to wait and see if the promise to borrow and to bond finance will actually materialize.
The $2.134 billion allocation is 4.3 per cent of the national budget.
Of this amount $1.916 billion will go towards Recurrent Expenditure, and $200 million will be allocated to Capital Development.
The Unemployment Relief Program will receive an allocation of $18 million.
For comparison, in the 2020 budget, Tobago received a total of $2.283 billion, of which $2.033 billion went to recurrent expenditure while Capital Expenditure was allocated $232 million and the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) received $18 million.
Though granted permission to bond financing up to $300 million, the Tobago House of Assembly is yet to utilise the facility.