Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader Watson Duke yesterday described the 2017-2018 fiscal package as primitive and punitive.
“On behalf of the people of Tobago who could not make it to Trinidad, on behalf of the Minority Council, I am here to categorise the Budget we have just heard as a primitive budget and one that is punitive,” he told reporters in a post-Budget news conference at the International Waterfront Complex.
During the $53 billion budget package, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced Tobago would receive an allocation of $2.1936 billion to carry out its affairs.
He said from attempting to resolve the burdensome issues plaguing the sea bridge, legislation for internal self-government and land titles also will be tabled in the upcoming fiscal year.
Duke, however, took serious issue with the Government’s decision to increase gas and diesel prices as a revenue collection mechanism, insisting the move will further pauperise citizens.
“I use the word primitive because the budget is designed to take modern-day persons back to an era where they are forced to walk rather than drive their vehicles given the sudden rise in gas and diesel prices,” he said.
He added: “I say primitive because it forces us to eat dasheen, perhaps and plantain and all of these things and go back to planting rather than enjoy the luxury of purchasing things.
“It sends us back to the ground to plant. And nothing is wrong with that, except that after working for eight hours a day and spending about six hours in traffic, when do you get to plant? That is the challenge.
“It takes us back to a time when even the very telephone service we have we may have to put it down and go back to Klim pan.”
Duke said the budget also does not substantially address initiatives to better the lives of the average citizen or public servant.
“It does not encourage dialogue but monologue. It creates mischief rather than solve problems. It is not a good Budget. It is primitive," he said.
“I sat there and I asked myself, ‘Why are we being punished?’ The Finance Minister seemed to take great joy in announcing tax after tax after tax. He seems not to worry at all about the single parent or the child who wants to study,” Duke said.
THA Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, meanwhile, welcomed initiatives to enable the Assembly to borrow money for its development agenda after having obtained an international credit rating.
“It was a welcomed announcement by the minister because we have been in conversation for some time in respect of the ability to borrow,” he said.
“Once we agree on the modalities, borrowing will be used for development programmes in terms of our capital expenditure. So, we are talking construction of roads, buildings, whether be it administration buildings, health centres. So these will be some of our priorities once we agree on the quantum and the modalities," Charles said.
Asked if the THA has identified any specific projects, he said: “We do have a development programme. So, there is a list of those programmes we would like to engage in.
“As a matter of fact some of those programmes would have been the basis for our request in the first place. So, what we would have to do is that once we agree on the numbers, we will then prioritise those programmes.”
Charles said he was pleased to hear that legislation concerning internal self-governance would be tabled in Parliament in the upcoming fiscal year.