By Kinnesha George-Harry
Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018, Camille Robinson-Regis, could provide no explanation on Sunday on how no less that an eight per cent allocation from the national budget for Tobago, was arrived at for inclusion in the bill.
At the first public hearing at the Victor Bruce Financial Complex in Scarborough, Crown Point resident, Jason Arthur, asked about the eight percent allocation.
“I went back to when I first saw the judgement of the Dispute Resolution Commission, as it stated 4.03 percent (allocation) to an upper limit of 6.9 percent. I asked myself, what is this mathematics about (eight percent), this is basically suggesting a doubling of the amount. I want to ask, what is the reason for that?”
In response, Robinson-Regis said that the commission did make an effort to determine where the eight percent allocation came from but to date has been unable come up with an explanation.
Committee member, Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir, said this allocation was of concern to him too.
“The issues were raised with the representatives of the THA and there was an assurance that there will be evidence with respect to the infrastructural needs of Tobago, the current state of development, what are the projects that are in the pipeline and how much that is going to cost. This eight percent seems to be an estimate only, but I myself am looking for the evidence,” Mahabir said.
Also responding, committee member, Nigel De Freitas, said that the eight percent allocation also baffled him.
“When I heard of the eight percent for the first time, why it would have gone up and why they landed on eight percent… I am sure that formula would come out but I think the justification for going up especially would have been due to the fact that we have a DRC (Dispute Resolution Committee) formula put forward before, which speaks to the 4.03 per cent,” he said.
De Freitas over the the last 20 years, the allocation has always been to the lower limit of 4.03 per cent, and suggested that the eight percent might have come about because of the difference in sums requested by the THA in its annual June budget and the eventual allocation from the national budget.
Another committee member, Shamfa Cudjoe, MP for Tobago West, suggested that the percentage and funding for Tobago was important and that the eight percent in the Tobago Bill was not simply a doubling of DRC’s lower limit.
She suggested that a THA explanation would have included a five per cent population growth, and that the DRC’s 6.9 percent would have also looked at the disparity in development and the new responsibility proposed in the new schedule.
However, economist Dr Vanus James, commenting as a Tobago resident, and as a member of the DRC, said the 4.03 percent reflected proportional allocations of the national funds to the citizens and equal treatment for every citizen.
“That is where the 4.03 per cent came from, as Tobago’s population at that time was 4.03 per cent. If we are going to maintain that principle, the base should move upward,” he said.
James said that the DRC’s 6.9 percent suggestion came from some work he was engaged in at that time to estimate the development needs of the island.
“We framed a previous budget under Chief Secretary Hochoy Charles and came up with the estimates that we needed somewhere in the region of about $2 billion to get started, now that is where that came from. If you take the gap between the 4.03 percent and the 6.9 percent and you move the base up to five percent, then the upper end will move to about eight percent,” he said.