Labour leaders have branded the 2018 budget as “frightening” saying the fiscal package contained “hidden things’ which would negatively affect every sector of society including farmers and the working class.
In interviews yesterday, Trinidad United Farmers Association president Shiraz Khan and National Trade Union Centre general secretary Vincent Cabrera both agreed the increases in the price of diesel and super gasoline would have significant impact on the cost of living for citizens.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert stated the price of super gasoline would increase from $3.58 per litre to $3.97 per litre while the price of diesel would go from $2.30 per litre to $3.41 per litre.
The outspoken Khan said this had not only surprised him but would also depress local agricultural production as farmers would now face an increased cost of production while grappling with relatively cheap imported food stuff.
“I am very surprised at the increase in the price of diesel, that is my biggest concern, everything we have to use in farming is diesel, the tractors, the people, who plough our land will increase their price,” Khan said.
“The increase in diesel will not affect the cost of commodities but it will cost a lot of farmers not to produce because the competition among imported food is very difficult,” he stated.
Khan continued: “This budget is really, really frightening.
That diesel thing will mash up agriculture, all the equipment, the transport, it will destroy agriculture further.”
He said no emphasis was placed on granting land tenure to farmers saying they would not be able to access any loans or grants under the development programme.
Khan also questioned Government’s commitment to the sector’s diversification saying the budgetary allocation had decreased by approximately $300 million from last year’s budget.
“The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance announced that they going to make a diversification effort to help agriculture increase production. Now last year we get $0.8 billion and this year you drop it by $300 million, how could that be an incentive for agriculture,” he said, adding, “That is rather unfortunate, and I can’t see that doing anything for agriculture.”
Cabrera said the increase in the fuel prices was also the “perfect way for increasing inequality” in the country. “Because if the rich guy could afford to pay more and the lower down the economic bracket you are, the least you could afford to pay more,” Cabrera said.
“Just about everybody, the persons who coming to sell in the market, the person who has to sell a product in a store, transport will affect him and again whereas people at the higher level of the economic ladder will be able to afford it, the poor will be least able to afford it,” he said.
“In addition, later down the year, there is going to have increases in the cost of public utilities so that again, you going to find working people having to pay more so workers will need trade unions and collective bargaining much more than they did before because the cost of living for them is going to go up,” he added.
Cabrera also warned that the trade union movement would be seeking commensurate increases for workers as the cost of living was expected to “spike” given the expected increases.
JTUM leader Ancel Roget promised to speak about the 2018 fiscal package at today’s post budget forum at Paramount Building, San Fernando.