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Thursday 16 August 2018
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Happy Budget Day

Last Monday morning, while on my early morning walk in the Botanic Gardens, a friend hailed out “Happy Budget Day!” How very nice of her! And I walked on wondering at this wish and whether it would come to pass?

Trinis take Budget Day very seriously. Or happily, given my friend’s salutation? I am not aware that other countries absorb their coming budgets to the extent we do. Office workers leave their desks to listen or watch the speech being delivered. It is important to show one’s bosses that one is keen to hear what is being presented. Walk with a clipboard and nod positively or negatively as the minister drones on. And make notes. Do not pretend you are taking notes on your smart phone. Everyone knows you are following comments on twitter and not the actual budget.

But in the end, when the minister says, “Madame Speaker, I beg to move....”, the only thing that matters is whether the price of gas, rum and cigarettes has been increased. And this year it was only gas, so we can drown our sorrows with alcohol at no additional cost.

The reading of the budget speech is an infinitely boring ritual which does not change from year to year, and I wonder why I join all the others to listen or watch, depending on where I might be. Lots of little new taxes are coming, including a tax on lottery winnings. Sadly I do not expect to be paying that tax, although I would like to. How often can one try to choose a set of numbers that will bring you millions of dollars? Often enough obviously, because we all buy and hope, and all will pay a tax if our hope is fulfilled. I can live with that, if it happens.

Many people are misreading this whole budget speech, and thinking that it does not sound too punitive. However, there will clearly be a sting in our tails from this budget, as all increases, especially banking taxes, will be passed on to consumers—with compound interest! And the Government, especially the Minister of Finance, is quite cheerful about this. His performance before Amcham’s post-budget forum showed the “power” he assumes has been granted him by the office he holds, and he appeared to be gleefully spiteful to the business sector. Thank you, Ms Gillian Wall of PLOTT for removing the smirk off his face, even though he does not understand how stupid you made him look.

This budget reinforces my opinion that neither any government, nor any part of the business sector, has any idea that our little islands have tremendous tourism potential which we refuse to acknowledge. That we will fund a huge Sandals structure on a spit of sand in a world renowned coral lagoon shows how deluded we remain. We so want to look like the Bahamas and develop the enclosed experiences of the “all-inclusive” resort that we are providing megabucks for foreign operators to exploit.

And all the while, we have the “infrastructure” already in place to promote, and thus preserve our fabulous nature attractions. It is called eco-tourism, and Costa Rica now lives very well promoting experiences which we have on hand here.

Eco-tourism was not mentioned in the budget speech. Is this because our backward governments still live in shame about “the bush” they are trying to destroy? Marketing both of our islands for their eco attractions should be our priority. Nature is already here, waiting to be enjoyed by nature-loving visitors. Sadly, our governments are not alone in their ignorance about eco-tourism. I guess our wealthy see various forms of Disneyland and exclusivity as the ideal attractions, because that is what attracts them when they travel.

No mention has been made of sports tourism. How many times must I write of this ongoing potential? Our new facilities can host international events in an extensive range of events. And our country sits on a line of longitude which can assure quality-time live television simultaneously to the Americas, Europe and Africa. Why have we not applied to host the Pan American or the Commonwealth Games here? Jamaica hosted the Commonwealth Games in the mid 1960s and TT broke the world record there in the 4x400 relay. How many of you know that? Are we aware of the exposure we would get by hosting the Pan American and Commonwealth Games, and other major sports events, here?

We need to find out why we bury our heads in mud when it comes to understanding the tourism benefits of nature and of sports? We have everything we need to exploit these two potentials except the awareness that it is all there, like ripe fruit waiting to be picked.Happy budget debate, folks!


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