The Tobago House of Assembly last Thursday approved an amended motion to present a new THA budget at its November 2017 sitting.
The three Minority members voting against the amended motion while Executive Council members, in approving it, wondered why such a motion was brought to the House since the THA had already announced that it would be presenting a new budget in November.
The amendment was made to a motion put forward by THA Minority Leader Watson Duke for the Executive Council to present a new budget using central government’s allocation in the 2018 national budget for the island’s recurrent expenditure, capital expenditure, and expenditure for the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (Cepep) and Unemployment Relief Programme (URP for the Council to present plans for revenue generation outside of its national allocation.
In piloting his motion, Duke called for a more judicious approach to budgeting, charging that Finance Secretary Joel Jack presented a THA budget in June that was “maliciously misleading”.
“That $5 billion that you all sent to Trinidad requesting was much, but when the Finance Minister read the budget, it became little, $2.19 billion, almost two fifths of what was requested. With our collective wisdom in this House, we must contemplate that serious motion that the budget that was done for $5 billion, be redone in the month of November. There must be a more realistic approach to budgeting,” he said.
Minority Councillor Dr Faith B Yisrael, in her contribution, in supporting the call for a new budget at the November sitting, said Tobago has a history of being under-budgeted and that coupled with extremely bad PNM management has resulted in the THA not meeting many of its developmental goals over the last 16 years.
Of this year’s THA budget and the final allocation from the national 2018 budget, Yisrael noted:
“…we asked for $3.2 billion for recurrent expenditure, we got $1.86 billion, that is a shortfall of over 41 percent. We asked for $1.7 billion for Capital or Development Expenditure, we got $315 million, that is a shortfall of over 81 percent. We ask for $77 million for URP, we got $18 million. We asked for $54 million for CEPEP, we got nothing.”
Saying that she didn’t think the THA request as unreasonable, unfair or outlandish, she contended that “it is very, very difficult to crunch that (meeting developmental goals) in $2 billion without doing a lot of going back to the drawing board,” she said.
In his contribution to debate on the motion, Secretary for Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment and Leader of Assembly Business, Councillor Kwesi DesVignes, in calling for the motion to be amended, said it has been the practice of the Assembly to return to the House to ensure that the people of Tobago were kept informed on the budgetary allocation.
He referred to Hansard records, saying that this practice has been in place since 2013.
“It is simply astounding that the Minority Leader would propose a motion that practice shows that we have done… and we will continue to do… as a matter of fact there was a retreat by different members of the Assembly, the Executive Council, Administrators, senior staff and we said that we would be returning ... so I am wondering why are we here today to discuss a motion that we know is coming in any case,” DesVignes said.
Finance Secretary Jack referred to the motion as ‘theatrics and petty politics’.
“When I got the email with respect to the motion of the day, I was prepared to come to this house and to be magnanimous and to believe that the members opposite had good intentions, that they came with some substance to this House for us to debate. What we have seen thus far is theatrics, petty politics.
“I would want to urge them that this House over the past four years, we have conducted business at a particular standard and that standard has really fallen down to the ground with this cheap and petty politics,” he said.
The final motion read: “Whereas the majority of THA’s revenues come from the central government of Trinidad and Tobago; and whereas consistent with Section 41 of the THA Act of 1996, the THA’s 2018 fiscal budget request from the central government which totalled $5.041 billion was made; and whereas this represents a budget shortfall of $2.8474 billion; and whereas the central government in response allocated $2.1936 billion with a promise to allow the THA to borrow; be it resolved that as has been the practice, the Executive Council presents to this Honourable House, the policy measures to manage this budgetary shortfall at the November sitting.”