The proposed financing arrangements for Tobago in the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill are not balanced and fair in relation to financing for Trinidad with a proposed eight percent allocation “not linked in any way to the economic situation or prospects of Tobago or even Trinidad.”
So argued economist, Professor Vanus James, at a public town meeting on Monday night hosted by the group, Tobago in Crisis, to discuss the draft Bill intended to give Tobago self-government. James was one of three speakers who discussed the itemised Bill (Tobago Bill) at a public forum at the Scarborough Library, the others being Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie, and political commentator Winford James.
James, in arguing that the Tobago Bill “gives to the Tobago legislature a budget allocation many times higher than the Gross Domestic Product of Tobago,” noted that this was different to the provisions for Trinidad.
“The issues raised by the Fourth schedule have a bearing on arrangements for financing of Tobago. The eight percent is not linked in any way to the economic situation or prospects of Tobago or even Trinidad. And if you are talking about unfairness, inequality equality of status, and so on, then you have to ensure the provisions that you make for Tobago and for Trinidad are balanced, fair and equitable.
“That is not achieved in this design. If you have joint responsibility, then the allocations that consider only the development needs of Tobago are potentially inconsistent with allocations considering the development requirement of Trinidad,” he said.
James also dismissed the proposal for a Fiscal Review Commission to determine the levels of financing for the island, saying this task should be done by elected representatives of the people in THA legislature, especially given the proposal for a minimum eight percent allocation of
the national budget in any financial year, that the THA Executive Council has ow been granted the unfettered right to borrow and invest, and the many duties on the international market, and the many responsibilities of the Commission which include determining and recommending to Parliament the sums to be appropriated to Tobago in each financial year, establishing a mechanism for revenue sharing between the islands, developing a regime for sharing revenue obtained from marine resources in the waters comprising each island and the maritime boundaries, superjacent air space and telecommunications, and ensuring that all revenues, fees and duties collected in Trinidad that are attributable to Tobago such as from custom duties, import duties and stamp duties and other duties are held in account for Tobago.
The Commission is also to ensure that all companies operating in Tobago or which operate offices, branches or do business in any other way in Tobago, shall pay taxes in Tobago, and ensure that Cabinet and Parliament give due consideration to the financial and developmental needs of Tobago, in the context of Trinidad and Tobago and shall allocate financial resources to Tobago as is practicable…
James argued that an allocation on Tobago’s needs alone would not be optimal, that this would require large scale investments in Tobago by the government of Trinidad and the government in Tobago; joint investments such as in tourism, and that this would require a conversation between both islands that was not fettered by eight percent and the current 4.03 percent allocation.
The whole device of a fixed percentage or any percentage at all was not the appropriate way to go in the Tobago Bill to treat properly with the issue of adequate financing of Tobago, he added.
“If you fetter yourself. with then you run the risk of missing the investment opportunities by underfunding the development of potential that you have here in Tobago.”
James noted that in Trinidad, investment opportunities were developed directly by the government of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Routinely, you tend to find that investment allocations are made to exploit the developmental potential of Trinidad when the government allocates its budget. You need to have that same attitude for investment allocations for Tobago. That would require that the national government be able to contribute to the development spending in Tobago in the national interest, and that implies mechanisms of dialogue and decision making between the Trinidad and Tobago legislatures,” he said.