Minority Councillor Dr Faith BYisrael has called a discontinuation of the practice of producing a ‘wishlist’ (Tobago House of Assembly’s annual June budget projections) before the island’s allocation from the national budget is known.
In her contribution to the budget debate at last Thursday’s plenary on a motion moved by Finance Secretary Joel Jack for the House to accept Executive Council measure to manage Tobago’s affairs for fiscal 2019, BYisrael also said debating this motion made no sense.
“This is a practice that just simply does not make sense and if we are serious about having greater autonomy, we must start to act as if we know what the responsibilities of greater autonomy are.
“A responsible, accountable THA would ensure that this Assembly creates a full budget for the people of Tobago to scrutinize… after knowing how much money has been given and knowing how much we now have to spend... would then sit critically and determine what are the routes, best ways, mechanisms to determine our priority projects.
“What we did in June was basically create a wish list… if we have no idea what our income is, then we cannot create a budget. Now that we know how much money is allocated to the Tobago House of Assembly, we must now have real discussions with the people of Tobago to determine what is best for us given that we now know how much we have to spend,” she said.
BYisrael referred to the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan (CEDP) 2.0. – developed for 2013 -2017 by the then Executive Council under the leadership of former chief secretary Orville London - which identified to eight) strategic priority areas including Branding Tobago: Clean, Green, Safe and Serene, Good Governance and Institutional Reform, Business Development and Entrepreneurship, Human Capital Development, Social Development and Resilience, Improved Infrastructure and Utilities, Enhanced Safety and Security and Environmental and Sustainability
“I would caution you to not tell me those were old plans…those came from the old regime and so forth,” she warned, pointing out that Finance Secretary Jack had advised Divisions heads to use the CEDP as the guide for estimates.
“So, it is not unrealistic, or it is not a wish list, it is not me being difficult for the people of Tobago to ask…what have we done, where are we at as it relates to that plan that I am sure we spent quite a bit of money on developing,” she added.
BYisrael advised on a useful procedure for the debate.
“We need you to tell us… each Secretary to tell us, how much money they requested, how much they actually got, what they plan to do with the monies that they actually got… be specific. Given that none of you actually got the money that you initially requested, it means that there would be projects that fall off the plan… how do you plan to mitigate the shortfall?”
Minority Assemblyman Farley Augustine, in his contribution, referred to the national budget presented by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, noting that mention was made of a growing economy.
“In fact, he (Imbert) said in the budget statement that our manufacturing growth was at 7.3 per cent and that stood out because that was at odds when we looked at the Central Bank’s bulletin of 2018, which actually showed a decline in manufacturing of minus 6 per cent and construction at minus 2 per cent.
“I am raising these figures so that we can understand that although we are seeing some moderate growth as a country, the possibility of us slipping back to where we were is just right there and so we have a lot more work to do to arrive at a place of stability,” Augustine said.
He said that as Tobago heads into 2019, his wish was that persons would not just aspire to acquire symbols of development.
“We love to have things that are symbols of development…I am speaking here more to the citizenry of Tobago than my colleagues in the House…I have seen significant improvements in the activities at our (community) centres… I have seen that, but that has to translate to our basketball courts, we have hard courts all over the place, most times they are empty and our football fields, most time they (lights) are on and no one is there. So, we have to get our island and islanders to move away from just being happy to see these symbols of development but to really engage with these symbols of development,” he said.