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Thursday 23 May 2019
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Charles: Central Govt owes Tobago $20b for development

Kelvin Charles, Chief Secretary, Tobago House of Assembly, left and  Hochoy Charles of The Platform of Truth at the Joint Select Committee at the ANR Robinson East Meeting Room yesterday.
Kelvin Charles, Chief Secretary, Tobago House of Assembly, left and Hochoy Charles of The Platform of Truth at the Joint Select Committee at the ANR Robinson East Meeting Room yesterday.

The Central Government owes Tobago $20 billion for a backlog in allocations for development, Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles is contending.

That figure stems from revised assessment by the Tobago self-government advocacy group, Forum of Political Parties, based on a ruling by the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) over 20 years ago in 1996. Charles spoke as part of the forum, which had suggested an eight per cent budgetary allocation from the central government that would help sustain the island’s development strategy.

The DRC is allowed as part of the Tobago House of Assembly Act to resolve disputes between the THA and the Government on budgetary allocations to the Assembly. The report for this particular ruling was laid in Parliament in October 2000.

The commission, the forum said in a submission the Joint Select Committee for the Constitution (Amendment) (Tobago Self-Government) Bill, 2018, had determined a spread between the minimum share of 4.03 per cent of the national budget and upper limit of 6.9 per cent of 2.87 per cent (of the national budget) which was designated as the developmental budgetary allocation. This was based on the Tobago share of the national population, which was then three percent. Now it’s five percent. Providing for a development component of three per cent (and add two per cent for the population change), that gives eight per cent. The forum argued that when the range was initially suggested it “languished” at the lower end, so most allocations to Tobago were four per cent of the national budget, leaving little room to develop.

“This fixed share will give a level of predictability for planning and execution of programmes and projects as Tobago attempts to catch up to national development,” the forum said. The statement was read out loud at the meeting by vice chairman of the JSC Nigel De Freitas to help clarify the source of the eight per cent request.

De Freitas asked Finance Ministry representatives, who had asked for clarification of the formula, if that explanation helped. When they said they might require further data, De Freitas pointed out that the calculation didn’t fundamentally change from the DRC’s decision, just that it was adjusted for the population change. “So the data likely already exists,” he said.

Charles, was not one of the primary witnesses, but rather an observer, was invited by committee chair, Camille Robinson-Regis, to address the committee and pose any questions.

He challenged the Ministry’s request for clarification on the eight per cent figure, asking instead if they had attempted to compute the aggregate sum of that 2.87 per cent average differential spread over the last 20 years that Tobago had effectively lost out on. “Do you know the quantum of funds the Tobago economy had been deprived of over the last 22 years?” he asked. After a long pause, Robinson-Regis interjected, “Tell us how much we owe Tobago, Mr Charles.” “In excess of $20 billion,” Charles replied.

Charles then asked if the Ministry could say what the allocation for Tobago development over the last year was. The Ministry responded that it was $359 million in 2018, and estimated at $232 million for 2019.

“I would just for the sake of ensuring that we understand the context of the underfunding and underdevelopment of the island of Tobago to ask if ministry officers have an idea of the cost to complete rehabilitation to a highway? We are about to rehabilitate about two kilometres of a 15 kilometre highway in Tobago for $35 million. I thought that would put in perspective the challenges we have in executing a development programme regarding the development allocation provided to Tobago,” Charles said.

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