Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles has described the 2020 budget statement as an excellent presentation but admits Tobago is currently playing "catch up" with its economy.
Charles spoke with members of the media outside the Assembly Legislature in Scarborough on Monday after the $4.72 billion budget was delivered by Secretary of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack, under the theme "Advancing Our Development Agenda."
It remains to be seen how much Finance Minister Colm Imbert will allocate to Tobago at the National Budget later this year. For fiscal 2019, the THA had requested $4.58 billion but received only $2.229 billion.
Charles remains optimistic and clear about what the THA is trying to achieve.
"Tobago is in a position that it has to play catch up, and therefore what we have done is to signal to the Central Government that this is what we think we need for the next fiscal period...We are in fact hoping that we get a substantial amount so that we can then, in fact, move quickly to treat with the major priorities that we have identified. Government, as you know, is continuous, and even from one financial year into a next there would always be those that you owe and that’s the reality. We continue to service our debts as best as we can under the circumstances.”
The Chief Secretary believes Jack did a good job being transparent about the THA's management over the last year and outlining their plans moving forward.
“It was an indeed an excellent presentation because what the budget would have sought to do...would have been to give an account of our stewardship over the last fiscal period. I think it was done very comprehensively and at the same time it sought to provide a concise overview of what we are hoping to do in respect of some of our major initiatives over the next fiscal period.”
Questioned about the vague figures for development projects, Charles hinted that it all depends on their allocation from the Minister of Finance.
“As a matter of fact, no ministry ever gets what that ministry projects…Where there is life, there is hope, and to the extent that we get a significant amount of what we ask for, then to that extent we shall execute the projects on the basis of our priorities.”
Jack said the Assembly has placed greater emphasis on enhancing the tourism industry in key areas.
“We gave focus to priority areas…We are looking at new and emerging sectors coming out of our new medium-term policy and planning framework. We gave greater emphasis to the tourism sector, increased provision of $140 million for the Tobago Tourism Agency and additional increases in estimates for our tourism three-year rolling plan to deal with both the marketing and airlift, and as well promoting Tobago as a preferred tourism destination.”