THE EDITOR: Formally, being a sweetheart implies having a romantic relationship with someone. Informally, however, it means reaching an agreement or having a contract between two parties in an illicit or illegal way, the commonly-cited “sweetheart deal.”
Our Prime Minister has acclaimed that “all budgets in Trinidad and Tobago are sweetheart budgets because…[a budget] is one where the State does a lot for the people of the territory.”
The Prime Minister needs to go a step further and articulate how people have benefitted from the removal of value-added tax (VAT) on zero-rated food items and replaced it with a 12.5 per cent VAT.
In transporting us to this new value-add of budgets, he must also explain how removal of subsidy on fuels, be it diesel, regular, super or premium, has benefitted the travelling public that now has increased transportation costs.
He should chastise all those and their dependants, who have lost their jobs at TSTT, Petrotrin, ArcelorMittal, UTT and other entities, for not understanding that having to pay mortgages, children’s school fees and normal living expenses are crying crocodile tears because all budgets to date have been for their benefit and that proper allocations have been made for other valuable uses than looking after jobs, increased costs, unemployment and other such value-less things.
He must not forget to espouse the benefits to us, the people, of an economy that is uneconomic, a health service that continues to be most unhealthy, a crime situation that is a crime in itself, a judiciary that is being judged as inefficient, projects that promise much but project inefficiency and incompetence, borrowing money as if we have no heritage and laud the fact that we do not need foreign investors nor diversification when the budget does a lot for us.
On a more pragmatic note, our Prime Minister is quite correct in his definition of a budget but it is purely theoretical and totally opposite to the aforementioned societal ills. Proper budgeting is the basis for success and includes managing cash flows, reducing inefficiencies, improving revenue generation and making prudent investment decisions so that there will be increased profits and benefits to the people.
Even though the Ministry of Finance and its consultants have already prepared the national budget in the main, there is sufficient time for it to be adjusted to truly redound to the benefit of the people.
Our Prime Minister needs to stand up and be counted. He must disregard naysayers, all those who speak of a “condensed milk” budget as well as members of his own party who hold selfish views.
He needs to instruct his Minister of Finance to have a two-day session with the economists. This should be followed by another two-day session with key representatives of the various chambers of commerce.
Having had these sessions and the benefit of such views, his technocrats and consultants should then put together a discussion document that will articulate how revenues will be estimated, controlled and used to finance recurrent and non-recurrent expenditures, how the various ministries and state enterprises will optimise use of their resources and, most importantly, how all sectors of the society, beginning with the most vulnerable, will benefit.
This final document should then have the blessings of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister.
There have been very many commentaries on what should be done by economists, armchair economists, business people and politicians but none has yet provided a plan with its costs, resources and timelines to really move this country forward. The two main political parties only seem to selfishly attack and counter-attack each other, with nary a care for TT.
The Prime Minister should use the forthcoming budget to stand apart from the crowd, as all leaders do, disregard party politics and make a heartfelt statement for the people of TT. Forget about being re-elected. Do what is right for the country.
The Prime Minister is in a prime position to truly ensure that “all budgets are for the benefit of the people,” a true “sweetheart” budget. Not a “sweetheart deal.”