IN the past five budgets the Government has accrued a public debt of $17 billion, which translates to each man, woman and child owing $96,000, lamented Congress of the People (COP) leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan.
Further, there is a risk ofthis year’s estimated revenue of $47.74 billion not being realised, as it was predicated on an oil price of US$60 and a gas price of US$3 per MMBTU. Saying fiscal deficit could exceed the $5.28 billion estimated by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, she said, “We are now borrowing to pay interest on our debt.”
Seepersad-Bachan hit the budget as a vehicle for short -term political gains but not an instrument for sustainable development. She said the Government lacks a comprehensive plan to transform the economy longer than the five-year election cycle.
“The macro-economic position outlined by the Government once again is out of sync with reality.
"The population suffers from crime, poor road conditions, severe water shortages, flooding, rising unemployment, increasing cost of living, wasted hours in traffic congestion, a poor health sector burdened by increasing lifestyle diseases and deteriorating psychological health, and an outmoded educational system.”
Seepersad-Bachan said the budget ignored TT’s fall in the ease of doing business. She hit the slow pace of public service reform, e-government and the creation of the Revenue Authority.
There is no constant commitment to transform the economy. she said.
“As soon as there is slight recovery in the energy sector, the impetus for reform disappears and governments return to the comfort zone and become overly dependent on revenue derived directly or indirectly from this sector.”
She said marginal rises in output from Juniper and Angelin have boosted yields of gas, LNG, petrochemicals and fertilisers, all giving the government a higher tax take. To keep this level of performance, the Government must incentivise the extraction of natural gas, but the budget had failed to do so.
“Once again there was really no real attempt to re-engineer our social programmes to ensure that the impoverished are lifted out of poverty,” Seepersad-Bachan said.
Further, the budget ignored the call by multilateral lending agencies to redesign subsidies and transfers for temporary relief and economic empowerment.
“Increasing the minimum wage and the wages of CEPEP and URP will not achieve these objectives , but merely serve to maintain the political voting banks.”