THE budget presentation by finance minister Colm Imbert was marked by several initiatives geared at creating growth and opportunities in several sectors. These included making the agricultural sector tax free, increasing the minimum wage from $15 to $17.50 per hour and increasing the stipend for trainees of the On-the-Job (OJT) programme.
In an effort to ascertain whether the budget presentation sufficiently addressed the needs of the nation’s youths, Newsday spoke to several leaders representing several youth-oriented organisations throughout the country.
Tobago Youth Council
President of the Tobago Youth Council Latoyaa Roberts welcomed what she described as a fair and reasonable budget. Commending the absence of new taxes, she said, “I was surprised with the positive increases.” This she hopes provide assistance to those in need.
Noting the lack of a strategic plan on youth in the budget which is a reoccurring issue in her opinion, Roberts applauded strides in other areas which can benefit youths. One of these areas is education which received the highest allocation.
According to Roberts,”Youths will benefit from this allocation,” stating that youths are the largest stakeholder in the education sector. She also commended efforts to make the agricultural sector tax free. Highlighting that the decision presents new opportunities for youths and diversifies job opportunities she said, “This is an opportunity for youths to engage in the agricultural sector.”
With no specific strategy for youth which Roberts says continues youth marginalization in decision making she said, “I will like to see a significant amount of money being given directly to the youth ministry for the creation of youth initiatives.
Youth activist and founder of the Progressive Party, Nikoli Edwards in his response to the budget said, “The government needs to prioritize youth development in the country.”
Describing the budget as a “check-list budget” Edwards said the government only attempted to appease different sectors and wished that the government did not wait for their last year in office to propose some of the initiatives they outlined. Noting that the country is in an election year he said, “The public will realise it was all fluff.” This as he added, “For the most part they brushed over some of the issues.”
While he welcomed the effort to increase the intake capacity and stipend for the OJT programme he said, “Youth underemployment and unemployment is still on the rise.” In analysing the budget he said, “I don’t think I heard anything targeted to young people.” He called on the government to do more for youths as he said that youth development is closely related to national development.
UNC Youth Arm
Chairman of the Opposition UNC National Youth Arm, Kaveesh Siewdial said, “Once again, the government has failed the citizens.” In a jab to the government’s promise of removing all antiquated incandescent bulbs in 400k households in TT Siewdial said, “The people want jobs, not bulbs.”
Highlighting that the education sector received a substantial allocation he lamented, “Billions are being pumped into the Education sector, but results are not being seen.”
Siewdial called for a more holistic development of the education system which includes curriculum development for the non- academic students. Despite the government’s effort to make the agricultural sector tax free he said, “We as a nation continue to fail in this sector.”
Siewdial said what was needed is greater investment in expanding sector asking, “Why not focus on training and development of persons who are unemployed?” Through this he said, “We will reduce the food importation bill which currently stand at or around 4 billion dollars.”
PNM Youth League
Chairman of the ruling PNM’s National Youth League Jeremy Inniss, hailed the budget as one that put youths at an advantage. Highlighting that government has made strides to capture underprivileged youth and those who may have slipped through the cracks, Inniss said.
“We welcome the increase in CEPEP and URP workers’ salaries and simultaneous investment in education at all levels, skills-training and entrepreneurship, noting that the heaviest investment was made in education. “
Inniss says the budget is an example which assures TT’s youths that they live in a society where there are opportunities for all as he stated, “Regardless of who you are the opportunities for success are tangible and attainable.” This statement came as highlighted the government’s investment in sporting facilities, the minimum wage increase and the expansion of the OJT programme.
He hailed the leadership of Prime Minister Dr Rowley whom he said was a “champion for young people in TT.”