IT WAS A typical PNM budget followed by the usual suspects on radio and television with their “big words” and intellectual analysis seeking personal glorification more than anything else.
Absent was a clear path to economic growth and development. Absent were comments from our young people who graduated from our many tertiary institutions over the years.
The experience of watching the same people saying the same thing year after year was disheartening and painful. Where are our new ideas? Where are the future economists and management personnel?
It is not possible to do an in-depth review of the budget in this short space. However, an attempt is made to look at some areas of concern.
The DPTT warns the population and the Government about the pursuit of a Revenue Authority. The Minister of Finance spoke of an autonomous body with flexibility to manage its affairs with high-level staff earning a better remuneration package.
The possibility of such a body having access to our personal and business records without public service oversight opens a dangerous door for political manipulation and jobs for party affiliates. It places the revenue of our country in the hands of political appointees and opens the door to widespread corruption and nepotism.
After four years the Government can only boast of 15 per cent of residential households completing valuation return forms. The valuation exercise for 400,000 homes is a mammoth task that cannot be completed in time for any government to arrive at income from property tax within the next five years.
The DPTT suggest a percentage increase on the old tax in tandem with the rise of personal income over the years. This payment should be collected and utilised by local government bodies in a restructured local government management model.
Companies should be able to write off VAT refunds against VAT owed to the Government and the proposed interest on the bonds should be that of the interest and penalty imposed on companies for late payment.
The average cost of a new four-lane highway in Canada is about US$6 million per kilometre. Highways there are built to much higher specifications than our local highways. The budget figures submitted by the minister indicate a cost of approximately US$30 million per kilometre for the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension. That is five times the cost of building a highway in Canada.
These exceedingly high costs of construction can be examples of either gross ineptitude by the Government, corruption or nepotism.
The proposed interchange is another example of a waste of government money as the long-term solution to east-west traffic is a new highway just south of the Caroni bridge where there is available land.
Rather than construct more overpasses that are expensive and cause traffic congestion and the expensive acquisition of property in the way of the proposed interchanges, spend this money on a new highway.
There are no proposed methods of reducing demerit points in the proposed system.
There is need to incorporate retention lakes with water collection in an aim to remove TT from the burdensome reliance on desalinated water.
This is an area where specifics are needed. What is the new economic thrust? What are the areas identified to augment the income from the energy sector? What is the anticipated revenue from these areas?
The DPTT has suggested a detailed tourism plan, an agricultural plan with concentration on specific crops for processing and export and a restructured governance plan that eliminates corruption and nepotism.
Moruga Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park
Specifics are needed in this area. What are the targeted crops for this initiative? Moruga has a worldwide reputation for its peppers. Is pepper identified as one the major crops for this venture?
This is an area where lip service is certainly not enough. Is there an aim to reduce our reliance on imported foods? If so, what are the targeted crops? TT can produce cocoa, corn, rice, avocados, coconuts, sugar cane, mangoes and several other crops that are economically viable.
The approach to agriculture has to be specific and detailed, not a policy that simply says there are no taxes on agricultural products.
TT is blessed with more natural tourism products than most of our Caribbean neighbours but lags behind in the area of tourism. Our Carnival, calypso, chutney and soca are perhaps as good or better than the internationally acclaimed reggae and dancehall music but not packaged properly.
The steel pan, the Gasparee caves, our mountains, swamps, rivers, waterfalls, reefs, beaches and historical sites are among the best in the Caribbean. The budget lacked the vision to inspire investment in these areas of interest.
TT produces over 1,000 new tertiary-educated graduates each year. There is no strategic plan to target any sector of our economy for development. We are simply educating our youths with no direction or planning. Consequently, they find difficulty in accessing employment locally.
Sports ought to be seen as not only an area for national fervour and patriotism but as an area for economic development.
Solar water heating
Having an item that caters to only 12,000 households in a budget seems nonsensical. There should be a plan for solar lighting along our roadways and in our parks, LED lighting in all government offices and a comprehensive energy policy that envisages the use of electric cars and a mass transit system.
CEPEP and URP
CEPEP and URP should be disbanded and be replaced with permanent employment in the communities under a revised local government programme.
The DPTT sees the budget as similar to that of the PNM and UNC-led governments of the past with unrealistic promises shrouded in words without a realistic plan for development.
One remembers the promises of a causeway to Chaguaramas, a highway between San Fernando and Princes Town and similar promises that sounded good but remain unrealised.
It is time for new people, a new party and a new vision. It is time for the Democratic Party of TT.
Steve Alvarez is the political leader of the DPTT