Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy political leader Farley Augustine has suggested some of the money from the Tobago House of Assembly's (THA's) contingency fund be used to assist businesses and other sectors to survive as the novel coronavirus (covid19) pandemic unfolds. He also suggested the money that would have been spent for the no cancelled Tobago Jazz Experience, be redirected to help keep businesses afloat.
Speaking at a PDP news conference on Tuesday at its Scarborough headquarters, Augustine was asked how much money was available in the contingency account.
"I have no idea how much is the fund and I don't even think if the question is posed to the auditor general, that the auditor general would know," he said.
Nevertheless, Augustine believes the THA, through the fund, has a responsibility to assist businesses that will be adversely affected by the fallout from covid19. Among the drastic measures taken to combat covid19 are the premature shutting down of the cruise ship season, the barring of entry for all non-nationals – with the exception of health workers – for 14 days, the closing of all bars for 14 days and the discouragement of dine-in facilities in all restaurants.
Augustine said THA has the capability to help.
"I know that the THA is supposed to have the healthiest contingency fund on the planet.
"Yes, we do have a very healthy contingency fund in the THA. And based on the money not used at the end of the fiscal year, supposed to be directed into this fund."
The minority assemblyman said the law has strict requirements for withdrawals from the fund.
"Withdrawal is only supposed to be for emergencies such as natural disasters and covid19. Therefore, we have an emergency now... and the THA can begin to withdraw from that contingency fund.
"The THA has been very diligent in saving and managing our money well. They have been saying it to us all the time that they are good managers of our money. Now is good time to show to us how good they are at saving and managing the public's purse."
Augustine also said the funds that would be allocated for the Jazz Experience to hire international artistes, local artistes, advertise and stage the event, be utilised to help the private sector.
"I can tell you at this moment that given that we have cancelled jazz, the money that we would have spent on jazz I believe can now be used in helping us, especially our business community to bounce back. We can redirect some of that funding."
Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles announced last Thursday that the Tobago Jazz Experience, the island's flagship event, has been cancelled because of the coronavirus.
As of 6pm on Tuesday the Ministry of Health confirmed five cases of the novel coronavirus in Trinidad but none in Tobago.
Augustine said the PDP is expected to unveil its plan for assisting the business community with the fallout from covid19, next week.
"We have begun preliminary discussions and what we will hope to advance in the near future, perhaps by next week Tuesday, is perhaps roll out a plan of what we can do to assist those in the business community who will be adversely affected."
The Speyside/L'Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative said he has held talks with some members of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce "to try to quantify what this virus will cost us.
"That is difficult to do because it is early days yet. But we cannot wait until this is all over to start having meaningful discussions about how we are going to turnaround the economy after this.
"While we are at home bunkering down and avoiding large group meetings, we have to begin having discussions about how we are going to turn our economy around after this."
He suggested a stimulus packages for all sectors, including the creative industry.
"If we are honest, we would miss in Tobago a period where our creative sector would have benefited largely, where our artistes, our deejays and those in the food sector are concerned."
Augustine noted almost all events on the island have been cancelled for Easter.
"All the major parties on this island. So that is a sector that is also adversely affected that we should not ignore and we need to have discussions around stimulus plans."
He said several countries have already begun to look at stimulus packages for various sectors through bailouts and other incentives.
Last Friday, members of the Chamber of Commerce and Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association called for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister and representatives from various ministries and sectors to discuss strategies that can be implemented by the island's businessmen to withstand the fallout from covid19.