The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has made the provision of social relief programmes a priority amid the covid19 pandemic which has seen thousands of people affected throughout the country. Speaking at a post-executive council briefing on Saturday, Secretary of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack said the executive council held a marathon session on Saturday to discuss the reallocation of funds towards projects.
Jack said this was the second time the council has had to reassess its plan for the fiscal year.
He said, the aim is to bolster the social safety net and ensure the business of the THA remains unaffected as much as possible.
"We just came out of a whole-day session of the Executive Council. We looked at all the fiscal priorities of the assembly in the current year. We examined a number of scenarios, we scrutinised all the projects listed in our reallocation note. You may recall, I may have mentioned we undertook a similar exercise where we reallocated and re-prioritised all resources following the reading of the national budget. Given all that has transpired in the past couple months with the covid pandemic, we've had to again review and recalibrate resources an review the projects, to prioritise, to ensure we deliver on our mandate and commitment to the people of Tobago.
"As we examine our resources, that we make adequate provision to provide supply supplemental support to what given to us by Central Government and ensure we fund all our social safety net programmes adequately to meet the needs of those persons temporarily laid off or impacted (sic) by the pandemic."
Jack said the council will meet soon to finalise what are the priority projects.
"We undertook a review of our development programme and all assembly projects and what we would come up with at next week's executive council is a list of projects that we would commit to complete at the end of the fiscal year."
Jack, smiling as he discussed the Executive Council meeting earlier in the day, hinted there was keen debate among members of the council.
"You might see me smiling because I'm just remembering what transpired over the past eight hours. We made very cogent and strong arguments to ensure our projects continue unaffected in this fiscal year," he said.
Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis added, "In terms of the priorities, our first order of business is to ensure the assembly is in a position to respond to the need for social support. The second thing, is to ensure businesses here in Tobago receive the relevant support to stay afloat, and stay in operations across all the sectors. The other thing, is to ensure our ongoing projects continue to be funded.
"Of course, part of maintaining the economic activity is to ensure the construction sector and those services that the assembly consumes, continues as far as possible. Finally, we will be placing emphasis on payment of outstanding gratuity, overtimes and those sorts of things, suppliers, contractors and those owed money for goods and services.
Jack said the THA will meet all its commitments and will provide aid to the local business community through this difficult period.
He said, "We reviewed our recurrent expenditure to ensure we continue to fund essential programmes including salaries, wages, gratuity payments, rental of office space, security services and all other important expenditure.
"We also gave consideration to prioritising the procurement of goods and services utilising as much local content as possible to provide sufficient support and fillip to the Tobago business community."