Speyside/L’Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative Farley Augustine has described as “a bizarre game of smoke and mirrors” the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA’s) $4.71 budget for 2020/2021.
Leading off the Minority’s response on Thursday in the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, Augustine dismissed the presentation as a case of “same old, same old.”
He predicted the budget will not produce the results Tobagonians desire.
“The budget, as presented by the Secretary (Finance and the Economy Joel Jack) lacked clarity in several areas…and there is little projection in terms of output and outcomes that are required and the jobs that will be created from an estimated $4.71 billion budget,” Augustine said.
He used agricultural access roads as an example.
“If we are budgeting for agriculture access roads, don’t you think it is time that we are able to say to Tobagonians that if we build these access roads in these areas, then it will result in these amount of farms benefiting this increase in productivity and these crops becoming more readily available? That is looking at the output, the outcome.
“And, if all we are doing is budgeting based on expenditure but not really paying attention and researching the outcomes that we want to achieve from the budget that we are presenting, then we are not presenting a good budget.”
He said the budget, delivered in the midst of the covid19 pandemic, offered the same “tired, old intellectually-bankrupt practice.
“We throw out these budgets and then get about half, or less than half when you look at what we get on the development side in revenues to fund the budget.”
He added: “We are just throwing out these figures and there is no correlation between throwing out these figures and actually getting what we need to run this place called Tobago.”
Augustine said he could not understand why Jack would present a budget he knows he could not deliver.
“I search for reasons why the Secretary for Finance would not, after his eighth budget and his eighth experience, after the 20th budget of the PNM and the 20th experience with how the central government responds to our budget request – I search for reasons why he will still give us a budget of $4.71 billion.”
Augustine noted over the past eight years, Tobago has received the “bare minimum” in budget presentations.
“Just last year, we asked for $4.5 billion. We got $2.3 billion. So the pattern has been the same and Tobagonians are asking, ‘At what point are we going to try a different strategy?’”
He said the situation constantly gives the impression that Tobago is “going cap in hand, bruising our knees, paying penitence and hoping and pleading that one day the central government will just wake up and give us what we asked for.”
Referring to the government’s decision to spend $2.7 billion in supplementary appropriations, Augustine noted the THA only received $105 million.
“That is only 3.9 per cent. So the pattern has not really changed even in the midst of this covid crisis and how the country has been responding to this covid crisis.”
He claimed Jack may have also used the “bloated presentation” as an election strategy.
“I feel that is the reason why we have a $4.71 billion budget, in the hopes that people will listen, take sound bites and say, ‘Yes, we going and get this.’”
Augustine said he had received copies of the THA budgets dating back to Hochoy Charles’ term in office, from 1996 to 2001, to the present time.
Saying the pattern has not changed, Augustine noted for the 20 years that the PNM has been in Tobago, the party was also in power for 15 of those years in Trinidad.
“And so it is not a UNC thing. It is really a Trinidad versus Tobago thing. That is the reality.“There is little difference in how we are treated based on budgetary allocation in the last 20 years, although five of those 20 years were really managed by a different party in Trinidad.”
Augustine said the THA does not offer “a clear path” toward financing the budget.
He said it also did not present a projected rate of growth, at least up to 2022.