Minority representative Farley Augustine has taken issue with the Tobago House of Assembly’s budget for 2020/2021, pointing out that the $4.71 billion request was unlikely to find any traction with the Central Government.
In debate on the budget, Mr Augustine noted that the large sums normally requested have traditionally been ignored. In the last budget, the THA asked for $4.5 billion and got half that.
But last year seems much further away than the 12 months that separate the annual budget drafts.
Government revenue has cratered, through the double whammy of sharply depressed petroleum prices and a frozen global economy in the wake of the covid19 pandemic.
The Speyside/L’Anse Fourmi/Parlatuvier representative sensibly suggested that it’s time the THA became more realistic in its budget requests, aligning spending to more measurable outcomes.
Mr Augustine’s research suggests that the gap between the assembly's budget ambitions and the actual allotment transcends political alignments, reaching back 24 years to the tenure of Hochoy Charles. It seems now an unfortunate and largely pointless tradition of asking for more than the assembly expects to receive.
It isn’t as if the assembly has no idea what the real allocation will be. Central Government spending on Tobago is set by law as a percentage of the national budget.
Over the last five years, it has been delivered at a rate of roughly four per cent above that sum.
Last year’s request for $4.7 billion was dismissed as a wish-list by the most circumspect stakeholders.
Financial analyst David Walker was more blunt, dismissing the THA budget as “a farce.” This year, he described the 2021 document as a “pathetic ritual.”
It’s a failing that’s completely out of place in 2020, and the THA executive should have been more mindful of the grim realities facing these islands today. Its budget requests should have been shaped around a lean and very specific strategy.
The island should be preparing its operations for very different customer expectations in the tourism industry and specifically develop agriculture to supplement local food supply.
The preparation of the budget began since April, and the assembly should not have been waiting for the deliberations of the Roadmap to Recovery team to do its own, island-specific planning.
Fanciful, meandering budgets invite the Central Government to be more interventionist in its shaping of the island’s financials than Tobago’s ambitions for self-government would suggest.
The assembly employs some 60 per cent of Tobago’s workforce, and that spending should drive development throughout the economy and encourage entrepreneurship.
Doing that requires a vision for Tobago 2021 and specific, strategic initiatives that target that goal.
The THA budget for the next fiscal year is less reset than replay and that’s just not good enough.