MINORITY Leader Watson Duke has accused the PNM-led Tobago House of Assembly (THA) of running deficits budgets during its last 20 years in power. Contributing to debate on the THA’s $4.71 billion budget for 2020/2021 in the Assembly Legislature on Thursday, Duke argued the situation does not augur well for the island’s development.
“Mr Deputy Presiding Officer (Shomari Hector), we are spending more than we are earning as revenue,” he said. “It places us in a dangerous position for the last 20 years. For the last 20 years, we have been running deficits budgets.”
Duke, who is also the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader, claimed the situation has resulted in Tobago being the laughing stock of Trinidad. “They mock us when they say, ‘Could you sustain yourself?’ And they are right.
“Based on the malpractice by my colleagues on the other side of not handling the finances right, we always come up with a deficit budget.” Duke declared: “I want to put on the table, today, that revenue should dictate expenditure. And it is okay to spend more than you earn so long as you learn how you are going to deal with the difference or the deficit.”
The Roxborough/Delaford representative argued expenditure is driven by revenue. “If you do not have revenue, you cannot expend and this is the mockery. Tobago continues to make little or no revenue.”
Dismissing the budget as “a lot of idle chatter covered up with glossy words” Duke claimed the statement is meant to deceive Tobagonians and “create a platform for electioneering gimmicks.”
“Since 1980 to present, the THA has been a mockery to the people of Tobago. And they have tried incessantly to put an end through legislation and through amendments to the mockery. But it continues to mock us.”
Saying the PNM are the “chief mockers” of the Tobago people, Duke argued the party’s financial imprudence has caused the island to become a welfare state.
“Between 2001 to present, they have spent in excess of $30 billion. That is money that they got free, that they got without any investment yielding that as revenue.
“But, what did they do with the money? As mocking pretenders they went about a set up a welfare state in Tobago, where people exist on a day to day basis without any defining end to their contributions.” Duke claimed Tobago is engaged in what he called unsustainable development.
“Because sustainable development is development which we can call essential. It regenerates itself. It is like a living thing.”
He added: “If you don’t know, ask the Prime Minister. He will tell you that during the covid, only the essential workers came out and you would have seen how many persons were home.
“We need to ensure the monies that come here are monies that are well spent so much so that after one four-year period, we ought to put something in place to ensure that the development of Tobago is sustainable and that the employment is also sustainable.”
Duke said Grenada, St Vincent and Dominica are examples of islands, within recent years, that have been earning more than they are spending.