Retired head of the public service Reginald Dumas says Monday’s budget should contain measures to restructure the economy.
He said given the effects of the decline in oil and gas prices and the ongoing impact of the global covid19 pandemic, there must be a fundamental shift in the way the Government does its business if the economy is to be sustained.
“We can’t expect too many goodies, if any goodies at all,” Dumas predicted. “It is a difficult situation. I have to say that I would not like to be in the Minister of Finance’s (Colm Imbert’s) shoes at this time, because he will have an extremely difficult task.”
Dumas suggested the Government should remove subsidies on certain items to generate revenue. But he believes this might be a challenge.
“Where this country is concerned, you have certain cultural difficulties, in that people have become accustomed to entitlement and rights, and the Government must pay.
“One of the largest elements in the budget is transfers and subsidies, because we subsidising electricity, water, health. But we have failed over the years to remove them.”
Dumas said he is not suggesting the subsidies be removed all at once. He suggested the Government also re-examine its bureaucratic efficiencies.
“When one looks at statutory bodies, state enterprises and the police, public and teaching, one would realise that a lot of these places are overstaffed because, over time, people were employed for political reasons. They are not doing any work but being paid.”
Dumas, who called for a drastic reduction in the food import bill, also said some form of property tax must be implemented to gain revenue.
“We used to pay lands and building taxes. It was not much, but we paid it without quarrel, and after Manning introduced the idea before the 2010 election, there were calls to ‘axe the tax.’
“If you are not going to implement the property tax, at least (re)introduce the lands and building taxes that people used to pay.
“But you have a situation where people are paying nothing, which is ridiculous.”
Dumas said Imbert must also address what he considers to be the widening gap between the rich and poor.
He added this issue can also be linked to race “because quite often, the people who do not have are black.” “Everyone gets nervous when we talk about race. But the point is that we are creating rapidly a society in which there are serious socio-economic and cultural gaps, and that is dangerous for the society, because at a certain point, those who feel themselves left behind are going to react, and we don’t like that.”
President of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Diane Hadad said the ongoing negative effects of covid19 demanded the Government restructure the country’s financial system to cater to the needs of every sector.
“The Government has to engage financial institutions to make way for the creation of a new formula for doing business and lending,” she argued.
“The financial instruments being offered in the country have to change and the bottom line is that the only thing to fix it is to restructure the entire financial system with the instruments that are offered to all sectors.”