PNM Tobago Council political leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine last week sought answers from the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on its proposal to allocate 6.8 per cent of the national budget to the island.
She was making a submission at a public consultation on Friday on the draft Tobago Self-Government Bill 2020 and the Tobago Island Administration Bill 2021 at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex, Scarborough.
The consultation was hosted by the JSC, which reviewed both pieces of legislation and have now put the documents out for public comment.
Noting Tobago’s long-standing desire for greater autonomy, Davidson-Celestine recalled Tobagonians had requested an allocation of eight percent more than 20 years ago.
But she queried whether the island’s decades-long lobby for self-determination could be achieved with the sum that is being proposed in the draft legislation.
“When the people looked at this aspect which we consider to be very important for us, we took into consideration a number of different areas,” she said.
Davidson-Celestine listed the physical separation of Tobago, the isolation from the growth centres as well as the “absence of the multiplier effect of expenditure and investment in Trinidad and not felt in Tobago.
“So, when those were considered, we take into consideration an eight per cent for the island.”
She recalled two decades ago, the Dispute Resolution Commission determined that Tobago should receive a minimum of 4.03 per cent with a cap of 6.9 per cent.
Davidson-Celestine said now, in 2021, “we are of the opinion that considering those factors that we would have taken into consideration, that our eight per cent which was put forward by the people of Tobago should be considered in that regard.”
She called on members to provide some clarity on how they arrived at the 6.8 per cent.
JSC member Nigel De Freitas said the rationale used was very similar to that which was utilised by the Dispute Resolution Commission that came up with an allocation range of between 4.03 and 6.9 per cent.
“When it was settled upon 6.8 per cent, taking into account that formula, geography, population, size, the idea was that with 6.8 per cent being a minimum, a guarantee moving forward, in relation to the bill that is before us, that the fiscal review commission, being a committee that is going to be meeting on a very regular basis with individuals on that committee who are decision makers - that being the Minister of Finance and the Secretary of Finance - that should Tobago require more on top of that 6.8 per cent, that would be put forward coming out of the committee and that would be taken to Parliament for approval in that regard,” he said.
De Freitas made it clear, it was never the JSC’s intention to limit Tobago’s allocation to 6.8 per cent.
“The intention is the understanding that as Tobago develops, it is going to need more and in doing so, the fiscal review commission, with the make up of the committee, is that another formula could be put forward later on.”
For example, De Freitas said there is a sentiment that one can work out the true revenue-generating potential of Tobago taking in to account several other factors that have nothing to do with population and geography.
“But the fiscal review commission and the make up of it can put that forward by coming up with a better formula moving forward that would properly show exactly what Tobago needs going forward.
“So, you don’t want situation where 50 years from now you still stuck at 6.8 per cent. That is not the intention. The intention is that you start with 6.8 per cent now, utilising the same formula that has always been there.”