BUSINESSES are urgently hoping for help in the upcoming 2021/2022 national budget to weather the covid19 pandemic, said Gabriel Faria, TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO, but were not seeking handouts. In fact he offered a plan to unlock the society's private wealth to try to kickstart the economy.
He spoke to Newsday on Friday, minutes after Finance Minister Colm Imbert had told the House of Representatives that budget day is October 4.
Asked his hopes and expectations of the budget, Faria said the chamber had sent Imbert a proposal on key issues to mull.
"We believe the Government needs to direct resources to the many of the SMEs (small and medium enterprises) that have been significantly impacted during the pandemic.
"We also believe there needs to be some recognition of the vulnerable in our society, who are also significantly impacted in this very, very trying time."
Far from begging, Faria said businesses just needed the Government to be a facilitator for a much-needed cash injection into local businesses.
"We have recommended, on many occasions, that the Government work with the private sector and citizens to mobilise the capital held in the banks which could be redirected to productive activity such as investments in start-ups, entrepreneurs and businesses which need capital at this time.
"Our recommendation was that rather than the Government having to provide grants, to provide some sort of tax incentive to the individuals that mobilise their capital to fund approved start-ups or approved entrepreneurs."
He reckoned covid19 would persist as endemic, if not as a pandemic, such that we would need to learn to live in a new day-to-day environment.
"So the Government needs to manage its expenditure very carefully."
Faria also called for the final proclamation of the Procurement and Disposal of Property Act.
He also proposed another way for the Government to provide businesses with money, likewise not any handout.
"We are hopeful the Government will put in place the systems to pay the long overdue VAT refunds which are still outstanding and which were promised in the last budget.
"It is important to note that this is not covid support. This is an obligation the Government owes to the private sector, and now more so than at any other time the private sector needs this capital, this injection of the monies which are owed to them for many years."
Faris concluded that he hoped Imbert would now see "beyond the budget."
NATUC leader Michael Annisette told Newsday he hoped the budget would bring relief to public servants living on 2015 salary levels and help retirees access their due pensions.
"Obviously the issue of the outstanding negotiations for all government employees needs to be addressed in this budget." He said it had been "quite a while" since public servants had got a wage-hike, including frontline workers such as nurses and police officers. Yet these workers now faced a cost of living which was "rising astronomically." Annisette said workers were facing a double-whammy of flat wages and rising costs. Police last had a wage hike in 2012 and Port workers in 2007, Annisette fumed.
Annisette said any payment to workers would boost the economy, while a withholding of funds serves to hurt people's purchasing power and stagnate the economy.
He lamented that daily-rated workers represented by the NUGFWU had surrendered their right to work until 65, for a current retirement age of 60, in exchanged for a promised pension which had never materialised. The agreement had been made more than ten years ago but despite being reaffirmed by this Government, it still languished.
Annisette said many retirees who had held statutory posts must now wait months to get their pension.
He added, "We also need a much more comprehensive social programme for disadvantaged citizens."
On covid19, Annisette called for a tripartite (government, labour and business) stance against covid and vaccination.
"We can't have an employer to decide vaccination policy. It should be a government decision, so as to avoid discrimination of the 'vaccinated against the unvaccinated.'"
Last budget, Imbert had lifted the personal tax allowance up to $7,000 but also raised the spectre of the property tax plus electricity rate hikes. He had promised a liberalisation of the gasoline retail market but also a freeze on public service recruitment. Imbert had promised $50 million in devices for school pupils and plans to build 25,000 homes in the next ten years.