Actionable development budget needed

A farmer carries a bag of fertiliser to his dasheen garden at Centenary Road Extension, Tunapuna. Due to the slow pace of land-tenure approvals for farming, a stimulus package of $500 million for the agriculture sector has not triggered the expansion of agricultural development it was designed to deliver. - SUREASH CHOLAI
A farmer carries a bag of fertiliser to his dasheen garden at Centenary Road Extension, Tunapuna. Due to the slow pace of land-tenure approvals for farming, a stimulus package of $500 million for the agriculture sector has not triggered the expansion of agricultural development it was designed to deliver. - SUREASH CHOLAI

Today the Finance Minister will lay the 2021-2022 budget in Parliament, and while there need to be some concessions to bring relief to the general public and struggling lower-income families, Mr Imbert must also present a development budget that charts a path forward.

In July, in time for budget consideration, AmCham offered the government a comprehensive list of actionable items it believes are necessary to transform the moribund economy.

It isn't the only advice the government had available for budget planning.

In April 2020, the Prime Minister commissioned a pandemic recovery team to craft a roadmap for TT post-covid19. The time to implement key projects from that has come.

In an interview last week, committee member Vasant Bharath noted that there are $600 million worth of private projects that are waiting on regulatory approvals, along with 527 government projects with a collective value of $3.2 billion that are not being mobilised.

Little has been done to improve the country's ease-of-doing-business ranking, a critical element in attracting direct foreign investments.

The poor pace of land-tenure approvals for farming means a stimulus package of $500 million for the agriculture sector didn't trigger the expansion of agricultural development it was designed to deliver.

After a decade spent talking about food security, and a year of the hard reality of broken global supply chains, there should have been a more aggressive attempt at stimulating large-scale agriculture in the private sector.

Unfortunately the government has a history of commissioning high-level advice, then ignoring it.

Dr Terrence Farrell quit as chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board in 2018 when it became clear that the advice and strategic plans of the government-convened, volunteer committee were going nowhere after two years of work.

There is no shortage of plans, proposals and good ideas cluttering government bookshelves; but to effect change, the Government must take them from the podium to action. Far too many of these ideas are mere buzzwords to the public now – digital transformation, open data, e-government.

They must be put into practice, and in a way that makes life easier for the public and for the Government, rather than merely duplicating bureaucratic functions –­ as in obliging taxpayers to fill out forms online, but still queue up to deliver signed hard copies at government offices; or to present covid19-related documents at the airport which, again, they have already filled out online. That is neither development or digital transformation.

Today, Colm Imbert will no doubt indulge in bold, sweeping statements in an effort to inspire.

But it is the public sector investment supporting documents which detail the reality of the budget's ambitions, that must offer clearly articulated, sensibly budgeted projects with identifiable timelines for execution.

Without that, this budget will be just another promise to spend more than we earn without any viable plan for a return on that massive annual investment.

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