Farley Augustine will today present his first budget since becoming Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and, in the process, definitively set the tone for the rest of his tenure.
Mr Augustine, who has reserved for himself the portfolio Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy, has shown little sign of any desire to dial down expectations.
“We begin the build-out in earnest for the greatest little island on the planet,” the Parlatuvier/L’Anse Fourmi/Speyside assemblyman declared earlier this month. Saying it would be “a very green budget,” he added his presentation would be “one like never before seen on the island of Tobago and perhaps in the country, and we expect that some of our policies will create some shockwaves.”
Will Mr Augustine’s political opponents be left green with envy? The deputy political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) is banking on it.
Unlike the tone recently adopted by the Government in relation to ongoing public-sector wage negotiations, the Chief Secretary has given little hint of wariness about the precarious global economic environment, which just this week saw a feud between the European Union and Russia erupt over the impact of Russia’s assault on Ukraine's food supply to the world. Mr Augustine’s presentation comes mere days after yet another hike in flour prices.
Though he has extolled the symbolism of green as a colour of rejuvenation, we have heard little of the PDP’s election campaign promise to deliver an executive note to Cabinet in relation to the way annual budgetary allocations are handled.
The PDP has in the past indicated a desire to see the island get closer to 6.9 per cent of the annual pie, as opposed to the bare minimum of 4.03 per cent.
With such formidable constraints in operation around him, the Chief Secretary nonetheless clearly wishes not to appear green behind the ears. He has proposed an alternative to the Dispute Resolution Commission’s budgetary stipulation, that Tobago get a share of oil and gas revenue.
Though he wishes to underline his administration’s environmentally conscious credentials, in June Mr Augustine also warned that it was not realistic to expect an immediate transition to green energy.
“It’s not a sprint but certainly something that would have to take time to transition,” he said back then. “We can use the gas that is available and refine it to the point where the carbon emissions are reduced so it doesn’t trouble the economy.”
But noting the link between budgeting and low-income earners during hard times, his administration has in recent weeks called for the disability grant to be increased, implemented pay hikes for workers on make-work programmes and issued $1.6 million in grants to maxi-taxi drivers.
These actions suggest Mr Augustine and his party might see the Tobago budget as a centrepiece to their upcoming local government election campaign.
With the temptation to hand out flash-in-the-pan budget “goodies” high, hopefully Tobago’s economy will not be left seeing blue after today.