AND RYAN HAMILTON-DAVIS
Tobago House of Assembly (THA) officials are disappointed by the island’s $2.585 billion allocation in the 2024 budget.
On Monday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert made the presentation in the House of Representatives.
He said $2.298 million has been allocated for recurrent expenditure, $260 million for the development programme and $18 million for the Unemployment Relief Programme. He said this allocation represents an increase of $64.2 million.
The assembly had requested $4.54 billion from the central government.
Speaking with Newsday after the presentation, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said he was not surprised by the allocation.
“We could have all stayed at home, turned off our televisions and practically predict what the THA would be allocated. Coming in at about $4 and 35 cents of every $100 spent in Trinidad, the allocation is true to form. It does not even inch close to the middle percentile of the range recommended by the Dispute Resolution Commission and agreed to by Parliament in 2001.”
Augustine said there continued to be talk of the millions to be spent by other ministries in Tobago on the sixth schedule items, but accountability is never received for whether and how that money is really spent in Tobago. He said the national security apparatus on the island was “in a mess,” and the THA, which has no responsibility for sixth-schedule items, is asked daily to deviate from its legal mandate to help out the security forces.
He said evidently, Tobago is left to seek alternative funding for its development agenda.
“The THA essentially has $260 million to run its development programme for 2024 and this will include: roadworks and new road infrastructure in places like Bad Rock and descending Charlotteville’s hill; completing sports and community facilities, including a new ground for the Golden Lane community; paying an inherited debt to contractors brought over from the PNM – which was just over $700 million; fixing (the) Victor E Bruce building, which is falling apart; continued school repairs; and the building of a new Scarborough Secondary School; scholarships and bursary to young people; medical equipment and upgrade of health facilities; and the upgrading of tourism plants and beach facilities, among others.”
Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith BYisrael described the presentation as “a weapon against development for Tobago.”
“I think...it is the government of Trinidad and Tobago using the budget of Trinidad and Tobago as a weapon against development for Tobago...if you recognise that in a situation where you are very willing to spend $150 million on a hospital carpark, but then tell us you have $240 or $260 million to spend for the entire year for everything that we need to do – how else could you interpret something like that?” She pointed out that a fraction of the projects put in this year’s budget have the same allotments as was given to the entire island’s development. She pointed out the San Fernando General Hospital’s car park, which was commissioned for $150 million; the refurbishment of the Hasely Crawford Stadium which cost $90 million and the building of the Diego Martin Vehicular Overpass being completed and commissioned at the cost of $185 million. She also knocked efforts made to curb crime through an increase in police officers, saying that Government should have made more effort in building preventative mechanisms.
Asked about her feelings on the increase in minimum wage to $20.50, B.Yisrael said it was welcome, but for Tobagonians, it is late.
“The THA implemented an increase of the minimum wage to workers at the lowest categories – that is the CEPEP and URP employees, so this was a year and a half ago,” she said. “So it is wonderful that the government is catching up.”
She added that the THA is currently spending time ensuring that special purpose companies such as the Tobago Agro Business Development Company (TADCO) and Studley Park Enterprise Ltd (SPEL) are undergoing restructuring exercises, and Tobagonians are being called upon to get certification and upskill to become key elements of the companies.
She also said the THA is also leveraging its culture to earn revenue. She plugged the Tobago Carnival, which officially began last Friday, and said festivals which Tobagonians consider everyday events could also be looked at to become tourist attractions.
“We have been actively trying to market Tobago as the festival capital of the Caribbean. We are trying to have a different type of festival happening every so often so even if you are a Trinidadian coming to Tobago, we see you as tourists coming to enjoy what we have in Tobago.”
For fiscal 2022-2023, the THA asked for $3.97 billion but received $2.5 billion. Then, Imbert said the sum represented 4.3 per cent of the $57.6 billion budget. He said it was consistent with what the PNM-led administration in the THA was provided with between 2016 and 2021. He said $2.194 billion was allocated for recurrent expenditure, $300 million for the THA’s development programme, $18 million for URP and $9.2 million for CEPEP, representing an increase of $185 million over the previous year’s allocation of $2.336 billion.