THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris of the PNM is satisfied with Tobago’s $2.585 billion allocation in the 2024 budget.
On Monday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert made the presentation in the House of Representatives. For Tobago, 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.
Imbert said the allocation was $64.2 million more than last year's.
In June, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) requested $4.54 billion.
Speaking with Newsday on Tuesday, Morris said he believed the budget should be seen as a positive step in the right direction.
“It is my personal view that the Minister of Finance, Honourable Colm Imbert, and the Government led by Dr Keith Rowley should be complimented for steering this country through extremely challenging economic waters for the last few years and bringing us to this point where we can cautiously exhale.”
He said notably, there were no new significant taxes to be borne by citizens, while the fuel regime had been maintained. He said he particularly liked the Government's focus on the poor and the vulnerable, as well as education and crime.
In respect to Tobago, Morris said he carefully noted that the current THA administration had received a "whopping" $64 million increase in its allocation, which, he said, affords it more money to take care of Tobago people's business.
“The concern I have as minority leader is, whether this administration receives more money or less, the average citizen of Tobago is not benefiting.
“It has now been harder to get a food card under this administration than previous administrations. People are now being paid later than what they were used to before. Suppliers of services, contractors are now having to wait longer for payment than ever before.
"The point is that, notwithstanding that this administration has benefited from the two largest budgetary transfers from the Central Government and receiving those funds in quarterly portions, they have not been able to manage the resources in (such) a way as to make the average Tobagonian's life better.”
He said therefore his "humble" advice to the Chief Secretary and his team was to focus on the allocation they have, rather than whining about the allocation they wanted.
“This allocation should be seen as a good opportunity for the THA to become even more creative, as well as even more fiscally responsible and transparent with the use of Tobago people money.
"Accordingly, rather than fighting with the Central Government, as was the case all of 2023, I hope the Chief Secretary will use this fiscal period to generate meaningful benefits to the people of Tobago, such as sustainable job creation, a strategic plan to resuscitate our declining tourism sector, support to farmers to produce more food and incentives to our entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and strengthen our private sector.”
He said he firmly believes the budget provides a platform the THA can build upon.
“The approach going forward therefore should be one of prudent management of the funds allocated, collaboration and partnership towards doing more, as well as innovation to do things better.”
The PNM Tobago Council’s political leader Ancil Dennis said in the leadership of Tobago at this time, there are whiners and complainers rather than real leaders.
“Quite predictably, Farley (THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine) and Faith (Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith BYisrael) the complainer are crying, 'Disrespect,' following the budget.
"Their hypocrisy and disingenuousness are so brazen that they advance such bombast even when they have been allocated $300 million more over the last two years than the last PNM THA in a pandemic.”
He said in that same pandemic, millions of dollars' worth of hampers were distributed, as well as food cards, grants to businesses including farmers and tablets to students for online learning, while they also kept all public servants employed.
“We also started the Manta Lodge Hotel, Bertille St Clair Indoor Sporting Complex, Goodwood Pavilion, Charlotteville Community Centre, Goldsborough Agro Processing Facility, the Farmland Development Programme, and several other projects.
"During that same year, we completed the Moriah Health Centre and opened a new hospital in Roxborough in partnership with the central government, while keeping the healthcare system robust during the pandemic.
"We also started TPAC (Tobago Performing Arts Company) stimulated the creative sector with virtual events, and conceptualised our own standalone carnival. We did more than this clueless bunch with less.”
He said in contrast, “Farley and his friends fired more than 200 Tobagonians from the THA while employing square pegs in round holes, including propagandists with big monthly rectangular cheques of up to $50,000; dismantled another 1,000-plus jobs in the private sector when they destroyed the construction sector; shipped away over $300 million to Trinidad contractors...mismanaged all our festivals and demoralised our creative sector to the extent where the secretary with responsibility does not even know the carnival budget at this time; consistently paid THA workers and service providers late while prioritising overseas travel and outstanding payments to their preferred contractors from Trinidad.”
He said instead of whining and complaining they needed to shut up and lead.
“Especially when the Chief Secretary himself was the chief instigator of the collapse of the Tobago autonomy bills which would have guaranteed this current THA administration an allocation this time of $4 billion, which he said is $1.5 billion more than they received on Monday.
“More critical than any allocation, however, is what is done with it; our money will go a long way if these miscreants put Tobago first instead of prioritising their own nefarious objectives.”