THA Act determines Tobago's finances

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert - File photo by Angelo Marcelle
Minister of Finance Colm Imbert - File photo by Angelo Marcelle

THE Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act outlines the process whereby the assembly handles its finances.

Section 41 of the act, directs the finance secretary to submit draft estimates of revenue and expenditure each financial year for the assembly's approval.

Once approved, the draft estimates are sent to Cabinet for approval.

These estimates must be submitted to Cabinet before the end of the third quarter of each financial year.

An extension of one week is allowed in instances where the THA fails to complete its consideration of the draft estimates for the assembly to complete this exercise, and allow the chief secretary to submit the draft estimates to the Cabinet.

Section 42 (2) states that, in cases where the chief secretary is unable to submit the estimates, the Finance Minister "shall proceed to prepare such draft estimates as he thinks fit and may take into account any draft estimates subsequently submitted by the assembly."

Section 43 indicates that in circumstances as outlined in section 42 (2), the Cabinet gives due consideration to the developmental needs of Tobago in the context of Trinidad and Tobago.

The financial resources allocated to Tobago must be fair and practicable, based on certain factors.

Those include the physical separation of Tobago from Trinidad by sea, restricted opportunities for employment and career fulfilment on the island and Tobago's isolation from the principal national growth centres.

Section 44 states where the THA is dissatisfied with the whole or part of the allocation provided to it by Cabinet, it can refer the matter to the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) which resolves disputes between the THA and Government on budgetary allocations to the assembly and related matters.

The commission consists of the Ombudsman or any other person with judicial or quasi-judicial experience agreed to by Government and the THA, two government members and two THA members.

Before the DRC becomes involved in any dispute between the Government and the THA, section 58 states the matter is referred to the prime minister who refers it to the Cabinet for consideration.

The DRC is formed once the Cabinet fails to resolve the dispute.

When the commission resolves a dispute, its chairman communicates this to the prime minister and chief secretary. The prime minister and chief secretary respectively lay the recommendations of the DRC in Parliament and the assembly.

The THA normally receives an allocation of between 4.03 and 6.9 per cent the budget per annum. This arose out of a DRC ruling in 2001.

While the percentage of the budget which the THA receives is outlined in the DRC recommendations, the underlying legal basis for the funding of the THA is found in Section 141D of the Constitution.

Under the former People's Partnership government, the THA won a court matter which gave it the ability to borrow money for its own use without seeking help from central government to do so.

This section creates the THA Fund which comprises monies appropriated by Parliament for the THA's use and monies which the assembly lawfully collects on its own.

Two bills concerning Tobago's self governance, which are yet to be passed by Parliament, have different effects on how Tobago receives funding.

The Tobago Self Government Bill has the effect of removing Section 141D of the Constitution, leaving the THA with no protected funding.

The second bill, the Tobago Island Government Bill proposes a predictable level of funding for Tobago. Section 30 of this bill states that Tobago will have β€œfor any financial year no less than 6.8 per cent of the total fund appropriated by Parliament for the financial year or such other percentage as may be determined by the Fiscal Review Committee.”

In his 2023/2024 budget presentation in the House of Representatives on September 26, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced a $2.585 billion allocation for the THA.

That allocation included $2.298 billion for recurrent expenditure, $260 million is for the development programme expenditure, $18 million for the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and $9.2 million for CEPEP.

Imbert said, "The total allocation to the THA in 2024 represents an increase of $64.2 million over the allocation of $2.521 billion in fiscal year 2023."

He claimed the assembly would receive its full allocation for fiscal 2023.

Imbert added, "As per usual, beyond the budgetary allocation to the THA, an additional $678.5 million is allocated to various ministries and state agencies to undertake and execute major projects in Tobago in keeping with their responsibility under the sixth schedule of the THA Act 40 of 1996."

Following the Progressive Democratic Patriots' (PDP) victory over the PNM in the THA 2021 election, Imbert said, "We (government) immediately convened several meetings with the Chief Secretary (Farley Augustine) and his team to establish viable collaborative arrangements aimed at widening and deepening the development of Tobago."

Augustine is also the THA's Finance Secretary.

Imbert indicated that he reviewed the fiscal 2024 budget statement presented by the THA in June.

"I take this opportunity to endorse in principle the policy prescriptions outlined in that budget statement. I believe that once properly implemented, this policy agenda, with its strategic interventions and capital works will advance the socioeconomic development of Tobago."

Imbert was confident that "the broad economic and macroeconomic performance achieved in Trinidad will now assist an improving economy in Tobago – that is, our robust gross domestic product, elevated levels of employment and a stable and low level of inflation – can support the delivery of the Tobago Public Policy Agenda."


"THA Act determines Tobago’s finances"

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