Chamber: THA budget either ambitious or farcical

Tobago Business Chamber chairman Martin George. - File photo by Roger Jacob
Tobago Business Chamber chairman Martin George. - File photo by Roger Jacob

CHAIRMAN of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George has described the THA’s $3.95 billion request as “aspirational and ambitious at best and fanciful and farcical at worst.”

In a video statement on June 26, George said Tobago’s population represents about 5.07 per cent of the national population, and if one goes back to Hansard to look at the recommendations of the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) as far back 2000, it recommended a range of 4.03-6.9 per cent as the range in which Tobago’s budgetary allocation should fall.

He said: “If one were to do the straight-line demographic analysis and applying the Chief Secretary’s guesstimated figure of a $65 billion national budget then your 5.07 per cent share on a per-capita basis, this would be $3.3 billion.

"So the 5.8 per cent and the corresponding figure of $3.956 billion are aspirational at best and fanciful and farcical at worst.”

He said it might be better to stick to the more arguable case of the straight-line per-capita request, which would bring it down to $3.3 billion instead of unrealistically shooting for the moon and landing face down in the sand.

He said there are also two major areas to consider, one being the proportion of the proposed budget which is allocated to recurrent expenditure.

“Thankfully, we are seeing a reduction in this figure as in previous years it was as high as 88 per cent, whereas this year’s budget projects it at 71 per cent, so that’s a plus.

“There is also a greater proposed allocation for development projects and some infrastructural development in excess of $1 billion, and provided these projects are managed well in terms of time and quality of product delivery, then that augurs well for the future.”

He said there is, however, the nagging issue of the low rate of earning or income, as compared to the expenditure. The projected income, he said, is about $216 million, which is about five per cent of the expenditure.

“So you’re spending about 20 times more than you’re earning. That in any economy is clearly unsustainable and will plunge you into chaos if you did not have the facility of a yearly top-up, so to speak, from Central Government.”

In this regard, he urged the THA to be more creative and innovative in terms of increasing its income-earning capacity.

“One of the ways we’ve suggested is to petition central government for the immediate and unconditional repeal of the Foreign Investment Act, which will help not only Tobago, but Trinidad and Tobago generally so as to bring massive inflows of direct foreign investment into Tobago, with the obvious spill-over to Trinidad, where the majority of goods and services will have to be sourced.

"Our nation is facing a severe forex shortage. There is absolutely no reason why this archaic and anachronistic legislation is still on the books.”

Chairman of the Tobago Division of the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce Curtis Williams is calling for a review of the recommendation from the DRC.

“The budget allocation based on the DRC – based on as the population grows, we expect that the budget formula in terms of percentage will grow at least – I think that is something that really should pass on to the Finance Minister and really should take a look at it.”

He said THA Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Farley Augustine's statement introduced significant initiatives aimed at bolstering the business community and addressing key issues on the island. The key highlight, he said, was the Tobago Development Fund.

“This initiative offered critical financial support to businesses enabling them to access affordable capital for expansion and operational needs. The support for warehousing and logistics and marketing – this support would enhance the operational capabilities of local businesses improving efficiency and market reach. The initiative of partnership with E-IDCOT, the private-public partnership with Cove Industrial Estate – this initiative allows new avenues for businesses to leverage the assets for fostering greater activity at Cove.”

He said in terms of crime, the new Tobago community safety programme will create a more secure environment for the residents and business communities alike.

“We look forward to that initiative.”


"Chamber: THA budget either ambitious or farcical"

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