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Where’s the beef?

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Friday, October 6, 2017

As is customary, this year’s national budget was greeted with predictions of doom and gloom as political pundits motivated by either party politics, race or other factors attempted to prepare the country for the worst.

In Tobago, tales were rehashed of suffering during the ANR Robinson-led National Alliance for Reconstruction era when 15 per cent VAT was introduced, public services salaries axed by 10 per cent and COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) removed.

Now that the $50.5 billion budget has been read and Tobago given it 4.34 per cent—$2.1936 billion, as enshrined by law through actions of the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC), the tales have turned to mostly relieved sighs.

However, Tobagonians are still asking ‘where’s the beef’ as they seek details on the island’s development. Concerns, especially in the area of tourism including the construction of the ANR Robinson International Airport and other projects are being raised. Millions were spent on the airport’s refurbishment under the People’s Partnership government but the People’s National Movement took the reins of power last year and scrapped the project. The declaration that a new airport is to be constructed was greeted by cheers on the island.

But the 2018 Budget statement presented by Finance Minister Colm Imbert on Monday made no mention of this project. Additionally, details are still to be worked out on the borrowing arrangement which will see the THA seeking funds for capital expenditure projects.

Interestingly, the Finance Minister made the observation that the THA had secured its own international rating but what he didn’t mention is the degree to which it depends on the performance of Trinidad’s economy. It’s a fact which Finance Secretary Joel Jack has been at pains to point out over the years whenever questioned on the island’s constant credit rating downgrade.

Arguably, the resurgence of the Loan Guarantee programme, which is being given to the tourism sector for plant upgrade, was a welcome relief for tourism stakeholders, but even in this area many questions remain unanswered. The measure was introduced during the PP government’s term in office but suffered from a lack of financial institutions’ support. The explanation then was that the institutions did not have confidence in the sector. Tobagonians are asking what has changed in the financial and tourism sectors which will allow this provision to work this time.

Also, issues yet to be addressed in the national Budget include a permanent solution for the air and sea bridge operations and land licences for investment. Tobagonians await answers.