IN a letter to Tobago News some three weeks ago, I had made the point that, with a General Election in the offing, it would have been foolhardy to expect the Minister of Finance to embark resolutely on any series of measures which could have put the economy of Trinidad and Tobago on an even keel. The assumption was made that the Minister would seek to avoid actions which would “hit” the pockets of the voters and, while the Minister would have been expected to hand out some “goodies”, the extent of the largesse in this 2014/2015 Budget was not anticipated. Indeed, it is my view that yet another opportunity has been lost to move the economy into the correct direction. Indeed, the headlines in all three daily newspapers – “Handouts”, “Slice of the Pie For All”, “Welfare Budget” - could have been written by me after hearing the Minister’s presentation. I am disappointed! Why is this largesse necessary while the country continues to experience annual budget deficits and a seemingly unavoidable addiction to borrowing?
Instead, the Budget Statement features little or nothing worthwhile in respect of the following “desirables”:
- Treatment of “transfers and subsidies”- said by the Minister himself to be 50% of Budget expenditure. Here, the Minister conveys the impression that there would be greater surveillance in the future. Should he not have tapped this source to assist in eliminating the Budget deficit?
- Where are the measures to “induce the average citizen to invest “and set the economy on a path of diversification?
- As an aid to item (2) why does the allocation to agriculture continue to be so paltry?
- There seems to be no properly identifiable “housing policy”? Is it that the allocation of empty units is being made to await the imminence of the General Elections?
- What of the much-touted mechanism to transform the National Insurance Scheme into a national contributory pension’s scheme? What of the NIB/social welfare hotchpotch?
- Why is the practice of granting amnesty to delinquent taxpayers still being featured? Also, why has there not been a genuine reform of the Income Tax regime, a regime which is heavily-skewed towards the higher echelon in the society?
- Has the Lands & Building (Property) Tax system been permanently laid to rest?
These are but a few of the “omissions” in the Budget which readily come to mind. Indeed, instead, one is faced with the same pattern of budgeting which has characterised the People’s Partnership Government - a concentration on welfare “handouts” with “almost nothing” aimed at transforming the economy from its “one-crop” dependence on eventually depleting oil and gas resources.