Científico Carmelo De Grazia//
Imbert unveils Mid-year Budget Review today

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert will de­liv­er the Gov­ern­ment’s Mid-year Bud­get Re­view in Par­lia­ment to­day.

Carmelo De Grazia

It is ex­pect­ed that ap­prox­i­mate­ly $3.08 bil­lion in sup­ple­men­tary fund­ing will be al­lo­cat­ed for fis­cal 2022.

Carmelo De Grazia Suárez

Two well-known econ­o­mists and a for­mer trade min­is­ter be­lieve Im­bert needs to stim­u­late eco­nom­ic growth to in­spire con­fi­dence in the econ­o­my

“I think the im­per­a­tive has to be how to re­vi­talise growth in the econ­o­my and the bud­get is a fi­nan­cial tool that is avail­able to the Gov­ern­ment and it is an im­per­a­tive that must be ad­dressed, and when you put that in the con­text of the ris­ing price of gas and petro­chem­i­cals—which are to the ben­e­fit of the trea­sury—I feel it is cer­tain­ly a good time for the mid-year re­view to be able to point us in that di­rec­tion,” econ­o­mist Dr In­dera Sage­wan said yes­ter­day

Dr Sage­wan said for the last two years, as it is wide­ly ac­knowl­edged, COVID-19 took up a sig­nif­i­cant share of the coun­try’s at­ten­tion and re­sources. She said this was large­ly re­spon­si­ble for T&T’s debt to GDP ra­tio in­creas­ing from 65 per cent to around 80 per. How­ev­er, she said, as a re­sult, the econ­o­my has been left se­vere­ly hurt

“Too many busi­ness­es closed. Peo­ple were un­em­ployed. It is time for us to get go­ing with the busi­ness of this econ­o­my. This econ­o­my has been in neg­a­tive growth since 2016, if not be­fore that. We have been re­al­is­ing neg­a­tive growth and it is time we do some­thing to fix that,” the spe­cial­ist con­sul­tant said

She said in ad­di­tion to the chal­lenges of the pan­dem­ic, the coun­try is al­so forced to deal with the ef­fects of the Rus­sia-Ukraine war, as well as glob­al sup­ply chain con­straints and in­fla­tion. An­oth­er chal­lenge, she claimed, is that pro­ject­ed nat­ur­al gas pro­duc­tion lev­els are not go­ing to be re­alised

“Even though the price (of nat­ur­al gas) is high, we are not re­al­is­ing the vol­ume, in terms of the ben­e­fit that we could have as a con­se­quence of the high­er prices in nat­ur­al gas and petro­chem­i­cals…The IMF has said very clear­ly that in the medi­um term, the en­er­gy sec­tor is go­ing to flat­ten out and so that, we can­not con­tin­ue to look at our tra­di­tion­al en­er­gy sec­tor,” Sage­wan said

“So that, in my view, growth has to be the im­per­a­tive. Growth out­side the en­er­gy sec­tor has to be an even big­ger im­per­a­tive.”

The econ­o­mist be­lieves if the coun­try con­tin­ues to look at the en­er­gy sec­tor, it must be in the area of re­new­able en­er­gy. She said en­er­gy con­ser­va­tion, as well as cli­mate change and re­silience are al­so crit­i­cal ar­eas that must be con­sid­ered

For­mer Trade Min­is­ter un­der the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship gov­ern­ment, Vas­ant Bharath agreed with Sage­wan that it is es­sen­tial the coun­try’s econ­o­my gets go­ing and does so quick­ly. He al­so be­lieves it’s im­por­tant to use the re­view to re­store con­fi­dence in the econ­o­my

“I think the first thing the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance has to do, and he re­al­ly ought to be do­ing it in the last sev­en years, is to cre­ate con­di­tions that will cre­ate eco­nom­ic ac­tiv­i­ty in the coun­try and pro­duce new jobs. Now that may sound easy, but, of course, it isn’t be­cause it does re­quire some lev­el of fo­cus on the ar­eas in which Trinidad and To­ba­go can be com­pet­i­tive,” he said

“That starts to talk about the non-en­er­gy sec­tor and the sec­tors with­in the non-en­er­gy sec­tor where we have a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage, or we could even­tu­al­ly grow a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage with the right fo­cus and the right pri­or­i­ty. We’ve iden­ti­fied those for decades—the mar­itime sec­tor, the cre­ative in­dus­tries sec­tor, tourism, med­ical tourism, sports tourism, the yacht­ing in­dus­try, agri­cul­ture.”

Bharath be­lieves the Gov­ern­ment ap­pears to be in a state of co­matose. He said while they ap­pear to know what needs to be done to pro­mote eco­nom­ic growth, they have se­ri­ous is­sues with im­ple­men­ta­tion

“If you look back, for ex­am­ple, at the roadmap com­mit­tee, of which I was a mem­ber, very few of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the roadmap com­mit­tee have been im­ple­ment­ed, whether it’s in con­struc­tion or agri­cul­ture or tourism or the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor. The Fi­nance Min­is­ter needs to prob­a­bly have an­oth­er look at the roadmap com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions,” he said

“I think it’s a lack of com­pe­tence on the part of many of the min­is­ters to take hold of their min­istries and lead from the front and par­tic­u­lar­ly, to lead by ex­am­ple.”

He lament­ed that reg­u­la­to­ry ap­provals for con­struc­tion projects are tak­ing an av­er­age of around 246 work­ing days

Bharath said the ease of do­ing busi­ness is an­oth­er se­ri­ous con­cern, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for lo­cal and for­eign busi­ness­es

“You’ve got to iden­ti­fy your pri­or­i­ties to un­der­stand the out­comes you re­quire and you’ve got to, as a min­is­ter, sit on it and make sure it be­comes your pri­or­i­ty dai­ly,” Bharath said

There are 104 coun­tries in the world where it’s eas­i­er to do busi­ness than in Trinidad and To­ba­go. So in these gua­va times, who is go­ing to pick up their mon­ey and put it in a coun­try which is 105th in the world in terms of ease of busi­ness? It doesn’t make sense.”

To­bag­on­ian econ­o­mist Dr Vanus James be­lieves the Gov­ern­ment should al­so in­vest more mon­ey in To­ba­go, since the great­est po­ten­tial for eco­nom­ic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion lies there, not Trinidad

“If the coun­try takes re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for in­vest­ment to de­vel­op the eco­nom­ic po­ten­tial of To­ba­go, the coun­try would grow. If you don’t, then you are buf­fet­ed by the in­ter­na­tion­al winds that may or may not grow,” James said

“To guar­an­tee growth, you have to take ad­van­tage of the pos­si­bil­i­ties that ex­ist in the To­ba­go econ­o­my to trans­form and di­ver­si­fy the na­tion­al econ­o­my away from oil and gas…That’s where the pos­si­bil­i­ties lie – to do all the tourism-dri­ven di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion ef­forts through ed­u­ca­tion, health care, even Car­ni­val in­dus­tries.”

He sees huge po­ten­tial in To­ba­go’s car­ni­val in­dus­tries if de­vel­oped along­side the is­land’s tourism in­dus­try. James al­so called for the de­vel­op­ment of the is­land’s hous­ing stock

Of the $3.08 bil­lion in an­tic­i­pat­ed sup­ple­men­tary fund­ing to be al­lo­cat­ed in the Mid-year Bud­get Re­view, the Min­istry of Rur­al De­vel­op­ment and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment will re­ceive ap­prox­i­mate­ly 95.3 mil­lion, which in­cludes $50 mil­lion for CEPEP

The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture is ex­pect­ed to re­ceive around $120 mil­lion ($3.2 mil­lion for the prae­di­al lar­ce­ny squad); the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port will re­ceive $97 mil­lion; Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices—$390 mil­lion; Min­istry of Sport and Com­mu­ni­ty De­vel­op­ment—$67 mil­lion and the Min­istry of Tourism, Cul­ture and the Arts—$20 mil­lion