The Finance Minister’s budget presentation 2 days ago continues to receive mixed reviews, including the predictable condemnation from the Opposition bench. Several business organisations were in praise of the some of the measures outlined, especially the promise to pay long outstanding VAT refunds with bonds. While some feel it’s not the ideal mode of payment, the majority was pleased nevertheless for this signal that payment was finally forthcoming. And we agree. It’s good to be paid although it would not immediately address the cash flow issue many are experiencing at present in the business community.
Mr. Imbert’s goodies basket, did bear some welcome relief for the man on the street, especially with the announcement of the increase in the minimum wage from $15.00 to $17.50 per hour. Again, while it’s not a substantial increase by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still a gesture in the right direction. And while we know that the business community would be the one footing the majority of the increase in the minimum wage, we are curious as to how the other morsels would be financed by the government. Where is the revenue coming from to pay gangsters and their cohorts that promised 15% increase in CEPEP wages.
Many have said that the brightest point of the entire budget presentation was the attempt to stimulate agriculture by removing taxes for registered farmers. For decades, the farming community has been calling on successive governments to remove taxes on inputs in agriculture. But now they are calling for more clarity as to who will benefit, as those who don’t own land may lose out. It’s still a move in the right direction, since it could serve to reduce our ridiculously high import bill if it’s not abused. Similarly with the higher allocation for Tobago, the sensible use of additional funds could reap greater rewards of it’s not used to fatten and enrich the lives of a few only. The tourism sector on the island remains woefully underdeveloped, and we hope the allocation can be used to further develop this invaluable aspect of the economy.
While we acknowledge that an election budget is what it is, we continue to be disappointed again that our government is refusing to acknowledge the urgent need to come up with viable means of self sustenance. Where are the measures to diversify the economy? Where are the incentives to grow other industries such as manufacturing so that we could continue to thrive when the oil dries up? Why isn’t the Finance Minister addressing our worsening foreign exchange crisis so that there might actually be goods and raw materials to import through the new Toco Port? It’s not just about ‘eating a food’ in an election year, Mr. Minister. It’s about growth and surviving after the election smoke screen has cleared.