REACTIONS to the 2022 budget came fast and furious from key stakeholders in Tobago on Tuesday, with the general view being that Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s $2.35 billion fiscal package to run the affairs of the island was simply not good enough.
Head of the Tobago division of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Diane Hadad described the national budget as confusing, with a lot of teasers, but not enough to keep Tobago’s economy afloat.
Tobago was allocated $2.357 billion out of the $52 billion budget package presented by Imbert on Monday afternoon in the House of Representatives. This works out to 4.5 per cent of the national budget and a break down would see $2.75 billion going for recurring expenditure and $264 million for capital expenditures.
The chamber hosted a conference on Monday at its office in Scarborough, where Hadad said she was hoping to hear more incentives to boost the island’s struggling economy especially in the tourism sector which was devastated by the global covid19 pandemic.
“We keep moving budget into budget, from 2019 to 2020, and we still talking about it in 2021. We are talking about a marina in 2023 – that’s not a 2021/2022 budget item.
“Where Tobago is concerned, this sounded like gift, or teasers (for the impending THA elections). We are stuck with incomplete budget items. There’s a loss rather than the momentum of completion. It’s a budget that says we’re going to have to work through this,” Hadad said.
She said most of the plans announced for Tobago are already in the pipeline and what the economy really needs is the support to help it ride through the trauma caused by the pandemic and consequent restrictions.
She expressed disappointment that previous strategies which had proven “cumbersome” are being revisited.
“We spoke of the loan-guarantee programme in the past and identified where the glitches were, yet we are still hearing that we are coming back at this programme and we are going to try it again, by removing the glitches we have been speaking about for years.
“In terms of agriculture, the access roads are already in progress – these things are already happening. So it wasn’t new news, and I’m not sure if it was because it is a six-six tie (a reference to the result of January’s THA elections) and we are at a locked neck here that the minister’s hands may have been tied to say too much more.”
Hadad said Tobagonians were hoping to hear: “Where are we financially, and where’s the support to really pull this thing out, because you have employees that are suffering financially, and then you have the business owners that have taken the brunt of the leaks through this.”
She did however express satisfaction to hear about the $50 million hotelier and tourism support programme, efforts to enhance the tourist attractions and the number of projects to increase quality room stock.
“It was encouraging to hear that this government has taken the conversation of tourism to the next level. I was pleased to hear them speak of hotel development in Trinidad as well as Tobago. That sends a different signal and speaks differently.”
But she added, “Everything sounds good in presentation, but the question is, how are we going to deliver on what was promised?”
Hadad also applauded Imbert for giving the business community time to organise their stock before the removal of VAT on numerous food items.