The Progressive Democratic Patriots-led Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is requesting an allocation of $3.97 billion from central government to manage the island’s affairs for fiscal 2022-2023.
In announcing the figure on Thursday during his first budget presentation at the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said it was predicated on an anticipated national budget of $57.4 billion, an increase of $1.9 billion in fiscal 2023.
He said he hopes the figure will also reflect 6.9 per cent of the national budget in keeping with the upper end of the Dispute Resolution Committee’s (DRC’s) recommendation.
Tobago’s minimum allocation of the national budget is 4.03 per cent, as mandated by the DRC.
“Remember, Madam Presiding Officer (Abby Taylor), we had expected 6.9 per cent. The law already says we are allowed 6.9 per cent. So since you love we and care for we, give we 6.9 per cent,” Augustine said.
In fiscal 2021-2022, the former PNM-led THA administration had requested $4.7 billion, from central government, which included $2.075 billion for recurrent expenditure, $264 million for capital expenditure and $18 million for the URP programme.
But it received $2.357 billion, which accounted for 4.5 per cent of the national budget.
On this occasion, Augustine said of the $3.97 billion that is being requested, $3.07 billion will be for recurrent expenditure and $900 million, development expenditure.
The Unemployment Relief Programme and Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) will receive $59.59 million and $53.17 million, respectively, he added.
Augustine, who is also the Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy, revealed the largest sum of the recurrent expenditure estimates goes to the Division of Health, Wellness and Social Protection – $918.40 million.
The Division of Education, Research and Technology received the second highest estimate – $485.06 million. It is followed by the Divisions of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment ($455.36 million), Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation ($255.85 million) and Food Security, Natural Resources, The Environment and Sustainable Development ($250.98 million).
Titled Towards A Smarter, Greener More Autonomous Tobago, the four-hour presentation contained a suite of initiatives intended to put the island on a growth path as it slowly emerges from the covid19 pandemic over the past two years.
Augustine noted the most recent data provided by the Economic Management Research Unit of the Division of Finance, Trade and the Economy stated that, in the last decade, between 2011 and 2021, Tobago experienced seven years of decline in GDP to the point where the island’s GDP in 2021 was equivalent to that of 2011.
“This means that the economic pie did not increase.”
However, he said modest economic growth is expected in 2022 and 2023.
The data, Augustine said, also indicates that the state sector was the largest contributor to Tobago’s GDP in 2021, accounting for approximately 48 per cent of the island’s GDP.
The second largest contributor was the finance, insurance, real estate and business services sector, accounting for about 28 per cent while the tourism sector accounted for just about ten per cent of GDP in 2021.
He said the agriculture and manufacturing sectors were relatively small, contributing collectively about two per cent of Tobago’s GDP in 2021 with agriculture’s contribution amounting to a mere $18.7 million.
Augustine said, “Read accurately, Tobago’s GDP speaks loudly to the continued underperformance of the Tobago economy and urgent need for monetary allocations to focus heavily on productivity, growth, income generation and the development of a competitive export capacity. Thank God, the PDP win this election.”
In moving forward, Augustine announced there will be a renewed focus on Tobago’s long-standing quest for greater autonomy.
“After nearly 60 years of independence and almost 42 years of the THA, it remains an irrefutable fact that the current institutional and legislative arrangements that established the government of Tobago and the government of Trinidad and Tobago deny us our autonomy.”
He said the autonomy bills before the Parliament are “woefully inadequate and was therefore comprehensively rejected by the majority of Tobagonians.”
Augustine noted there has been “no legislative action on this critical issue” for nearly a year now.
He added the THA has taken steps and will take the necessary steps for Tobagonians to be given their constitutional right to self-determination.
Augustine said for the first time in its history, the THA has established as a stand-alone division, the Office of the Deputy Chief Secretary, which includes a department of inter-government affairs with the principal responsibility to decide self-government for Tobago in the shortest possible time.
He said, “With regard to mobilising our diaspora with the push for greater autonomy, one must appreciate that our efforts this round must be radically different from anything we have tried before.”
Augustine said Tobagonians are tired of consultations for greater autonomy.
“We have been trying this method since APT James and this has not resulted in the granting of a Tobago government structured on the way we want. We are officially tired of the excessive talk and the lack of real action by the national Parliament.”
As such, he said efforts are underway to establish the first THA outpost at Pembroke Street, Port of Spain.
“We can’t get our autonomy by staying in Tobago. We will take the time to educate our Trinidadian friends and family on this matter while pushing for the national Parliament to correct a colonial wrong.
“In other words, we will deliberately disrupt the national politics until they give us what belongs to us.”
In his presentation, Augustine said the priority areas for development and transformation in fiscal 2023 will be governance reform; economic transformation and business development; tourism sector and development of the orange economy; food security and sovereignity; the blue economy; and human capital development.
It will also address health and social protection; community development and empowerment; institutional reform and transformation; development of young people; sport development and recreational infrastructure; and public safety and physical infrastructure development.
Debate on the budget resumes on June 28 with THA Miniority Leader Kelvon Morris’ official response.
Recurrent expenditure proposals for remaining divisions
Office of the Chief Secretary – $216.42 million
Finance, trade and Economy – 184. 25 million
Community Development, Youth Development and Sport – $161.34 million
Office of the Deputy Chief Secretary – $69.15 million
Settlements, Public Utilities and Rural Development – $40. 40 million
Assembly Legislature – $30.30 billion