That said, we find little which can be harshly criticised or lavishly lauded in the presentation. It was, as expected, given Mr Howai’s banking background, a conservative examination of our current situation, and a careful assessment of what needs to be done over the coming year, and following on to 2016, the year in which Mr Howai hopes to see a balanced budget return to Trinidad and Tobago.
The total revenue expected for 2013 is just under fifty and three quarters billion dollars, and he intends to spend on recurrent and capital expenditure, just under fifty-eight and a half billion dollars. This gives us — although everyone knew it was coming — our fourth deficit budget in a row. The anticipated deficit will be seven point six nine billion dollars, or 4.6 percent of GDP. Concerns down the road will be whether the Government, as it has done in the past, will come back to Parliament to increase their expenditure figures.
As expected, and as is the norm in our Budget presentations, the Minister pointed out that notwithstanding the tenuous economic conditions in the outside world, and moreso within the Caribbean region, most of our economic indices are strong and showing signs of improvement. But he warned that “deep reforms” are required if we are to become competitive and to attract the investment needed to finally move our economy away from its deep dependence on oil and gas.
While he did not list what these reforms might be, he did say that they would be introduced progressively over the next three years to reduce the impact on the disadvantaged sectors of the society. He said that these reforms would replace “hand outs” with “hand ups”, lifting those who are in the social safety nets into forms of productive endeavours.
He announced that the burdens of CLICO, HCU and the Industrial Relations cloud will be put behind us by the end of the coming fiscal year. Identifying the mechanisms to settle the two financial debacles which had so burdened the country’s financial sector for the past three years, he did not give any details on how the Government would remove the industrial relations doubts currently plaguing the country. He did say that he was in consultation with the labour leaders, and of course we are aware that several outstanding negotiations have been settled in recent weeks.
But we commend Minister Howai and the Government on many of the new initiatives he is suggesting to move away from the petroleum base we have depended on for so long.
The infrastructure development for new roads, bridges and drainage, and needed public buildings across rural Trinidad and Tobago will be welcomed by the construction industry, and will enhance our country generally, including attracting needed development.
The thrust into Tourism, if developed, will also tap into two of the world’s rapidly growing tourism niche markets. These are sports and events tourism, and eco-tourism, and we are well situated geographically and blessed environmentally, to exploit these two areas.
Naturally, we wait to hear many of these initiatives developed further as the Budget debate begins on Friday.