National Budget presentations sometimes read like a “wish list” instead of a to-do list, and this contributes to the lack of implementation of some projects after the country’s fiscal package is read in Parliament.
This was one of the “quirks” inherent in the way Trinidad and Tobago’s budget is constructed, former Central Bank governor Ewart Williams said yesterday at a Media Training Seminar on budget reporting hosted by the Department of Economics at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine.
“How the budget process is done is like a wish list. I don’t think ministries thought through or did proper preparatory work for some of these projects to be implemented over the next fiscal year,” he said.
There is then under-spending on the capital account, he said, due to insufficient or less-than-rigorous project preparation and poor project implementation.
Another quirk that gives the appearance of a balance sheet with a better-than-budgeted fiscal performance is the fact that the budget is usually planned along the lines of a very conservative estimate of energy prices, while actual revenues are based on current prices.
Williams also commented on the fact that information on the actual process for determining the budget was difficult to obtain or access—to find the specifics one must comb through the documents that go along with the statement, something very few people do.
The lack of information was also highlighted by Malini Maharaj, a lecturer in the Economics Department.
Citing the Open Budget Index, produced every two years by the International Budget Partnership based in the US capital, Washington, DC, Maharaj said Trinidad and Tobago ranked 47 out of 100 countries with a score of 38 out 100.
This classed the country in the “low” profile for giving minimal information on the budget.
She said, “according to the report, there was the need to not only increase the availability of information in existing documents but also in certain other documents that were produced, for example the mid-year review. The mid-year review is also only available for internal use; (the Ministry of Finance should) publish the mid-year review. It should also produce a pre budget statement, a citizen’s budget, and a year-end report.”
Finance Minister Larry Howai will present the 2014 national budget in Parliament on September 9.