FINANCE Minister Larry Howai yesterday admitted that problems in the economy had no "magic wand" solution and would not be solved in this year's Budget, or even the next.
"What we can do is lay the groundwork to move towards (a diversified) Trinidad and Tobago," he told the audience at a Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce pre-Budget breakfast meeting yesterday at the Chamber Building, Westmoorings.
"As I look out into the future I see the dynamics of a changing economy... It is very important for me that we develop cohesiveness in society and dialogue in how we go about restructuring our society to make ourselves competitive in the future in a mature way that recognises interests from everyone, but also which recognises the fact that today's environment changes so fast. Nevertheless, we have to aim for something," he continued.
Howai is already planning how he would transform the economy as he prepares for the 2012/2013 National Budget.
"In seeing how the economy unfolds, my initial thoughts are to keep the economy growing by infrastructural spending to increase productivity, and then in the medium term, focusing on some of the downstream industries for diversification," he said.
He said growth was his main priority, and in determining how best (his team) budgets and lays the foundation for growth in the future, the medium term plan would be to focus on developing four key industries: tourism, downstream energy, financial services, and information and communication technology.
Some of the important issues the country needed to focus on, he said, were labour and productivity issues, as well as diversification, in order to set ourselves on the path to global competitiveness. He said the country, because of energy wealth, had never sought actively to diversify, but as the price of oil and gas changes, so must the economy.
"Where we are now are will characterise where we go in the future and more and more it is incumbent on us to make the change in order to be competitive. We as individuals need to be competitive...We are a country that can change our economy. I am confident we can because we have done it before throughout our history," Howai said.
And, in an interview with the Express after the meeting, Chamber chief executive Catherine Kumar suggested that Budget preparations should be a year-round planning event, instead of just three months before the presentation.
"The Budget process needs to be longer than just these three months before, because by the time we put forward recommendations – some of which require thorough research—(the Finance Ministry doesn't have the time to asses them). The consultation should be year round—just like we do Carnival—so by the time we reach July we pretty much already know what we want to go forward with, and the Ministry is using these three months before to put the Budget together," she said.
She added that the Chamber had already submitted its recommendations for the 2013 Budget to Finance Minister Larry Howai.