Mr Howai's turn to deliver
Like a thief in the night, the Ministry of Works has surreptitiously moved to scrap the West Port of Spain Traffic Plan, adding yet another layer of confusion to an already confused matter.
To his credit, Finance Minister Larry Howai exercised an admirable level of prudence at the Government's Pre-Budget Rally in declaring that Saturday was not the time for him to speak. As he pointed out, today, Budget Day, is his day to speak and ours to listen as we weigh his analysis of the economy and evaluate his strategy for growth, sustainability and development.
The public's assessment will determine whether Mr Howai's budget can succeed in inspiring much-needed confidence in the Government's handling of the economy.
The tone set by Minister Surujrattan Rambachan's promise of "the merriest Christmas" ever was at stark odds with Minister Howai's more subdued eight-minute presentation to the party faithful. Clearly, he recognises the need for clarity without spin as an essential precondition for public understanding and support of his budgetary measures.
In identifying his priorities as security, food prices and health, Minister Howai has selected areas of mass impact on the population. Whatever the priorities, however, the challenge remains the same.
Trinidad and Tobago enters the fifth year since the global meltdown of 2008 without having come anywhere close to bringing itself back onto the highway of growth on which it had averaged 7.7 per cent in the period 1994-2007.
While the legacy of the 2008 global economic collapse continues to haunt world economies, sustained high energy prices give Trinidad and Tobago a greater advantage than most. In the past year, both oil and gas prices have been above the levels on which the 2012 national budget was based, which should result in a reduced budget deficit.
The immediate priority for us, therefore, is not so much revenue as the quality of economic management for promoting investor, business and consumer confidence; sustainable development and, ultimately, economic transformation to transcend our dependency on oil and gas.
In delivering his budget statement today, Minister Howai will be judged by the coherence of his strategy for meeting immediate needs within a framework for meeting medium and long term goals.
Two years ago, the People's Partnership Government came to office with the political space to ask the population to back some tough choices. It didn't. If anything, its first two budgets have been marked by a level of appeasement and populism. The political fracturing which has led to confrontation with a substantial sector of the trade union movement, has now effectively reduced the space for manoeuvre.
It now falls to Minister Howai to design a strategy for growth that would earn the support of competing interests and avoid the pitfalls of confrontation.
In the context of an increasingly unstable political environment, this could be a tall order. Nonetheless, Mr Howai brings to the task resources of his own which should give him some advantage in stimulating an environment of confidence.
This, however, will depend in whether he has been able resist the temptation to allow the politics to trump the economics.