FOLLOWING are comments on the 2014 Budget by Gerald Hadeed, Minister of Communication:
AS a former businessman who has operated throughout the Caribbean, I consider it a privilege to be able to merge that perspective with my current portfolio and to comment on certain criticisms that have been made on the budget statement 2014.
• My concern about the responses to the budget presented by Minister Howai is that most of the commentators and critics do not make the connection with sustainable development. In other words, each budget so far has been a step towards sustainability instead of only short-term solutions.
• We need to avoid condemning a plane because it has a battery problem. If Boeing and Airbus had done that they would have bankrupted their companies and set back international aviation by many years.
• So if there is a problem with how GATE is administered, we can fix that problem. We can put in the checks and balances necessary to make it more efficient
• Similarly, the idea of making laptops available to secondary school students is working it has demonstrated that it can make a positive contribution to education. Laptops are useful research tools, as has been said. Laptops must now be better integrated into the day-to-day work that students do and are here to stay.
• We tend to look at the exceptions rather than the rule. How many schools were repaired during the vacation? How many opened on time and presented the children with a much better environment and facilities than they had before? I am sure that the Minister of Education will deal with the details but all of us know that in Trinidad and Tobago it is extremely difficult to get contractors to complete jobs on time regardless of how hard we try. We know that. We know the factors that cause delays including weather. So why are we imposing a different standard on the Government than we impose on ourselves or the private sector. All developers, all major companies, should tell me what percentage of their projects are or were delivered on time and within budget. Why do we continue to hold the Government to different and more rigorous standards when we do not hold ourselves to the same standards?
• I am amazed at the criticism on the budget regarding agriculture. On the one hand we have people insisting on performance-based budgets and on the other condemning the allocation for agriculture on the basis it is the same as last year. It is over a billion dollars and is based on the work-programme of the Ministry. In any case, if there is a case for more expenditure in agriculture I am sure the Minister will review it and bring it to the Cabinet. The point is rather than criticise come with ideas. We would welcome ideas from the entire business sector including agriculturists. It is one thing to criticise and condemn—that is easy. Where it is difficult is to put ideas and projects on the table. In any case, we had more local produce available to consumers this year than previously and I want to join Minister Devant Maharaj in complimenting the farmers and telling them that we are all here to help and welcome their suggestions for producing even more.
• Regarding tourism, it is true that we do not have the same attractions as the rest of the region or even Tobago. But we have our own attractions right here in Trinidad that are unique on which we can build. If there is no restroom facilities on the way to Toco that is easy to solve. What is more difficult is finding our niche in the tourism industry and building on it. Again, we have to move from what I would call the “outhouse” view to one that is broader and sees the entire industry. Outhouses can be fixed or installed but what we need to do is to visualise and conceptualise the larger ballpark before looking at whether we have enough restrooms.
• On the whole, as a former businessman, I join my colleagues in saying this second budget by Minister Howai takes us one step further along the road to sustainable development. While there might be some course corrections needed as we go along, while we have to fix the battery so to speak, the super jumbo has taken off and will take us safely, securely and successfully forward.
• So let me congratulate the Minister of Finance and the Economy and his team and urge my colleagues in the private sector to determine in what ways they can add value to this budget and help to shift our economy away from a total dependence on non-renewable resources.