Some budget considerations
There are indications the 2012/13 national budget speech will be generally a "stay as you are" presentation, which will therefore contain no new radical policy perspectives. This is to be expected, given the relatively stable and satisfactory performance of the economy at this time. While Finance Minister Larry Howai could cite his relative newness in office and the fact that consequently, he would have found the ministry well advanced in the act of preparing this year's budget, I am nevertheless confident and will, indeed, be disappointed if the presentation on October 1 does not contain the following perspectives:
1. Given the deteriorating social fabric generally, the announcement of path-breaking measures aimed at eradicating poverty and deprivation among the population. In this regard, he would target areas such as Laventille/Morvant, La Horquetta and Maloney, where there is marked deterioration in the infrastructure and the housing stock and a need to put the inhabitants to work.
2. Notwithstanding his indication that there would be no increases in taxes , I urge the minister to read "taxes" to mean "overall taxation". In my view, there is no plausible reason for maintaining the current income tax structure unchanged. Are incomes at the higher level a true measure of output and productivity? Is it not possible the ostentatious living which this generates may present a "demonstration effect" within the context of the existing crime situation? Certainly, the better-off in the society ought to be making a greater contribution toward reducing poverty and the removal of its attendant social ills.
3. The minister could not be expected to announce any increases in pensions (Public Service or Old-Age) in this year's budget. However, he will receive kudos—most of all, from the unions—were he to announce plans for moving toward a National Pensions Contributory Scheme to be administered eventually by a re-directed and transformed National Insurance regime.
4. It seems clear some action, however halting, will be taken in respect of the plethora of subsidies. Here the minister would announce a reduction in (and, in some cases, removal of) the fuel subsidy. However, he would do well to look at the general body of subsidies as well, with a view to eliminating those which, in effect, constitute disguised "presents" and those which are a hindrance to the "competitive edge" of the economy.
5. From time immemorial, budget speeches have not been read without the perennial (and now sceptical) reference to development of the agriculture sector and its undoubted possible positive contribution to employment, import substitution and national food security. The minister would do well to announce measures which will indicate clearly that there is going to be a definite and sustainable break with the past by signalling an end to the "one crop" economy. In this regard, he could indicate the subsidies which he proposes for the agriculture sector, including food-processing, may be seen as a "quid pro quo" for their removal in other areas. The Minister should also announce a reinvigorated re-forestation programme which will include planting of food-producing trees. He would say that the lands of Caroni would, at last, be put back to meaningful production.
6. While property taxes will certainly be re-introduced, it will not be surprising if, on this occasion, this takes the form of a revision upward of previous rates only, given the complexity of this exercise. The minister should, however, announce a forthcoming radical change in the structure of these taxes, a change which would be based on wider socio-economic and constitutional considerations.
7. The speech will announce a re-commitment to the San Fernando/Point Fortin Highway project and, inevitably, continuing support for increased oil and gas exploration.
8. Given the depressed nature of the economy of Tobago, the speech will contain measures, both short-term and long-term, for reviving the tourist industry, such as investment in hotel and guesthouse maintenance and construction and activities which will make for a more attractive and visitor-friendly environment.
Errol OC Cupid