FINANCE Minister Larry Howai yesterday received both praise and condemnation as experts weighed in on his $58 billion budget presentation.
Speaking on CCN TV6's 'Budget 2012-2013' panel discussion, economist Indera Sagewan-Alli described Howai's presentation as an "excellent delivery" with "the usual restatement of many things".
"I heard the issue of private public partnership, and this is possibly a new tool for Trinidad and Tobago, well used in the rest of the world...and I am very happy to hear this because this is something that I have been calling for and its very nice to hear the minister speak so much, particularly with infrastructure, tourism and healthcare," she said.
Sagewan-Alli however questioned the government's ability to get value for money when the budget itself carried a deficit of $7.69 billion.
"He talked about getting better value for money and this is what concerns me because what we heard was a larger expenditure budget than last year, and if the minister is talking about getting better value for money, which therefore suggests that we have not been doing that, then what? The very least, I would have expected was a cap on the expenditure budget from last year," she said.
Former finance minister Conrad Enill said he felt Howai was moving in the "correct dimension", but there were many things left unaddressed.
"I think the minister has touched on all the items he needs to touch on, he has talked very well about the problems that we have, but what I am not clear about is whether the prescriptions that he has put in the budget will give him the results that he is looking for and whether or, when those things don't happen, how do we manage the negative impact that will occur, that is the piece that really worries me."
"But in terms of his edifying the issues, I think he is correct, I also think he has brought forward a number of things that we would have started that were stopped and in so far as that is concerned, I think that he is moving in the correct dimension," he said.
Chief economist at Republic Bank Ltd, Dr Ronald Ramkissoon, added that while the budget appears to be one that will stimulate growth, there was little said of the "major projects" that were supposed to generate profits last year.
"(This year) there have been a few projects identified. In the case of energy, I think we see a number of initiatives that have been taken over the last couple of years and we expect that by the end of the year we are going to get some action by next year in terms of exploration in the various areas."
"The initiatives in construction, I think can bear fruit, one point I will make about incentives however, while there are several of them which are positive and which can generate growth and employment in construction, there are certain disincentives in the economy and we have learned over time that if you do not remove the disincentives, you will not go very far," he said.
Director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt said while she wanted to wait until she heard what the other ministers had to say, her greatest concern was the areas of social welfare.
"We didn't get very many details about the things that are really burning issues like family court, like the Children's Authority...so I will wait," she said.
Mahabir-Wyatt added however that she "did not expect in his first budget for the new Minister of Finance to attempt to transform the economy".
"I don't think you can do that in one year, I don't think it's realistic, I think that is something that has to come out of a change in culture and it will take a good while," she said.
Meanwhile, Banking Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) president, Vincent Cabrera said Howai failed to explain why the government was unable to settle wage negotiations on time.
"He said the domestic economy remains resilient, he didn't say it has become, he said remains resilient, so I am wondering what was al this hullabaloo over this 5 per cent that caused the government to lose so much grace among the working class."
Cabrera further added that he was still "reflecting because the minister did say he has made an attempt to resolve the burning industrial relations dispute over wage increases".
"But I note that teachers are still unresolved, doctors are still unresolved, police men and women are still unresolved and we have two very important negotiations going on right now with First Citizen's Bank and Republic, both of them are unresolved."
"So I am making the point that I think the state should make an attempt to settle all of the outstanding negotiations in the state sector because the private sector has not really been giving the amount of problems this time around as the state sector in terms of settlement of salary," he said.