A final figure for the national budget is still to be determined, but Finance Minister Larry Howai says the figure will likely include several one-off payments the government has been owing for several years.
“There are a number of payments which I have found over the course of the year that we didn’t budget for but which ought to have been made and have been outstanding for some time.
“For example, Petrotrin is owed about $6 billion by the government. That goes back over several years and it is my intention that is settled this year.
“There are other people owed quite substantial amounts and it is my intention that we make appropriate allowances in the budget to ensure these are paid.
“In making these payments there will be some increase in expenditure but we need to clear off the balance sheet, so to speak.
“It is our intention that these things get cleared up at the same time keeping our deficit down in accordance to the plan and ensuring critical macro-economic indicators, like debt to GDP will remain well managed,” he told reporters at a news conference yesterday at his ministry’s offices, Eric Williams Financial Complex, Port of Spain.
He said commentators should not be too concerned if there was a record budget this year, because while he still hadn’t seen the final figure, so he couldn’t say if it was a record, “I know there will be exceptional expenses that will be one-off that need to be brought to account during the course of this year which are likely to impact the overall number.”
On Sunday, the Office of the Prime Minister announced that Budget Day will be on September 9. Last year on October 1, Howai delivered his maiden budget speech—and the largest budget in the country’s history, topping out at $58.4 billion and including a $7.7 billion deficit.
This year the budget will come before local government elections are expected to be held in October.
While some people, including the Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, have claimed budget day is a distraction from the election, Howai said the date was not a surprise to the ministry, and that the preparation process is “always pretty tight”. He said consultations have been going on all year round.
Expected in the budget is the announcement of how the government plans to roll out the new system of land and building taxes. He said the new system will be implemented in phases.
He also admitted over the last year there could have been more diversification, especially in the non-energy sector, despite its growth.
“Certainly the non-energy sector has been positive. I need to see more diversification where the focus is on generation of foreign exchange by the sector, so we can take up the slack from the energy sector over time,” he said.
He also said the government was looking at all options regarding the removal of the fuel subsidy. “We recognise over time the subsidy has to be removed and we need to come back to market forces. At the same time do so in a way that does not dislocate the economy and result in an unfair burden to working people,” he said.
He also said the focus of the ministry remains getting the country back to a balanced budget.
Asked if he thought people would expect the budget to contain election promises, Howai said: “The budget is not just a technical document but a political and social document, so one has to recognise all the forces that will come into play when one is preparing the budget and all the demands from the different segments of society.
“The thing about a budget is it’s not always something everybody agrees with. Irrespective of where you position yourself can lead to difficulties.”