Another visionless budget is what we can expect from Finance Minister, Colm Imbert on October 4. That is the forecast that a former minister in the ministry of finance has given to PSA media when he was asked to give some of his expectations for the budget presentation next month.
Vasant Bharath in a telephone conversation said: “The minister has locked himself in. I think we will see more of the same promises he has made in the past with regards to putting in place the statistical institute, the revenue authority, well of course he is going to bring property tax. I suspect he is going to be borrowing more funds because the deficit was projected to be 8.2 billion dollars for 2020-2021. In the mid-term review, he revealed that expenditure had increased by five billion and revenues had decreased by three billion and that means there is an additional eight billion so we are looking at a deficit of around 16 billion.” Bharath noted that the only way the finance minister can fund that deficit presently is through borrowing from the Heritage and Stabilisation fund. He summarized his expectation by saying that Imbert will simply blame everything on Covid-19 and advise the population to tighten its belt until the revenue authority and property tax are implemented.
The former agriculture minister, who in December 2020 was the lone candidate to challenge the incumbent Opposition Leader for the leadership of the United National Congress which he lost by a landslide admitted that the government did manage the Covid-19 pandemic reasonably well, but conveyed that the pandemic had also unmasked and exposed a lot of our problems and inequities in society. However, he noted that there had been recommendations to address some of the issues in committees such as the roadmap to recovery committee but those recommendations were never implemented. He said that the recommendations should have been working alongside the health initiatives but that never happened. “I have kept saying to people for the past year that we would end up resolving the health issues eventually, but we will end up with an economic pandemic.” Bharath insisted that it is exactly what has happened and blamed the government’s one-dimensional approach.
Bharath who under the Peoples Partnership administration held three portfolios at once said that the budget has been reduced to an accounting exercise. He noted that we needed to start conversations about future planning and converse about where a lot of jobs we used to know are either going to become archaic or changed because the dynamics of work is rapidly changing and thus our education system needs to reflect that alteration from the type of learning that the older generations once knew.
Bharath told PSA media what he expects to see in the budget and what he would like to see in the budget are two different things.
“What I will like to see in the budget is support for people who have been severely disadvantaged by the pandemic. So for example pensioners who have found themselves in a situation where they are unable to afford medication because their cost of living has gone up significantly. So they are finding it difficult to live day-to-day. I will like to see some support and incentive for young people who have lost hope in Trinidad and Tobago because they cannot find a job or because the education that they have gone to school or university for has been rendered useless because of a lack of opportunities. I will like to see some kind of hope given to those people who have lost their jobs and there is no hope for employment. I will like to see hope given to small and medium-sized enterprises that have been decimated as a result of the pandemic. In the sense that right now many of them are finding it extremely difficult either to reopen or if they have reopened they are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet.” He said this is because in many instances they have outstanding rent due for landlords, property tax looming, difficulty to get foreign exchange and the ease of doing business is becoming extremely difficult.
He noted that when he was a minister the country’s ease of doing business was 62 but had now risen to 105.