$800m for energy ministry, $15m for foreign affairs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Reginald Armour, from left, Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon during a Senate sitting on December 13, 2022. The Senate passed the Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) 2022 Bill on January 25. – FILE PHOTO/AYANNA KINSALE

THE Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) (Financial Year 2022) Bill 2023 was passed in the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill approved the sum of $815,567,165 – $800 million for the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI), and the remaining $15,567,165 to the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs.

The bill was piloted by Finance Minister Colm Imbert who explained that the sum for the first ministry was for an additional fuel subsidy, while the sum for the second ministry was for repairs to missions in three US cities, as well as for health care, increased security, housing, and other necessities for mission staff.

Opposition Senator Wade Mark asked why the $800 million was not appropriated in the allocation requested in the mid-year review.

“If, as the Finance Minister admitted, oil prices were under constant review, why didn’t government project the subsidy needed and ask for it in the mid-year review, where only $300 million was allocated to the MEEI in 2022?

“Why didn’t he allocate more money to subsidies in May and July 2022?

“Why weren’t we told about this beforehand and now coming here to approve it after the fact?”

He also said it was rubbish that government had to allocate money to repair damage to missions caused by winter storms, as these can be forecast and the buildings should have been adequately prepared.

He asked if there were policies in place on maintenance, housing, and medical services for staff in missions.

Independent Senator Varma Deyalsingh said there needed to be a breakdown in allocations to fix the three residences, the contracts awarded, and how procurement was handled.

He asked whether it was necessary to pay more for security as he did not think TT was under attack.

Temporary Opposition Senator Dominic Smith said the allocation of this large sum should not be taken lightly and asked why the population was not seeing the material benefits of savings claimed by government.

He said since the US was a temperate country there should have been sufficient and proper planning in place for winter.

Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine said she did not think it was warranted that the allocation being requested was drawn from the Treasury deposits.

She asked why the supplementation has not been requested in the mid-year review.

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial raised the issue of whether the post of an Inspector of Missions had been filled, as this would enable the views of staff at missions to be heard as well as perhaps curtailing expenses.

In his response, Imbert said the main reason that only $300 million was requested in the mid-year review was that at the time, the government had a surplus on its hands.

He said insurance premiums have been rising in the US, with disaster-prone states having the highest premiums.

“Over the last year the US experienced the second highest number of billion-dollar climate and weather disasters on record, and the highest number of disaster-related deaths.

The budget is an estimate, neither the budget division nor I could have predicted it would have been the second worst winter in 100 years.”

Imbert said private security costs have been increasing in all world capitals, for reasons such as tensions, turmoil, protests, diplomats being put under pressure, and people becoming radicalised.

He said US health care costs have also skyrocketed since 2021, impacted by global inflation, which meant it cost more to supply health care plans for mission staff.

The bill was passed without being sent to a committee of the whole Senate.

The Senate was adjourned until January 31 at 1.30 pm.