Chief Sec: THA has debts of close to $1b

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Farley Augustine at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex, Scarborough. Photo source: THA information department

The present Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has incurred debts of close to $1 billion, says Chief Secretary Farley Augustine.

Augustine, speaking with Newsday on Monday, said there is a heap of outstanding debts within the assembly to be paid.

“This is an inheritance – this is what we met there.”

He said the THA’s creditors included contractors, utility companies, those owed gratuity payments and service providers.

“To list all the people will be an extremely long list. TRHA (the Tobago Regional Health Authority) alone owes T&TEC about $15 million, and owes the helicopter services $27-plus million.

“So we have to manage the debt, or else we will have no money for capital development.”

The TRHA debt of $27 million for helicopter services to transport patients to Trinidad was first revealed in February at a meeting of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee to examine the internal controls, expenditure and the accessibility and availability of diagnostic imaging services at public health institutions with specific reference to the TRHA.

Then, Dr Victor Wheeler, acting medical chief of staff at the Scarborough hospital said Tobago’s $70 million cardiac catherisation lab has not been used since 2015, and therefore cardiac patients requiring further care are transferred by helicopter to Trinidad.

Angel Second-Ali, acting general manager of corporate services at the TRHA, said the price per transfer was $115,000, that is, approximately $60,000 per hour, adding that an average transfer takes one to two hours, hence the $115,000.

Former THA chief administrator Bernadette Solomon-Koroma then told the committee the THA was “coming up with a payment plan to address that outstanding liability, and hopefully we can settle this within the next six months. We intend to find that money to pay off that debt.”

Former chief secretary Ancil Dennis, in a WhatsApp voice note, said the THA’s carrying debt was nothing new.

“Debt is a feature of governments globally. All over the world government carry debts.

“In the Tobago context, we are allocated most times between $2-$300 million to treat with our development needs on the island. That is woefully inadequate, insufficient. It is not even enough to pave the roads.”

He said the current chief secretary some time ago helped to “totally derail” the process of granting Tobago internal self-government.

“The process I’m talking about are those two bills that went to the Parliament, brought by this PNM administration, seeking to give Tobago additional autonomy. Those bills would have placed into the coffers of the THA an additional $1.5 billion.

“So it’s interesting that after doing that, he’s now complaining about insufficient resources in the THA.

“But it is what the PNM administrations of the past have had to deal with, and yes, we made it look easy.”

He said the PNM-led THA has used its $250 million or so on development “and made it look as if it was billions of dollars.

“The reality is, in order to do that, you have to carry some level of debt. That money is not even enough to pave the roads, much less build the bridges and the drains and the retaining walls. And then of course, you have the maintenance of your existing infrastructure and your new facilities that the people may demand, whether it be sporting facilities or community facilities, even that city of Scarborough project – where is the funding coming from? Debt has to be incurred.”