Covid19 influences THA’s $4.71b budget

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Cognisant of the need to rebuild Tobago’s economy, post covid19, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is requesting $4.71 billion from central government in its 2020/2021 budget, the largest chunk being proposed for the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development.

The THA is requesting the division, headed by Tracy Davidson-Celestine, receive $801.7 million to continue its fight against covid19.

In his budget presentation on Monday at the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, Secretary of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack said the sum will not only enhance the division’s infrastructure but also prepare the island for the potentially devastating effects of a second wave of the virus.

On Saturday, Davidson-Celestine said although the country is on the verge of reopening fully from the virus, her division is still preparing for a second wave of the virus.

She told a news conference at the Scarborough Library within the past two weeks, the division has ramped up its risk communication and community engagement initiatives to ensure Tobagonians are tested for the virus.

Jack said covid19 has forced countries around the world to urgently review their respective economic agendas.

“Covid19 has upended all previous forecast for the global economy leading to a virtual shutdown of the economy,” Jack said in his three-hour presentation.

As a result, Jack said the budget, titled Recalibrating Our Priorities Towards A More Resilient Future, took into account the negative impact of the pandemic, particularly on small, tourism-dependent islands like Tobago.

Jack is hoping central government will give the THA an allocation close to what it has projected.

Last year, the THA requested $4.72 billion but received only $2.283 billion in the 2020 national budget.

“Madam Presiding Officer (Vanessa Cutting-Thomas), taken together, the overall budgetary requests of the Tobago House of Assembly for fiscal 2021 is $4.71 billion,” Jack said.

He added the figure represents funding for the Assembly’s development programme and recurrent estimates as well as provisions for Cepep and URP.

He said the Assembly has requested the Divisions of Education, Innovation and Energy (DIQE) and Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment receive $525.6 million and $475 million, respectively.

Jack said the budget focused on 12 main areas: economic stimulation; enhancing government’s framework; revitalisation of the tourism sector; revitalisation of the agricultural sector and improving food security; strengthening small and medium enterprises; building strategic digital infrastructure; enriching educational opportunities and enriching human capital development; preserving health and well-being; expanding housing opportunities; augmenting social safety net support; investing in physical infrastructure and environmental sustainability.

The package proposed major initiatives in agriculture tourism, health and education.

It included the long-awaited construction of a new Scarborough Secondary School at an estimated cost of $200 million on a proposed site, which was not disclosed.

After his presentation, Jack, who is also the Deputy Chief Secretary, told reporters the $4.71 billion sum is slightly below last year’s estimate.

He said the decision to request the largest chunk of the budget for the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development was deliberate.

“We have placed particular emphasis on the health sector, the division that has had the largest slice of the pie. So, we will ensure that they receive the necessary funding to continue all of the protocols as it relates to the management of the covid19 pandemic.”

Jack described the statement as comprehensive, saying it cut across all sectors.

“What I have done as well is for us to take stock and look at our achievements over the past three years in terms of what we have been able to achieve with limited financial resources, even in the face of declining oil and gas revenues and issues related to the covid19 pandemic.”

Jack said notwithstanding these challenges, the THA has succeeded in its development agenda.

“We continue to manage the resources of the Assembly in a prudent manner.”

Jack urged Tobagonians to download the budget estimates and scrutinise the information.

“We also welcome their suggestions and recommendations. We are open for dialogue with our stakeholders and for persons to interrogate the data provided in the budget statement.”

Commenting on the budget, economist Anslem Richards said it is not “strategically responsive” to the challenges confronting the country post covid19.

“The budget follows the same pattern of the PNM administration over the last 20 years,” he said.

“It is an expenditure-laden document and there is no working through in terms of productivity and job creation, which is really a challenge in Tobago.”

REQUESTS FOR FISCAL 2021

Assembly Legislature – $24.8 million

Office of the Chief Secretary – $167.4 million

Finance and the Economy – $291.7 million

Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries – $276.5 million

Tourism, Culture and Transportation – $234.7 million

Education, Innovation and Energy – $525.6 million

Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour – $118.4 million

Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment – $475 million

Health, Wellness and Family Development – $801.7 million

Settlements, Urban Renewal and Public Utilities – $41.2 million

Sport and Youth Affairs – $104. 9 million

Unemployment Relief Programme – $71 million

CEPEP – $43 million

EXPENDITURE ESTIMATES FOR 2021.

Recurrent expenditure – $3.07 billion

Personal expenditure – $840.9 million

Goods and services – $1 billion

Development programme expenditure – $1.5 billion

Minor equipment purchases – $90.7 million

Transfers and subsidies – $1.1 billion

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