Hadad: Tobago’s politics may hinder budget request

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Diana Hadad, former Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce president – File photo/David Reid

BUSINESSWOMAN Diane Hadad believes Tobago’s precarious political climate may prevent the THA from getting the $4.54 billion it is requesting from central government to manage the island’s affairs in fiscal 2023-2024.

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine delivered the budget in the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, on Monday, saying it was designed to put the island on a development path, post-covid19.

Last year, the THA asked the government for $3.97 billion but only received $2.5 billion.

The budget – the second of the Augustine-led THA – came seven months after executive members severed ties with the Progressive Democratic Patriots and declared themselves independents.

The party won 14 of the 15 electoral districts in the December 6, 2021, THA elections, but eight months into its tenure, PDP political leader Watson Duke accused the assembly of failing to assist members of a Roxborough cultural group in New York to perform at an event.

Duke subsequently fired Augustine, Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith BYisrael and Alicia Roberts-Patterson as deputy political leaders. Duke also resigned as deputy chief secretary, but remains the assemblyman for Roxborough/Argyle.

Supporters of the Augustine administration launched the Tobago People’s Party on April 17 at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex. Augustine is its interim political leader.

On Wednesday, Hadad, a former president of the Tobago Chamber of Industry & Commerce, argued that even former PNM-led THAs did not get such hefty allocations.

“They were getting the 4.03 per cent of the national budget (the lowest allocation as prescribed by the Dispute Resolution Commission),” she said.

“So although we know it is justified in terms of developing the island, based on the fact we are in all of this turmoil politically, it will not lend favour to Tobago getting any preferential treatment at this time. That is how I see it.”

Hadad added, “While the ask may be necessary, and is in the best interest of Tobago’s development and economy, at the end of the day there are many unanswered questions that will actually interfere with the decision-making process, and maybe justifiably so in terms of what Tobago gets.”

She said until Tobago comes to “some measure of settling down and people have a clear understanding of where they are going, I would not like to criticise the government if they say, ‘We are not comfortable with how you do what you do, and therefore you need more justification for this change in the numbers.’

“That would be more than justified, because in the past, the same administration being in charge of Tobago, they got the numbers at its lowest. So it’s very difficult, although it’s necessary, to justify it under our present circumstances.”

Tobago Chamber of Commerce president Curtis Williams says members are awaiting the budget debate to get a breakdown of the measures to be implemented per division.

“We truly hope some divisions can really address the outstanding bills from the service providers and suppliers. We look forward to the revised proposal base on the allocation from central government,” he said.