Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
The Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) (Financial Year 2022) Bill, 2022 passed in the Senate on Friday following eight hours of debate. The bill, as is customary, did not pass a committee of the whole Senate.
Following the debate, the bill was read a second and third time and then passed.
Acting Prime Minister and Finance Minister Colm Imbert, piloting the bill, said an extra $26.7 million was allocated to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) for child care and protection.
This included $23 million to the Children’s Authority, $3 million to St Jude’s Home, $1 million for non-profit institutions/children’s homes, $289,000 to St Dominic’s Home, and $500,000 for the Cyril Ross Home.
Some $59 million to the OPM would fund a commission of inquiry into land acquisition for the Solomon Hochoy Extension, to pay contract officers in the Division of Gender Affairs, pay arrears to TSTT and TTEC, and fund staff training at the Communications Division and the cost of media adverts. He promised $60 million to the THA to pay the National Helicopter Services to transfer critically ill patients to Trinidad for critical tertiary health-care.
Imbert said the Office of the Attorney General would get $79 million to fund new polymer certificates of births and deaths and similar matters, salary arrears for contract officers, and fees and gratuities to attorneys and accountants. Some $20 million to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture would help repay a $100 million loan taken out to help artistes during the covid19 period and pay some bills.
Opposition senator Jayanti Lutchmedial called for tighter controls and greater oversight of expenditure. She said government should not be shocked about the revelations about children’s homes as previous administrations had gone to the Privy Council to challenge whether children could be housed in adult prisons.
Independent senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye focused on education, and said that non-payment of bills to schools, such as to bus drivers and the feeding programme, was neglect on the part of government.
AG Reginald Amour gave details on the ongoing project of digitisation of the Registrar General’s Department, which was being done with an IDB loan. He corrected an error made in the House, saying that former senior counsel Russell Martineau and associated attorneys were paid a total of $415,815.63 for legal fees, not $790,000 as previously stated. He noted he was looking into the issue of senior citizens fraud.
In wrapping up the debate, Imbert said TT had seen growth in nominal GDP, used by rating agencies to measure debt to GDP ratio, of $40 billion in GDP since 2020. He said GDP data could be found on the CSO website from 2012.
He said the energy sector contributed anywhere from 25 to 30 per cent of TT’s GDP.
He said the fuel and LPG subsidy for 2022 would cost government in excess of $800 million. He said the last withdrawal from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund was in July 2021, and the last time government went to local and foreign markets to borrow was December 2021. He said Petrotrin was not profitable, and still owed government $3 billion dollars in royalties and taxes, while government has had to guarantee loans of $3 billion to pay for losses on operations of the refinery.
Imbert said the government, upon coming into unexpected revenue, to clear off existing debts and arrears, coming up to $641 million, with additional funding for praying down the principal of loans. He reminded the Senate of the recently announced long term government guaranteed loan facility for MSMEs, to be launched in two months.(With reporting by Sean Douglas)