Senate sits Tuesday for mid-year review

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert – File photo

THE Senate sits from 10 am on Tuesday to debate the Finance (Supplementation and Variation of Appropriation) (Financial Year 2023) Bill, 2023, the mid-year review.

The bill, which approved $3.8 billion in additional funding for 22 ministries to continue operations until the end of the fiscal year in September, was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on May 10.

The House’s Standing Finance Committee met on May 5 to examine this supplementary funding, which was outlined in the bill. The committee approved this funding on the same day.

The bill is classified as a money bill. Under its standing orders, the Senate cannot deliberate on such legislation at committee stage, and approves it when the debate ends.

In his opening contribution to the debate, Finance Minister Colm Imbert reiterated Government’s commitment to clear off Value Added Tax (VAT) debts owed to businesses.

Application bonds for VAT bonds were made available online from the ministry.

VAT bonds will be issued with a three-year tenor at a fixed interest rate of 3.15 per cent per annum, he said.

“Only applicants owed in excess of $250,000 would be eligible to receive VAT bonds.”

Refunds of $250,000 or less will be paid in cash between May and June.

Imbert also reiterated that despite its challenges and claims from various critics, the economy is doing well.

Over the last five-six years, Imbert said the Prime Minister, Energy Minister Stuart Young and former energy minister Franklin Khan (deceased) were able to negotiate successfully with multinational energy companies”prices for revenue from natural gas that are not the function of the Henry Hub (gas) price.”

The netback prices for natural gas, from which TT now gets some of its energy revenue, are now based on a combination of the Henry Hub, NBP and JKM (US, European and Japanese) natural-gas benchmarks.

When all three benchmarks are considered together, Imbert said TT benefits from natural gas netback prices of between US$5 and 6 per mmbtu compared to US$2.30 per mmbtu if only Henry Hub were used.

Imbert highlighted the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article IV report, issued in March, which praised Government for “prudently managing the energy revenue windfall, avoiding procyclical spending, and rebuilding fiscal buffers, while providing targeted support to the most vulnerable.”

When the Senate last sat on May 12, debate was adjourned on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial by Judge Alone) Bill, 2023, after opposition and independent senators expressed concerns about judge-alone trials replacing jury trials. Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, indicated this was not the bill’s intention.

Though it remains listed on the Senate Order Paper, it is unlikely that Armour will conclude debate on the bill on Tuesday. The Senate may deal with the bill at a subsequent sitting.