Tobago Business Chamber: Government giving mixed signals

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Tobago Business Chamber president Martin George –

The Tobago Business Chamber has described as “mixed signals,” the government’s presentation of the Mid-Year Budget Review on Monday in the House of Representatives.

In the presentation, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced that Trinidad and Tobago achieved a surplus of $1.98 billion at the end of April, instead of a projected deficit of $5.7 billion.

While Imbert did not mention any specific arrangement for Tobago in the presentation, the chamber’s chairman Martin George said in a Whatsapp voice note on Tuesday, “The Tobago Business Chamber wishes to express its appreciation for any increased allocation that the government has given in relation to Tobago in their mid-year review.”

He added, “However, we do express our concern as it relates to what appears to be mixed signals coming from the government because on the one hand we hear of the economic challenges in the country, and then the picture painted by the Minister of Finance in terms of the mid-year review, which seems to be a bright and rosy picture.”

George said if the latter were the case, the government did not have to increase fuel prices.

“One needs to question why the government then felt it necessary to have that removal of the fuel subsidy or reduction in the level of fuel subsidy which resulted in increased fuel prices for consumers, which then had a knock-on effect on everything, if it is that we are so much out of the slump as the Minister of Finance has indicated.”

The Prime Minister in March told the country that the public cannot be insulated from the hike in fuel prices owing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said the fuel subsidy had become unsustainable.

George said if the country is experiencing good news, he hoped the government would use the opportunity to increase its diversification thrust.

“A major part of that would be some serious focus on the tourism industry in Tobago and ensuring that things such as the current legislative regime, which strangles direct foreign investment, that those things are removed.”

He repeated the chamber’s call for the immediate and unconditional repeal of the Foreign Investment Act.

George again called on the government to consider making Tobago a VAT-free zone so that people can choose Tobago as their retirement home.

“So, therefore, you are immediately saved 12.5 per cent of all your expenses by coming to live in Tobago as a VAT-free zone. It is something both Tobagonians and Trinidadians will enjoy. It is not just for Tobagonians. So, it is going to be tremendous benefit for everybody.”

He said there must a boost in investment in Tobago.

“These are two simple measures that the government can take to make an immediate impact. The country is crying out for foreign exchange. If we remove that foreign investment act, the amount of foreign investors who will come to Tobago and pump foreign exchange into Trinidad and Tobago is going to be amazing.

“So, we call upon the government to be creative and innovative while trying to manage the economy, and we are saying there are simple things that can be done and the Tobago business chamber calls upon the government to take these steps now to help alleviate the pressures on the economy in Tobago.”