Tobago Chamber: Mid-year review silent on covid19 economic recovery plan

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Tobago Chamber of Industry & Commerce president Diane Hadad

Tobago Chamber of Industry & Commerce president Diane Hadad says she has not yet heard anything from the government about the effects of covid19 on the island’s economy and the recovery process.

She was responding to the government’s mid-year budget review, presented in the House of Representatives on Monday.

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

The surplus, which he felt reflected some buoyancy in the economy, will cover operational expenses across several ministries, divisions and entities. The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is expected to receive some $60 million.

Among other things, Imbert said the excess funding will be used to pay contractors, utility bills and assist businesses that suffered during the covid19 pandemic over the past two years.

While she could not say how the money will be spent, Hadad reasoned it would not be enough to get Tobago on an economically stable footing and begin the island’s recovery.

“Therefore, the Tobago outlook needs to be one that has a lot more depth put into the process and decision-making, because I am not sure what $60 million is going to do for the island,” she told Newsday.

“In terms of the (THA) administration declaring that they met empty coffers and lots of unpaid bills, along with a number of queries and audits that they are now conducting, (that) means that we are already in a minus position.”

Hadad claimed the feeling on the island is one of stagnation.

“On the road, you are not seeing any measure of maintenance going on and it is clear that something must be a serious factor. And based on what we are hearing it can only be funding. As a result, I am not sure that $60 million is going to assist in any meaningful way.”

She said the effects of covid19 on the economy and the recovery from them did not seem to be “a conversation that is happening in a real way.”

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James welcomed Imbert’s announcement of an increase in the payment of VAT refunds.

“That is a very good, because more money will be circulating, and people will be able to invest that money in their businesses,” she told Newsday.

Birchwood-James is optimistic that Tobago will benefit from the extra money it has received.

“It is a bit of a windfall. We have not had something like that since 2013, and I am hoping that we use it wisely, to our benefit.”

She said money must be pumped into the tourism sector, especially for marketing, “because all of the other countries are getting a little windfall in tourism.

“People want to come out, people want to visit. And therefore we need to do some more marketing to enjoy that windfall that the other Caribbean islands are enjoying at the moment.”