Finance Minister Colm Imbert chose as the theme for his sixth budget presentation yesterday, Resetting the Economy for Growth and Innovation.
From the get-go he was frank about what COVID-19 had done to the economy—13,000 citizens either lost their jobs or had to survive on a reduced income. It was the reason why the Government spent $129 million to help the most vulnerable, Minister Imbert said.
What the minister did not tell the country was how much of that money actually got into the hands of the people who needed it most.
In one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history, Imbert announced that the Government was proceeding apace with the rolling out of the Property Tax. There is never a right time for taxes but COVID-19 has not just decimated the economy but many of the most vulnerable families. How people will afford to pay the tax when it is rolled out next year is something the Government needs to consider.
It was heartwarming to hear about an employment plan to be created with the help of the private sector to create desperately needed jobs.
The complete removal of taxes on those earning $7,000 or less and increase in exemptions on those earning above that also puts more money into the hands of income earners.
Other measures which will go a long way in helping those who need include the $50 million to be spent on laptops for the children who need it most and the free internet access through MyFi which will benefit some 45,000 students now without connectivity.
Imbert’s announcement of a review of WASA and T&TEC tariffs in 2021 may, however, draw mixed reactions.
Incentives for agriculture that started last year with the removal of taxes will continue with an injection of $500 million to boost the sector. The Government will support the rapid expansion of commodities, root tubers, fruits and small livestock and the use of alternative feedstock.
The minister assured that land issues will also be addressed. This country’s food import bill continues to be exorbitantly high and initiatives to incentivise and encourage farmers and agriculturalists are welcome.
COVID-19 has created a new breed of farmer. People have started backyard gardens because many of them just don’t have the purchasing power they once had.
There are other notable initiatives, including the removal of subsidies on fuel and the sale of all NP stations. While the fuel subsidy removal may not impact now due to low energy sector prices, it could when that sector recovers.
However, it is the measures to assist the most vulnerable that will have the greatest impact.
Citizens have suffered for the past seven months due to the pandemic and one hopes the Budget will bring relief rather than more hardship. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding and this media house will be looking closely at how the announced measures impact the country because COVID-19 does not seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon.