“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” is a well-known idiom, which implies that the value of the government’s 2020-2021 budget will be in its implementation and not in its stated intention.
Over the past few years its budgets have elucidated enviable objectives but many of these have not materialised. Disregarding previous implementation failures, this budget is quite good, bearing in mind the current economic circumstances and the pre-budget fears that preceded it.
It is very commendable to see that Agriculture has been given an additional $500 million but common complaints have been access roads, praedial larceny and packaging facilities. How much of the additional funds will be utilised to finally address these perennial issues? This agricultural aspect of diversification demands much-needed proper implementation.
Given the continuing decreases in energy revenues, the budget needed to be more cognisant of diversification of its revenue streams to meet its expenses. Large oil producers and many countries are moving towards alternative energy sources but the budget did not place much emphasis on this initiative.
It is also quite instructive that filling of public sector vacancies except in special cases, will be on hold for at least one year. This objective should be utilised to improve teamwork within and among almost all public service entities where operating in silos seems the norm. A classic case is the Ministry of Works paving roads and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) literally going the next day to “fix leaks” and leaving the road in an unbelievable mess. Public servants must become more productive and responsive to addressing customer care issues. The moratorium on new hires must be used to improve efficiency and facilitate retraining for better performance.
The potential water rate increases without addressing wanton wastage of water from its distribution system speaks of absolute disdain for the cries and complaints from thousands of citizens. This sordid perennial state of affairs should have been clearly stated in the budget as a proviso for increased rates, even though the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) has its policies and processes regarding rate increases.
Privatisation of National Petroleum (NP) gas stations and the port of Port of Spain are very laudable objectives to allow market forces to dictate prices. However, astute evaluation of proposals must be demanded irrespective of political affiliation. It is imperative that relevant Industry captains constitute part of the evaluation team, which must expedite its evaluation and present it to the appropriate line Minister to have approval by Cabinet and debated in Parliament to ensure transparency, all in less than a maximum of two months.
Whilst personal income tax allowance has increased by $12 thousand, the retirees who no longer work but still pay income tax have been overlooked, despite the fact that inflation eats at their pensions. Also, the poorer amongst us have to continue to pay value-added tax (VAT) on basic food items. In addition to increasing taxes on luxury items, the government should have addressed the poor and needy in a more fundamental manner than providing free mobile WiFi and laptops for pupils who do not have internet service. Does education take precedence over “putting food on the table?” A balance needs to be struck.
Overall, the stated intention of the budget is very commendable in the current economic climate and will attract both positives and negatives but the key objective in its realisation is its implementation. Sagacious leadership, knowledgeable implementation teams and ability to navigate non-political waters are key to fulfilling the government’s budget mandate and moving the economy from its current negative to a positive growth position.