Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis has described the 2021 Budget Presentation by Finance Minister Colm Imbert as “appropriate and fair”. The Tobago House of requested $4.71 billion but received $2.134 billion. In an exclusive interview with Guardian Media immediately after the budget presentation, Dennis said he was pragmatic in his expectations, stating that the THA would make the adjustments where necessary.
“We would focus on a number of priority areas Tourism, Agriculture, Social Support, support to our businesses as well on the island as we have been doing over the last three months, so that will continue and we will make the adjustments where necessary of course on the DP side, we are once again significantly underfunded where we only got $200 million, $31 million less than last year. However, we expect an additional $300 million through Bond Financing and we hope to utilize other mechanisms,” he said.
Historically, the THA has never received the total requested sum from any government, past governments have stayed within the 4.03 to 6.9 per cent as stipulated by the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC). Questioned on if he was disappointed in the allocation, Dennis said he was pragmatic in his expectations, due to the current economic climate.
“After our budget presentation back in June, I said without mixing any words, that Tobago will not get what we asked for because that has been the situation historically and of course given the current climate we would not have gotten that four-point odd billion dollars as requested, so I am not necessarily disappointed, but I’m quite prepared to make the necessary adjustments from the perspective of the Executive Council and I am quite hopeful about the future,” he said
Commenting on the freeze in hiring in the public sector, Dennis said the decision would also apply to the THA. He said discussions were held with the Chief Administrator and the Secretaries at the level of the Executive Council, as the country is in a difficult period.
He said the THA would be reducing spending on minor equipment and purchase of vehicles.
He also called on Tobagonians to be hopeful.
“I want the people of Tobago to remain hopeful in spite of the challenges, because this pandemic affects all of us, not only in the country but the entire world is grappling with the situation. I think at this point in time we have good leadership both in Trinidad and in Tobago…and, therefore, all the decisions that are taken at the national level and both in the Tobago context are in the best interest of the people,” Dennis said.
The Executive Council would engage in a retreat on Friday and Saturday to prioritize projects with the funding allocated.
Meanwhile, Political Leader of the Tobago Council of the PNM Tracy Davidson-Celestine said, the budget was forward-looking and embraced the challenges and opportunities of a global and interconnected local market. She said, at the moment Tobago has an overarching obligation to manage its spend, monitor employment to protects workers, to develop the island’s economy, strengthen skills and development.
“Tobagonians also have a big role to play, as we grapple with the new norms. Our individual productivity and innovation are critical to success in this coming year. We must take a close look at efficiency if we are to preserve jobs and productivity.”
“We have to become the catalyst for sustainable economic growth and poverty alleviation. Meaningful growth will be achieved by enabling the private sector to lead and do what it does best, growing our economy and creating employment. As outlined in the 2020 budget.”