Finance Minister Colm Imbert faces one of the most difficult tasks of any T&T finance minister in history when he presents the Budget for the next 12 months.
What Minister Imbert must do is find ways to stem the retraction of an economy that was already struggling before COVID-19 put a $15 billion hole in it.
Long before 2020, the country’s revenue had taken a big blow with depressed energy prices that slashed at least $20 billion off annual earnings.
The restrictions that came with COVID-19 resulted in a severe shortfall of commercial and financial revenue. Thousands have either been made jobless or have faced major salary cuts.
At the end of their financial years, State and private companies will either be reporting losses or lower profits.
This signals an even bigger shortfall in revenue from the Business Levy, Corporation Tax, Green Fund Levy, Income Tax, Health Surcharge and Value Added Tax.
Although the brunt of revenue collected by Customs comes through major imports, the border closure for the last six months also means less import duties from travellers and a drop in foreign exchange brought in by visitors.
With Carnival 2021 officially cancelled, the revenue generated around it, estimated to be US$650 million, will also not be available. The resulting loss of taxes from earnings generated from Carnival-related business will also not be forthcoming.
While we are all interested in how Minister Imbert plans to allocate funds in the next fiscal year, what is of bigger interest in the Budget will be where the revenue will come from.
The Government is undoubtedly faced with a Herculean task in doing so, particularly given that COVID-19 isn’t showing any sign of going away soon.
We, therefore, wait with anxiety on today’s presentation and trust that the experts who came together to form the Roadmap Recovery Team have given the Government a clear outline for resuscitation.
While no one on this team has faced challenges of a COVID economy before, its members are some of the brightest and most experienced minds in the country.
Our hope rests in their ideas.
Even so, we want to remind the Government that COVID-19 has placed thousands in the economic intensive care unit.
The single mother who can no longer afford to purchase groceries because she was laid off from her job as a waitress; the airport duty-free worker who can’t pay his mortgage; the store clerk who’s paying heftily for someone to babysit her children during online classes; and the thousands of others who suddenly lost their ways financially.
These are the people to whom the economic terms, plans and promises mean absolutely nothing. What matters to them now is how they’ll survive tomorrow, next week and the days beyond with little or no money.
It is for them we lobby the most.
We trust, as Minister Imbert’s Budget seeks to steer the ship of State through the rough waters ahead, that there are enough lifeboats in it to rescue those already overboard.