Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s 2020/2021 $49 billion fiscal package is probably still being internalised by the public, as many things need a proper diagnosis.
But there are several measures which suggest Government is continuing to wean citizens away from some of the socio-economic measures which are a drain on the Treasury which can no longer be sustained.
The biggest signal of change is in the public sector, where an increase in Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission and Water and Sewerage Authority rates and the privatisation of the Port Authority’s operations are forecast.
Decades of inefficiency and malfeasance have brought WASA to where it is today – still well off from turning a profit or fulfilling its one-time vision of water for all 24/7. T&TEC’s efficiency at providing a reasonable power supply, meanwhile, is negated by a burdensome power purchase agreement with Powergen which cripples its financial resources. The bulk of T&TEC’s earnings come from consumers who have benefited from the lowest rates in the region, leaving the state bearing the majority burden for ensuring its continued operation.
The Port Authority meanwhile failed to improve infrastructure to take advantage of international shipping traffic and has been inefficient for years, creating a chain reaction at peak periods which affects the business community and trickles down to the public. Indeed, it is possible privatisation may be carded for all three operations.
All this is forecast to come alongside the fuel industry’s liberalisation. Minister Imbert had signalled this intention in the Government’s first term and subsidies on fuel will finally be removed altogether come January 2021. It is noteworthy that the Petroleum Dealers’ Association is welcoming this move and promising customers they will benefit from it.
Of course, with current global energy prices low, the cost of fuel will remain at decent levels for now. If ever international prices return to previous levels, it is left to be seen whether the promised competition between gas station dealers will necessarily bring the competitive prices the association is promising. In this regard, Government must ensure there is still some legislative cover to ensure no price-gouging occurs.
Suffice it to say, the revamping of operational activities at these entities are critical to Government’s attempts to cut expenditure in certain areas to focus on activities that have become more critical due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And just like the decision to close Petrotrin, Government must make inevitable decisions previously delayed at a more rapid pace.
On that note, it is perplexing how apples and grapes have been listed among imported luxury food items which will now attract VAT. This is because Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has constantly urged citizens to eat healthily and while one may make an argument for local fruit consumption, it is a known fact that apples are one of the healthier fruits available to citizens. As such, this media house urges Minister Imbert to reconsider his listing, since the poor also sometimes afford themselves an apple or two thanks to the concessions on them.