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Minister of Finance Colm Imbert responds to a question posed during day three of the Standing Finance Committee yesterday

Renuka Singh

Finance Minister Colm Imbert requested some $60,000 for a Cabinet-appointed committee that never met in 2021.

He made the same request in the 2022 budget and offered very little explanation when asked about it at yesterday’s Standing Finance Committee meeting.

Member of Parliament for Oropouche West Dave Tancoo questioned Imbert about the request but did not get much of an answer.

“Minister you had an estimate of $60,000 in 2021 but no spend in 2021, yet you’ve returned to the House to ask for an additional spend of $60,000. Is it that the Cabinet-appointed committee did not function in 2021?” Tancoo asked.

“No,” Imbert said.

Tancoo went on to ask if the Minister could give details on the Cabinet appointed committee, who they were and its role and function.

“There wasn’t any,” Imbert said.

But despite the stilted responses from Imbert, Tancoo kept pushing.

“Minister, you are asking this Committee for $60,000 in fiscal 2022, I am asking for what purpose, it is listed here as a Cabinet appointed Committee, is it that there is no Cabinet appointed committee because there is an allocation. I am asking for what purpose,” Tancoo said.

At this, Imbert turned to the Speaker of the House, Brigid Annisette-George who was chairing the meeting and said that Tancoo was changing his question “every few seconds”.

“It is in anticipation that there may be a Cabinet-appointed committee under general administration,” he said.

“We expect that there may be one in 2022,” Imbert said.

Imbert also directed the Opposition MP’s to stop asking “long-winded” questions and to just “ask what it is for” and had to be pulled up by the chair, Brigid Annisette-George and even then kept interrupting her. Imbert directed that the five minutes per question be changed.

The Customs and Excise Divison carried an overtime figure of $44 million and when asked about whether adding more staff would help reduce that figure, Imbert said the time it took to clear items, there would still be an overtime figure.

“In many instances, containers are sent to bonded warehouses and other places, the Customs officers have to attend to check these containers after hours so of course we will continue to strive to reduce the overtime payments but we also want to strive to increase the efficiency and speed at which the Customs services its customers,” he said.

Imbert was also asked about the lack of the Government’s contribution to group pension and responded quietly “because it was not finalised”.

When asked by MP Couva North Ravi Ratiram to repeat what he said, Imbert offered a terse “I answered”.

“If this is going to continue for the whole afternoon. I gave a perfectly solid answer and they say they can’t hear, I will have to shout,” he said.

Annisette-George weighed in, telling Imbert he did sound “muted” at times and had to be directed by her to repeat his previous answer.

“There is no pension plan finalised yet,” he said.

When asked when it would be finalised, Imbert offered only “it is in the budget statement”.