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Dr Vanus James

Camille McEachnie

Tobago-born economist Dr Vanus James says the Tobago House of Assembly’s budget data tells a “chilling story” about the island’s economy before COVID-19.

“In 2012, the Secretary said the island’s economic output was $2 billion…In 2016, he (Jack) said it was $1.85 billion and in 2018 he said it was $1.74 billion. It means that between 2016 and 2018, there was a 6 per cent decline in the economy. However, between 2012 and 2018 there was a 12 per cent decline,” James told Guardian Media yesterday in a telephone interview.

Immediately after Jack’s presentation, James, who is a mathematical economist and former advisor to the United Nations Development Programme, said there was a “substantial decline” in the island’s economy before the pandemic.

“In 2017, tourism was 14 per cent of the Tobago economy and in 2018 it was 13 per cent of the Tobago economy… It means 14 per cent of a larger economy, which was a $254 million tourism sector. However, in 2018 the economy was smaller, which gave you $227 million.”

He said the budget statement also showed the THA is “taking a victory lap” with the Government for its handling of COVID-19.

Speaking about the overall budget of $4.71 billion, James said the THA’s budgetary request also indicated that “the current budget is not about recuperating from COVID-19.”

“The fact that the budget was similar to last year’s, as the THA keeps trying to get to $5 billion, it shows that this is not really about recovering from COVID. If you had to recover and then grow, then the figure would have changed,” the economist said.

James said Jack also did not indicate why the economy had declined, adding the presentation showed it was “almost business as usual … in Tobago.”

“The presentation was filled with a traditional basket of minor projects and development programmes that features CEPEP and URP and slipper drains,” James said.