Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley delivers remarks during the launch of the Government’s 2021 Budget forum at the Hyatt Regency yesterday.

Gail Alexander

Difficult decisions in Government’s Budget but priorities will be maintained, including spending for social sector support, job creation, youth opportunities, debt servicing, National Security and Health.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley put this squarely on the national table yesterday as he launched Government’s 2021 Budget forum at the Hyatt.

The session gave an overview of Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s work in allocating for the 2021 Budget.

Rowley said he spoke as Prime Minister whom he said is “ultimately for the Finance Minister and what he does and doesn’t do.”

Rowley said yesterday’s forum was to help people understand why decisions had to be made and would put them in a better position to work with the situation by knowing the position, limitations, how generous Government can be, what can be sustained and what’s needed.

Rowley said 2020 not only is a lost year but it also took with it a lot of what other years could have laid claim to. He recounted last term’s economic road up to when the situation worsened last year, plus the 2020 COVID-19 calamity which demanded increased resources.

Rowley noted the state is the major contributor to driving the economy, the largest employer and in many cases the largest national development investor.

“Over time Government has assumed more and more responsibilities funded from the Treasury, that’s all well and good if it can be afforded, funded and sustained.”

But in this period he added, “A lot of what Government has been doing cannot be sustained in the way we’ve been sustaining them, much as we’d like to, (but) we’d have to make difficult decisions.”

He said even in 2019 Government realised this and was making some of those decisions, for example, restructuring Petrotrin.

“That was a decision made against the background of we just couldn’t go on that way..”

“There are many other areas in the national activity – economic, social, financial which cannot go on that way simply because they all require funding, they all make claims on the expenditure side, also on T&T’s resources which Government is in charge of and if the resources aren’t there, the obvious thing one expects is that we’ll have to cut to suit our cloth.”

Rowley said that while some responsibilities will continue to be held, “We may have to give up some responsibilities.”

He added that some decisions would have been postponed before – as T&T could have afforded it – but these decisions would have to be made now, to prevent having difficulty “….And face things we don’t want to face by postponing them further.”

Rowley assured Government will make every effort to ensure accumulated resources will be allocated for expenditure with the best priority yardsticks.

He said priorities include servicing the national debt to steer clear of international agencies’ help, national security, health, opportunities for youths, job creation, social spending to assist those least able to help themselves, and development.

“I as Prime Minister would ask the national community to be responsible, be patient and accept the reality of our circumstance.”

He added that while the pandemic’s effect on T&T isn’t different to elsewhere, T&T has been spared a lot of what other states are experiencing, “And we won’t help our case by pretending this isn’t so. We’ll be better off accepting the reality facing up to it and doing what has to be done as dictated by circumstances beyond our control and making the best decisions.”

He said the Recovery Roadmap team had said the Finance Minister’s next Budget (2021) would have to say clearly how much money was available for the Budget and face reality of how much would have to be allocated on revenue side, whether from tax take, borrowing or inflows available for the next 12 months.

He said the Budget would tax the public service and Imbert and tax Government’s resolve. But he said Government was resolved to ensure T&T gets the leadership it deserves and the commitment to handle a period of unique difficulty.

Decisions will

give all a chance

Rowley warned one might also hear other conversations or anger from some sector on some recommendations.

“It simply means different people have different priorities where they’re located … Government’s in the centre of the people’s interest and the priorities we’ll choose is against the backdrop that we don’t want to unduly affect anyone or sector, leave no one behind but the decisions and priorities is to give all of us a chance to survive and prosper.”

Rowley said it was time to use dormant opportunities previously postponed – and make the changes which otherwise wouldn’t have been made. He said it was a long time since there was Budget with surplus (rather than deficit) but there was increased Government commitment.

He said some of the things “We became accustomed to in times of plenty cannot now be had as it’s it not available, but we want to ensure the decision –making to give us the best chance to overcome difficulties.”