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THA Secretary of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack presents the 2020/2021 fiscal package yesterday.

The Tobago House of Assembly’s budget request is $4.71 billion for fiscal 2020/2021. This includes $3.07 billion for recurrent expenditure and $1.5 billion for the Development Programme.

Secretary for Finance and Economy Joel Jack made the request in presenting the THA’s budget at the Assembly Chamber yesterday, where he announced that the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development will be given the largest allocation of $811.7 million.

Other allocations outlined included: Education Innovation and Energy $525.6 million, Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour $118.4 million and Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment $475 million.

The assembly is also requesting $70.5 million for the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and $42.9 million for CEPEP.

During the over two-hour presentation, Jack, who seemed unwell, took a series of short breaks. Referring to a number of economic statistics from previous years, he said Tobago’s economy is projected to decline in 2021, especially the “tourism manufacturing and financial sector, with moderate growth in the agricultural sector.”

He said Tobago will seek to advance food production on the island and as such, the assembly will require funding for various new and existing programmes such as $50 million for the development of agricultural access roads, $4 million for the Agricultural Incentive Programme and a new programme called the New Tobago Agri-Business and Agro Tourism Project at a projected cost of $8.5 million. Jack has put in a request of $276.5 million for the Division of Agriculture, Food Production and Fisheries for the next fiscal year.

Jack said the Division of Education Innovation and Energy is seeking $7.8 million for the implementation of the “Pan in the Classroom” project and another long-outstanding project,

“We have therefore budgeted for the relocation of the Scarborough Secondary School $50 million,” he said, noting the division will also transition to “digital learning” at a cost of $15 million.

According to Jack, despite the drawbacks of COVID-19 the island is projecting earnings of $198.3 million. However, Jack said, “To obtain a fairer estimate of Tobago’s contribution to the national economy, one would have to include data from sources which are often ignored.”

He referred to earnings from natural resources and taxes from organisations with sub-divisions on the island.

He said a request is also being made for $56 million to help the Tobago Tourism Agency bolster the island’s domestic tourism drive.

As in previous years, Jack spoke of the THA’s intent to utilise alternative financing mechanisms such as the issuance of a $300 million bond and the implementation of a Public-Private Partnership modality to “accelerate the island’s development momentum.”

The Finance Secretary said as of February 2020, the island had recorded inflation rates of 1.6 per cent with food price inflation averaging close to zero.

He also said approval had been granted to the THA to engage the services of an independent accounting firm to assist with bringing the public accounts up to date, as the division is currently understaffed.

In fiscal 2020, the THA requested $4.72 billion—$3.36 billion for recurrent expenditure and $1.45 billion for development spending but the island received an allocation of $2.283 billion— 4.3 per cent of the national.