SWEET AND SOUR.
This in essence were the views of TT on Tuesday to Colm Imbert’s $57b 2022/2023 budget which he delivered on Monday in the House of Representatives.
The contrasting reactions could sum up the pulse of two halves of TT’s society – with big businesses generally sweet on Imbert’s fiscal plan for the next 12 months; while average Trinis said the budget left them feeling very sour.
The American Chamber of Commerce TT (AmchamTT), the TT Manufacturers Association (TTMA) and the Energy Chamber – in separate responses – all were unified in endorsing the budget.
However, average citizens from Scarborough in Tobago, to Woodford Square in Port of Spain, and the southen city of San Fernando generally gave the budget a thumbs down.
AMCHAM: IT WAS BALANCED
The American chamber said the budgeted gas price was reasonable given in the current climate. It said Imbert clearly tried to balance several considerations.
Amcham welcomed several of budget initiatives, including the reduction in tax rates designed to stimulate upstream oil and gas production; reduction in taxes for financial technology companies; and the financial service hub.
“We are pleased Government would be implementing feed-in tariffs and is moving towards implementing a renewable energy policy. We believe this would not only reduce demand for the scarce natural gas to generate electricity, but the renewable energy policy would assist us in reaching our Paris agreement targets.
“We would like to hear concrete timelines for these during the budget debate,” AmchamTT said in a release.
It said it looked forward to the operationalisation of the special economic zone legislation and the rollout of the developers’ hub, and applauded the effort to develop software as a service for the government sector.
“This software also has the potential to be exported and the hub could incubate smaller technology companies.
“The identification of specific initiatives to support the transition to a cashless society and to remove the friction of transacting business with the government are also likely to have a positive impact.”
Amcham said it welcomed the announcement that the National Statistical Institute legislation would be brought to Parliament and encouraged bipartisan collaboration, as accurate and timely data is necessary for effective planning for national development. Amcham said it stood ready to collaborate with all stakeholders on matters of national development.
TTMA HAILS EASE OF DOING BUSINESS
TTMA head Tricia Coosal hailed the budget saying it would boost local businesses by assisting in their ease of doing business, but she urged a continuation of VAT refunds.
In a statement, she hailed the Government’s partnership and dialogue with the private sector to stabilise and grow the economy after the impact of covid19 and the Ukraine war, as shown by news of real GDP growth of two per cent and non-energy-sector growth of two per cent.
“The importance of ensuring the ease of doing business was once again stressed by the minister via the pledge of digitisation though the strengthening of the single electronic window and implementation of the electronic fund transfer framework to allow businesses to make payments to the government by the business community.” She welcomed these initiatives.
Coosal added, “TTMA has advocated for a more efficient tax-collecting mechanism, stressing the importance of widening the tax net as opposed to further burdening the already compliant population of the country.”
So the TTMA looked forward to the TT Revenue Authority starting its work in 2023 and anticipates this would bring greater efficiency in tax collection.
Coosal said she looks forward to Phase 3 of the state-of-the-art industrial park at Phoenix Park, which could bring many synergies to the TTMA’s annual Trade and Investment Convention.
She also welcomed the $500m in government support for long-term guarantee schemes for SMEs, guaranteeing 80 per cent of loans for up to ten years.
This guarantee, plus a rise in ExporTT’s maximum grant fund facility from $250,000 to $340,000, will boost SMEs’ competitiveness and their contribution to the exports of the non-energy sector.
ENERGY CHAMBER PLEASED
The Energy Chamber said it was pleased with fiscal measures in the budget relating to the energy sector.
In a statement, the chamber said, “The reductions in the Supplemental Petroleum Tax (SPT) rates for new wells in marine fields and the extension and expansion of the changes introduced in 2020 for small onshore producers are welcomed and will help the economics of new investments in oil projects.”
The chamber had been calling for this change for over a decade.
“This change represents the first major adjustment for offshore oil producers. The changes will also help create greater investor interest in the ongoing onshore bid round.”
The chamber said it welcomes Imbert’s commitment to meet with the oil and gas industry over the next three months to review further potential reforms to the fiscal regime.
The chamber also thanked Imbert for collaborating with it in making the changes he announced in his budget presentation on Monday.
JOHN PUBLIC LEFT FEELING SOUR
ASKED their thoughts on the $57b budget, the majority of Trinis interviewed on Tuesday had one prevailing sentiment – sourness. For the rest, it was a case of: “I didn’t really listen to it, inno.”
Some heard one or two lines and ran with that. Others had no trouble voicing extensive opinions.
Self-described hustler, Roger Khan, said, “This is the worst budget in the history of Trinidad. Everything raise, bai, I fed up of them. How much you feel that income tax break will work out to? Maybe a couple hundred.”
On the health workers’ bonus, he commented, “Them ain’t getting no bonus. Them work for that, them overwork. That is not no bonus.”
Civil servant Carol Lakhan said, “The fuel rise is a killer. As it is, I paying enough to come to town every day – it’s $80 a week now. I can’t make any adjustment to my transport, I have to come to work.
“Food prices is too much. To be honest, we working on a 2013 salary, and everything gone up since then. It’s hard to survive. That four per cent offer cannot be fair. Everything gone up and our spending power is less now and the salary remains the same.”
‘WORKING JUST TO GO TO WORK’
Flow saleswoman Shenica Grant, 24, said, “I vex, because everything gone up.
“It not making sense living in Trinidad again. You working just to go to work. Light bill gone up, gas gone up. Just now you have to walk with your wheels in your hand.”
Store clerks on Frederick Street, Shanice and Isaiah, reacted to the lack of an increase in minimum wage with one word, “Failure.” They added, “The pressure is getting worser.”
Nutsman Aaron Small said, “Everything in the budget was disappointing, because the most you hear is everything going up.”
Royal Castle worker Mekida Roach said, “The budget is foolishness. It don’t make any sense, because salary is still the same and everything just raising.”
With the rise in gas prices, Roach predicts it would cost more to go to work as she reiterated, “Pay is still the same.”
Not all took on the budget.
Orlon Harlow, pieman on Henry Street, said, “I didn’t listen to it inno, but I heard gas went up by a dollar.
“The government have to take action to save the country, because the country in a bad state. All over the world things hard. If they don’t make the right choice, the country will get more hard.”
Lucien Theroulde who was waiting for the bus in City Gate said, “I did not really listen to the whole thing.
“Is not everything everybody will agree with and I is not into politics, but I does just listen. So I don’t want to bad-talk and say nothing. For me, the budget was all right. They trying to see if they could facilitate everybody to the best of their ability, so I give them praise for that.
JOHN PUBLIC FEARS FARE RISE
FEAR over a fare rise, given the increase in transportation fuel, was the prevailing feeling among commuters and even some taxi drivers in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
Both taxi drivers and commuters said they would be bracing since the increase in the price of super and premium gas – both by a dollar per litre – and an increase by 50 cents per litre for diesel, would mean an automatic increase in all goods and services dependent on transportation.
Route Two Maxi Taxi Association president Linus Phillip told Newsday he was concerned about the “domino-effect” likely to result from the price increase of fuel.
“It’s not to say this is something we wasn’t expecting. Government announced before that the subsidies will eventually be removed. It looks like they are gradually taking it off so people could make the necessary adjustments,” he said.
President of the Chaguanas Maxi Taxi Association Aaron Silcott called on the Finance Ministry to hold a stakeholder meeting with maxi-taxi drivers to collaborate on ways to upgrade and modernise maxi-taxis to improve the quality of service and efficiency.
Silcott said he currently works 12-16 hours a day to compensate for the last increase in fuel.
He said a maxi taxi tank held anywhere from 50 to 80 litres, which meant operators could now be paying upward of $220 to fill their tanks.
Silcott said while the association’s constitution said the rates will not be increased for another three years after a 2022 increase, this policy might have to be reconsidered if fuel prices keep rising.
Currently passengers pay $5 for a short drop, $13 from Chaguanas to San Fernando, $10 from Chaguanas to Curepe, $9 from Chaguanas to Port of Spain, and $13 from San Fernando to Port of Spain.
Adrian Acosta, president of the TT Taxi Drivers Network – an umbrella organisation for taxi associations across the country – said its membership will meet shortly and will likely hold a press conference on Thursday.
Commuters in Port of Spain and also in Curepe, when interviewed, all said they were resigned to a fate of yet another increase in taxi fares since most taxis use super gasoline.
At the Curepe Taxi Stand on Henry Street in Port of Spain, one driver said he was hardly making ends meet at the pre-budget fuel prices.
“I’m on the road whole day, six days a week. By time I’m finished for the day, I can maybe get something to eat,” he said. “Some months, I can’t even pay all my bills if I don’t drive 10, 12 hours every day for the month.”
The cost to travel from downtown to Curepe is $9.
An increase is just a matter of time, he added, and will come after the drivers meet, which is also expected to happen by this weekend.
– Reporting by PAULA LINDO, SEAN DOUGLAS, CLINT CHAN TACK, NICHOLAS MARAJ AND ANDREW GIOANNETTI