Tobago Business Chamber president Martin George. –
The Tobago Business Chamber has described the 2023 budget presentation as “bereft of ideas and innovation and shows no clear growth path for Tobago’s fiscal independence and long-term economic stability.”
On Monday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert delivered the budget in the Red House, Port of Spain, announcing that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) will receive an allocation of $2.521 billion.
This, he said represents 4.3 per cent of the budget. Of that sum, Imbert said $194 million will be allocated for recurrent expenditure, $300 million for development and $9.2 million for CEPEP.
In a WhatsApp video sent to Newsday immediately after the budget, chairman Martin George expressed concern over the recurrent figure.
“We have continuously advocated that this is way too much of your budgetary allocation to be on recurrent expenditure. This represents 87.2 per cent of your budgetary allocation. Last year, it was 88 per cent.
“So these figures are way too high for this to be on recurrent expenditure.”
He said recurrent expenditure simply means spending money to stay afloat.
“This is not anything that you are building, any capital development or any infrastructural development or any capital-intensive programmes. No, this is simply money to stay afloat. You’re paying your expenses, your bills, your rents, your leases – you’re just spending money basically to stay in the same position.”
He said that does not represent the type of growth or development the chamber would like to see for the island.
He said also the chamber has not seen any indication of a comprehensive long-term plan for the island to begin its financial sustainability and economic independence, as well as the repeal of the Foreign Investment Act.
“We keep making the point that TT is in a foreign-exchange crisis. Why would the government not repeal this legislation, which is a direct block and bar to foreign investment in Tobago?
“We have several persons who have approached us and they wish to make huge investments in Tobago. but once they see the requirements of that Foreign Investment Act and all the red tape that is involved, they immediately abandon the idea and they go to the other islands, where it is much easier to make that investment.”
He said he would also have liked to see his suggestion implemented on the removal of VAT, making Tobago a VAT-free or duty-free zone.
“We keep making the point to the Minister of Finance. in the hope that one day, these suggestions would bear fruit.”