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Howai delivers the ‘people’s budget’ today
Anticipation is high today to see what revenue-earning measures new Finance Minister Larry Howai will reveal in the 2012-2013 budget apart from the possible return of the property tax. Curiosity has been heightened after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s warning at last Saturday’s People’s Partnership (PP) rally that “special interest groups” may not embrace some of the budget’s measures.
Howai, who has been in office for four months, will deliver the financial package to guide T&T through the next financial year at 1.30 pm today in Parliament. Persad-Bissessar on Saturday said the budget theme is “The People’s Budget.” It is the PP coalition’s third budget. The first two were presented by former finance minister Winston Dookeran. Dookeran, who last week attended at a United Nations conference in the US, was expected home last night, officials said.
PP officials said Howai, who has projected a continuing deficit budget, is unlikely to cross the $55 billion mark of the last budget. They could not say if the new deficit will go beyond the $7 billion in 2011-2012. The 2011-2012 budget figure was increased by supplemental funding of $3 billion in April, covering various expenses. PP officials said the budget is geared to stimulate the economy while urging citizens to save and reduce expenditure.
Today, PP members will first meet in caucus at 12.30 pm at the Parliament to be apprised of the budget contents and will file into the Chamber for the 1.30 pm sitting. Howai is expected to speak “for at least two hours.” Howai said the budget will focus on crime/national security, health, education, security, housing, poverty eradication and agriculture/food security.
Howai and Persad-Bissessar both set the stage for today’s presentation in reporting progress on certain economic indicators including a 1.2 per cent growth expected this year. Persad-Bissessar said: “The budget holds initiatives never seen before simply because the special interest groups are not in the back room negotiating what would be good for them.
“So while some of them may not embrace some of the measures, the People’s Budget will be celebrated across the country by you. So when they come out to rail and rant against what they didn’t get, remember what this is called, the People’s Budget. It’s time the Government gives to the people their due ... It’s time the only special interest there is in any government is the special interest in your needs.”
Former banker Howai who hinted at consideration of returning the property tax also warned of austerity measures. The property tax was a major PP platform issue in the 2010 general elections after the former PNM administration sought to increase it. The PP implemented a moratorium on the tax since assuming office. Howai is also expected to take a tough cost-cutting line in the Government expenditure outside of certain key ministries.
The Trinidad Guardian learned several proposals by new ministries were rejected because of being too costly. Those ministries will only receive funding for the 2013 recurrent expenditure. Howai said while the GATE education assistance programme won’t be removed, waste and abuse won’t be allowed to continue - a hint at a tightening of procedures. New items in the budget include the $410 million Constituency Development Fund allowing MPs $10 million each for constituency projects.
The PNM-controlled Tobago House of Assembly, three months away from constitutionally due elections, has requested a $5 billion allocation - a $2 billion increase over its last request. Budget contents are also expected to include arrangements to conclude commitments to Clico depositors. A recent $2.5 billion bond issued by the Government was not to deal with Clico payments, but to handle the 2011-2012 deficit, a finance official said.
National Security Minister Jack Warner’s long awaited anti-crime plan will take pride of place in the budget. In the 2011-2012 budget, National Security received $5.3 billion. Howai and the PM gave the assurance that the ministry would receive adequate funding to deal with crime. At the rally the PM also said a construction boom is ahead resulting from budget measures.
The Health Ministry, which received $4 billion in 2011-2012, is seeking a similar sum for 2013 when construction of several projects begin, Health Minister Fuad Khan said. This includes the long promised oncology centre and other hospitals and health centres plus upgrades to the San Fernando, Mt Hope and Port-of-Spain hospitals.
The Local Government Ministry has sought an increased allocation with Minister Suruj Rambachan projecting an “explosion” of work after the budget via 600 projects providing 6,000 jobs. Following Howai’s presentation, debate resumes Friday with Opposition Leader Keith Rowley’s reply at 10 am.
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