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Friday, December 13, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Howai avoids major changes
Some new and foreign-used car buyers will pay more from next month, an electronic health card is being introduced and homeowners will be the last to resume paying land and building tax in a phased-in regime between 2014 and 2017. And while State-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL) has lost its fuel subsidy, CAL’s board says ticket prices won’t be affected. Finance Minister Larry Howai outlined those and other measures in the Parliament yesterday in a $61.3 billion budget, the biggest to date, with a $3 billion increase over the 2013 budget. National Security received an increased amount — $6.4 billion, the second highest allocation to a ministry — but it was Education which received the highest sum, $9.8 billion. Though Howai presented a bigger budget than last year, the 2014 deficit is $6.3 billion or 3.6 per cent of GDP, lower than the 2013 deficit of 4.6 per cent, he said. Howai said that was achieved by higher than estimated revenues from the energy and non-energy sectors and lower than expected expenditure and was the start of Government’s move to achieve balanced budgets by 2016.
He added: “Building on the successes of this past year and heralding a new era of growth, this year’s budget theme is ‘Sustaining Growth, Securing Prosperity’, as we recognise these successes and focus on those measures not yet fully realised. “This budget continues on the path of reducing the fiscal deficit while still funding adequately, economic and social programmes and investments in infrastructure.” On vehicles, Howai increased customs duty by 25 per cent on new and foreign used cars over 2,499 cc, excluding T-vehicles and vehicles registered as maxi taxis, from October 1. Howai said the land and building tax—suspended when the People’s Partnership (PP) took office in 2010—would resume in three phases from next year. This will require property rolls being brought up to date. He said in phase one, effective immediately, Government would begin valuations of all industrial land, including plant and machinery, to implement the tax by July 1, 2014.
Phase Two involved imposition of a tax on commercial properties. Phase Three would resume the tax on agricultural lands and residential properties, with a deductible allowance to provide relief to certain agricultural land-owners and low-income homeowners, he added. In order to make the CDAP system more efficient and prevent abuse, Howai said, Government would start a card system this year. He added: “The health card will be electronic and will serve as a means to access health care services. It will ensure we have a register of all patients accessing health services and will enhance our ability to monitor and improve health services to citizens.” Howai said the information captured by the system also would provide the basis for a national health insurance system. He also said he would remove CAL’s fuel subsidy from next month. The subsidy has been a bone of contention with regional states which deemed it an unfair advantage for CAL.
Yesterday, Howai said CAL’s new board had completed the first phase of a revised business plan for financial viability. He added: “To this end, effective October 1, 2013, I propose to discontinue the fuel subsidy which the airline currently enjoys. The subsidy for the Tobago airbridge will remain. I have been assured by CAL’s board the removal of the fuel subsidy will not impact the ticket-pricing policy.” Howai also announced a motor vehicle accident fund from January 1 to compensate victims injured in accidents involving cars driven by uninsured drivers. Saying National Security received more this year, Howai said there were jobs for those who wan ed an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and the recent crime upsurge was created by those who “made a deliberate life decision to reject society’s offerings and instead fall into a life of crime. Government will, however, respond firmly,” he warned. He questioned why a country of T&T’s small size and population should spend on an average $5 billion annually on national security. “T&T isn’t at war with another state,” he noted. “Gone are the days when our youths can use the excuse that the system is working against them. [From those] to whom much is given, much is expected,” he said.
He detailed Government’s anti-crime initiatives, including increased policing, joint army-police patrols, reintroduction of highway patrols, increased police/SRP complements, border security, unmanned aerial surveillance and improved law. By August, he said, 873 CCTV cameras had been installed in east Port-of-Spain and other areas and Tobago. Howai said Government was also proceeding with a food security plan with Guyana for cultivation of 10,000 acres in Berbice for agricultural production and a subsequent 90,000 acres. T&T private-sector investment will be invited.
The Guyanese Government would be asked to allow T&T investors to access incentives available to Guyanese farmers and to be allowed to repatriate profits, Howai added. Howai detailed T&T’s economic performance, which he lauded, adding T&T had performed significantly better than most Caribbean countries and many developed states. He said, however, that some issues remained, including building T&T’s competitiveness, economic diversification and balancing of fiscal accounts. Howai’s second budget was pegged on an oil price of US$80 a barrel. His two-hour presentation was interrupted regularly during the latter part by “picong” from the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM), so much so the Speaker cautioned MPs, singling out Marlene McDonald for special warning. Debate continues at 10 am on Friday with Opposition Leader Keith Rowley’s reply.
2014 budget: Where the $$ is going
Expenditure: $61.3 billion.
Total revenue: $55 billion.
Capital programme: $8 billion, the largest in history.
Deficit: $6.3 billion.
Oil revenue: $23.3 billion.
Non-oil revenue: $32.6 billion.
Heritage and Stabilisation Fund: (US)$5 billion.
Education: $9.8 billion.
National Security: 6.4 billion.
Health: $5.0 billion.
Local Government: $2.4 billion.
Social Development: $3.5 billion.
Works: $2.4 billion.
Housing: $2.7 billion.
Transport: $2.3 billion.
Agriculture: $1.3 billion.
Tobago House of Assembly: $3.4 billion.
PP’S FOURTH BUDGET
OTHER NEW ITEMS
• National Oncology Centre: Construction begins this month to be completed January 2016, costing $891 million.
• Completion/outfitting of the Government campus.
• From November 1, only those private health care institutions which meet best practice standards will provide dialysis at government expense.
• New shareholders’ agreement for CL Financial group, sale of assets of CLF group.
• Extension of Port-of-Spain-Chaguaramas water taxi service to three round trips. Consideration of a Chaguanas-Port-of-Spain route.
• Increased penalties for illegal bunkering, quarrying.
• Legislation from next year regulating casinos, including a regulatory commission.
• Littering fines increased to $4,000 and up to $8,000 for corporate bodies.
• Compassionate relief window to assist urgent, needy HCU cases.
• Pedestrian walkover from MovieTowne to Hasely Crawford Stadium; Chaguanas overpass.
• VMCOTT, National Helicopter Services Ltd, NFM, Ltd Pt Lisas Development corporation for investors.
• Acceleration of two constitutional reform issues: term limits for prime ministers and the right to recall legislators.
• Procurement Bill being laid in Parliament immediately after the budget; campaign finance reform proposal for public comment by year-end.
• Constituency Development Fund back on the table via legislation with independent watchdog and allocations planned once law is passed.
• New law next year to include the self-employed in NIS system.
• First public private-public partnership under IDB involving education and health centres.
• Agreement with China Harbour Engineering Company for dry docking facilities.
• Physically disabled centers at Chaguanas, Gasparillo.
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