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T&T Chamber welcomes budget spending cuts
Andrew Sabga, president of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, says they welcome the austerity measures Finance Minister Larry Howai hinted at as the Government's approach to the 2013 national budget. No date has been announced for the budget, which is constitutionally due in October. “We cannot continue to run on a deficit budget, so I would welcome these austerity measures. We believe gone are the days when we borrow to sustain our spending. We need to make sure our budgets balance,” Sabga said.
Sabga said while the Chamber welcomes these measures, it is their hope the measures are not too hard on the people of T&T. “So we welcome it and look forward to what the Finance Minister has to say in this regard.” Regarding Petrotrin's strike action, Sabga said, “We are very concerned about any organisation that is going on strike. We do not endorse that type of resolution to any impasse that may take place.
He said the business community is looking on with a lot of concern and hope that calmer heads prevail. He was speaking to the media yesterday at the Chamber's Nova Committee 2012 Jumpstart graduation ceremony at its head office in Westmoorings.
Meanwhile, Catherine Kumar, chief executive officer, said the Chamber is calling the Government into greater accountability over promises made in the budget. As the national budget draws close, she said they have already met and presented their recommendations to the Finance Minster and his advisers. Kumar said they would continue “to take a policy approach rather than request a basket of goodies.”
Among the key concerns, Kumar said, “The Government needs to address the actual budget process.” “The budget process does not allow for a success year after year and an accountability to the nation. We hear, year after year, they are doing to do A, B,C and D and when we go back to previous budgets, things have not been done. “So we ask the Government for two things:
1. To have a mid-year review and provide timelines with key performance indicators so we would be able to hold the Government accountable for what it has promised.
2. The following year, they would indicate where they have reached with those initiatives.”
Kumar said crime remains one of the priority concerns the Government must address. “We believe if we do not fix the situation with crime, we will not be able to stimulate the economy and it’s definitely one of the reasons holding back investments.” Kumar said they put forward several suggestions regarding crime, one of which was greater use of technology. To some degree, she said work has started, but it’s not fast enough.
She explained the various agencies like Licensing and National Security Ministry should be linked together to access all the requisite information. Another suggestion was to increase police patrols. Regarding stimulating the economy and diversification, Kumar said some level of work has been done in these areas, but since the Government highlighted the six sectors for diversification, various committees need to be established to begin the process.
Kumar said while diversification initiatives are geared towards the non-energy sector, she is pleased to see the energy sector has re-surfaced to play its part. “So this is one area--energy diversification--we have recommended to the minister.”
Another area of concern, she said, was the fuel subsidy that is adversely affecting the “Government coffers”.
“While I understand it’s a work in progress, we are calling on the Government to be very aggressive in its CNG drive. Two budgets now we have heard that they would be establishing about seven new CNG stations and converting the PTSC buses to CNG, but none of this has materialised.” She said if the Government could get these vehicles to use CNG, it would help a great deal with the fuel subsidy.
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