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Re-routing Govt work
Re-routing may not be the exclusive province of environmental activists (or Port-of-Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing and his Works Ministry associates.) New Finance Minister Larry Howai, with no “honeymoon” period after his June 25 appointment, is using the current two- month parliamentary break to hold talks with various groups and fashion his first national budget aimed at reinforcing T&T’s economy.
Howai was holding discussions with stakeholders even during last week’s Government retreat where the appointment of Jwala Rambarran as Central Bank Governor was announced. Rambarran is the latest talent from sources external to the political scene which has been recruited by the PP to boost opera- tions, among them Bhoe Tewarie and Howai.
It remains to be seen how those combined talents will work in T&T’s favour to re-route the economy away from the effects of global issues and fulfil PP’s campaign promise of good financial management. Howai’s predecessor, Winston Dookeran, now away from the challenges of Finance and only a month into his stint as Foreign Affairs Minister, was also away from work yesterday.
Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed on Thursday confirmed Dookeran sent a letter to Thursday’s Cabinet session—which he skipped—saying he was unwell. It is understood Dookeran, who turned 69 last month, has gone for an executive medical check-up and will be back to work on Monday.
Dookeran as Finance Minister had warned the population not to expect any magic in the 2010-2011 budget. His successor Howai voiced a similar warning in his first statement after being appointed and, like Dookeran, he has also confirmed T&T has a good fiscal position. Howai has also already signalled the 2012-2013 package may be presented by the end of September and will be another deficit budget.
The latter may be an indicator of how much progress T&T has made in the 2011-2012 plan: clearly insufficient. Howai, who has admitted to unfamiliarity with taxation matters, for instance, is however focused on economy growth. His plans, informed by the input of chartered accountant Trade Minister Vasant Bharath and the labour perspective of Minister of State Rudy Indarsingh, will be monitored to see if he has managed to reduce deficit projection.
As well, focus will be on what, where and how he places plans to increase revenue earning and boost the lagging economy. Plus whether he builds on his predecessor’s foundation (or launches his own) and how Government’s strategies for the Tobago House of Assembly and local government elections next year will be factored into his package’s cost columns.
Apart from the general on-going need to increase revenue-earning streams, calls for return of the property tax from a key revenue earning division—the BIR—may constrain him to examine the property tax issue due to the source of the call. In the current global recession and T&T’s own economic circumstances, also, Government may have to pause to consider the feasibility of increasing MPs’ salaries as recommended by consultant Anthony Staddon at last week’s Parliament workshop.
Staddon said MPs should be full-time. The recommendation’s salary hike aspect however is not expected to immediately figure in 2013 budget calculations since increasing MPs’ salaries falls under the jurisdiction of Salaries Review Commission scrutiny.
The recommendation has however earned the support of the Opposition PNM which has repeatedly cautioned Government on overspending. PNM’s Colm Imbert said the proposal made sense since having full-time MPs—which would require paying them as such workers—would allow for more committees to scrutinise Government operations. Imbert said this was particularly necessary since Parliament is now, for instance, on a two-month break
This situation will change after Parliament resumes in September since PP House leader Roodal Moonilal confirmed sessions will be full-time, long and continuous. Communication’s Mohammed said Parliament will be “full-time” since the Lower House will meet at least twice a week—including Wednesdays and Fridays—and the Senate on Tues- days. Mohammed added, “If we’re hard-pressed to pass bills we’ll also be sitting until midnight and 2 am in this first part of the session.”
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