Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Budget Day - Howai delivers $60b package
The 2013-2014 budget being delivered by the Government this afternoon is expected to be just over $60 billion, an increase over the 2012-2013 package of $58.4 billion, sources said yesterday. Finance Minister Larry Howai, who was in meetings up to yesterday finalising the content, will deliver what he recently described as the “biggest budget” at 1.30 pm at the Parliament chamber. People’s Partnership (PP) cabinet members would meet in caucus at noon to be apprised of the budget’s contents, Communication Minister Gerald Hadeed said yesterday. “Whatever the contents, it’ll be good for our country,” he added. The overriding theme in the package is expected to be growth and investment as well fast-tracking delivery of a number of issues and projects promised in the last budget and are yet to be implemented.
Increased funding is expected to facilitate this, but would bring the 2014 package up to about $60 billion—so far T&T’s biggest, sources confirmed. Howai’s second budget presentation today would also be yet another deficit budget due to outstanding payments Government owes, he has confirmed. The deficit in the 2012-2013 package was $7.669 billion. PP officials said Howai would be attempting to keep to his promise—to reach his target of balanced budgets by 2016—by trying to bring the deficit down. Some officials said yesterday it had been a tough exercise to balance “what needs to be done”—especially considering the electoral climate—in conjunction with revenue earning measures. They said the budget’s supplementary documents and reports would paint the real picture of the financial situation. They ruled out any old age pension increases. The Government would also be seeking to further increase its intake from the casino sector, officials said, a move began in the last couple years and including legislative measures, some of which the sector itself had suggested.
There is some concern on what formula would be used to implement the property tax which is being returned in the form of the Land and Building Taxes. Howai said the tax would be implemented with “appropriate consultation in terms of the rate.” The People’s National Movement’s bid in 2009 to increase the then property tax, became the subject of the COP’s “Axe the Tax” election campaign. When the PP assumed office, a moratorium was placed on the tax, depriving corporations of that revenue stream. Former Central Bank governor Ewart Williams last week said the Government should say how revenue was forgone with that measure (among other things.) Howai has already eased motorists’ fears by assuring the fuel price will remain the same. In last year’s budget, Howai had said the Government would start making moves on the gas subsidy in the course of that financial year. But this has been deferred for another two years, Howai has projected, while the Government implements CNG conversion programmes. If the Government sticks to that time frame, it will take the PP into a general election year—2015.
In budget planning over recent weeks, a number of ministers had argued against moving on the fuel subsidy at this time, it was confirmed. Sectors tipped for the biggest share of the budget pie once again include national security, health, education and social development. New National Security Minister Gary Griffith said while he was unaware of what funding the ministry would receive, major anti-crime initiatives planned by the Ministry under the past minister would still be pursued as well as recommendations he (Griffith) made to the National Security Council. These included operationalising the National Operations Centre replacing Sautt. Griffith said a certain amount of time had already been spent by other ministries—and National Security under ex-minister John Sandy—pursuing anti-crime initiatives via social programmes, and while this would continue with those ministries, his ministry’s focus at mid-term is on-the-ground action involving law enforcement and deterrents. In another area, the Health Ministry had sought a 2014 allocation similar to what it received in 2013, the ministry confirmed. The 2013 allocation was $5.1 billion, ministry officials said.
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