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Saturday, December 07, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Budget expectations ‘Govt must account to the people’
As Finance Minister Larry Howai gets set to deliver his second national budget tomorrow, business organisations are appealing to the Government to ensure better accountability of taxpayers’ money. They also want the Government to pay closer attention to agriculture and rising crime. Several stakeholders feel that these three areas should be given priority as the country braces for yet another deficit budget.
The total expenditure of the 2012/2013 budget was $58.4 billion. Howai recently admitted that this year’s budget is “likely to be big,” owing mainly to one-off expenses to “clean-up” outstanding debts owed by the Government. Among those debts was $6 billion owed to Petrotrin, Howai said.
Tunapuna Chamber: More $$ needed to deal with crime
Taran Singh, president of the Greater Tunapuna Chamber of Industry and Commerce said the chamber wants a proper allocation to deal with crime. “It is costing the business community millions of dollars to install security cameras and to retain private security to safeguard businesses and goods. The reality is that this cost is passed on to the consumer. This is one area we have to examine.”
Singh said as the price of goods and services continue to rise, sales have been dwindling. “This, to us, is a big challenge.” The chamber represents over 1,000 businesses from Mt Hope to Tunapuna. Singh feels the Government should make financing more accessible to businesses. “I would love to see measures instituted to improve government institutions such as Nedco and the ADB which provide loans to the business community.”
Doma: We want value for money allocated
President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association Gregory Aboud said he hopes Howai places emphasis on obtaining value for money with respect to the allocation in this year’s budget. As the budget expenditure continues to increase with each passing year, Aboud said complaints continue to pour in about the returns from the allocation. Aboud admitted that Howai would have a significant challenge on his hands justifying the budget increase. “We certainly hope he keeps a keen eye on the returns.”
Arima Business Association: Crime most worrying
President of the Arima Business Association Peter Jackson appealed to the Government to pay more attention on the agriculture sector, which can provide sustainable jobs and help diversify the economy. “We have been hearing about the re-introduction of the property tax and reduction in fuel subsidies. As an association, we are not averse to these measures. However, we feel that everyone should pay their fair share.”
Crime, Jackson said, was most worrying to the association. “Year after year, the funds expended towards crime fighting has been increasing with little results. There is something in the national psyche that tells us that this has to be fixed.”
San Fernando Business Association: Continue Point Fortin to Sando highway
San Fernando Business Association president Daphne Bartlett said each year a budget is presented with promises, but “we don’t know how much is implemented.” For the southern region, Bartlett urged the Government to continue the Point Fortin to San Fernando highway, which would boost businesses and ease traffic congestion for commuters and motorists. While crime remains a burning issue, Bartlett said it can be reduced if the Ministry of National Security follows through with the joint army and police patrols.
Also the installation of additional CCTV cameras at strategic locations is a necessity, Bartlett said. Bartlett said after the budget is passed and monies allocated to various ministries, citizens are not informed of how it is spent. “We have been asking for that. I can’t recall getting a breakdown of how much has been spent and what is the surplus and what they did with the surplus. I wish we could get a report.”
Bartlett said for too long agriculture has been given lip service. “That is one area we certainly think the Government can focus on to reduce the rising food import bill.”
Grande Business Association: Government must account to citizens
Kenneth Boodhu, president of the Sangre Grande Chamber of Commerce said Howai’s unequivocal message to various ministries should be the question of accountability. He said each ministry needs to explain what have you done with last year’s allocations that can indicate an improvement in deliverables to the population.
“Last year, the Ministry of Education received the largest allocation. Are there recognisable improvements for the country in this area? Does the Ministry of National Security believe that more financial allocation is the panacea for all its ills and shortcomings? Or really, does it need to be more prudent with its spending and to be more financially accountable?”
Foodcrop Farmers’ Association: Pay more attention to agriculture
President of the T&T Foodcrop Farmers’ Association Terrence Haywood said his expectation is for the Government to pay more attention to the agriculture sector. “I don’t know what to expect because nobody talking about agriculture. It is time we shift from an oil-and-gas economy to agriculture. We have to start diversifying our economy.” Haywood said while farmers have been clamouring for more markets to sell their produce, he could not say if this would be outlined in the budget.
“No one consulted with us with regards to our needs in the budget. Our views were not considered.”
San Juan Business Association: Focus on small, micro enterprises
President of the San Juan Business Association Abrahim Ali said more emphasis should be placed on small and micro enterprises. He said the association held several meetings with Howai and is hoping he heeded some advice. About his expectations, Ali said, “It is difficult to expect anything with the kind of funding that they’re putting out in other places.” However, he said the association was calling on the Government to focus more on small and micro enterprises since it was an area that had been neglected for far too long.
He also called for that area to be moved to the Ministry of Trade. Ali said, “Small and micro enterprises is the area where the country can benefit from sustainable jobs, a growth in the GDP and could create some items for export. “We have seen in the past that no one is concentrating on this area and this is an area where the small people can use some of their expertise within the communities to create sustainable jobs.”
Among other topics discussed were enhancing the T&T Police Service, reducing traffic in San Juan and parking facilities.
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