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Monday, December 09, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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London warns of bitter climax
The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has got a 50 per cent shortfall in the amount it requested in the 2013/2014 budget, and is on a mission to get an increase, one which “may climax in Port-of-Spain,” THA chief secretary Orville London warned on Thursday. London’s bold stand came three days after the PNM won the local government elections in Trinidad.
Claiming the THA was now forced into a position where it has to rewrite all its 2014 development plans, London said the situation may lead to a motion being presented in Parliament by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. “We have to totally reconfigure our mindset and our plans. That’s the situation in which we have found ourselves. We have to deliver 50 per cent of what we have promised.”
London was speaking at Thursday’s plenary session of the THA in Scarborough on a motion presented by Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Joel Jack on the issue. During debate on the motion he addressed an assembly which comprised only members of the ruling PNM, since the party won all the seats in the January THA election. London said there was also a 20 per cent shortfall from what the THA had requested for development projects.
He used strong words in reference to the Kamla Persad-Bissessar Government and its relationship with the THA during his presentation: Callous, insensitive, victimology, hostage, plot. London said the THA’s relationship with the Government was rocky. “The only friends of Tobagonians reside in Tobago,” he said. “There are no friends outside.
“There is ample proof that the relationship between the THA and Central Government will remain unpredictable and rocky until 18 months down the road, when the Government changes.” London claimed that earlier this year, Persad-Bissessar promised she would meet with him once every three months. “On June 14 we met and smiled with one another and so on.”
He said on July 29 he wrote the PM, reminding her of that meeting, in which they spoke about having a harmonious relationship, and complained that, since then, he had heard nothing from her. On August 26, he said, he got a letter from the PM saying consideration was being given to the matter he had raised. “Two months later, the matter still under consideration,” he said.
London spoke after Jack’s motion, which was filed to express the THA’s dissatisfaction with its budgetary allocation for the fiscal year 2014, and to seek the approval of the House to explore all alternative funding and financing mechanisms under the THA Act to advance and accelerate the implementation and execution of capital projects on the island.
The motion also called for the Executive Council to be mandated to ensure the completion of all major on-going capital projects, including the Scarborough Library and the Shaw Park Cultural Complex. It also called for the preservation of employment levels throughout the assembly, especially within vulnerable social safety net programmes such as URP and CEPEP, and the continuation of Tobago’s socio-economic development agenda, as outlined in its Comprehensive Economic Development Plan.
Jack said there were significant shortfalls in what the THA requested for several other sectors, including health, education, tourism and infrastructural development. He said the THA requested $70 million for URP and was allocated only $19 million in Finance Minister Larry Howai’s budget, a $51 million shortfall. The THA requested $58.7 million for CEPEP but was allocated only $8 million, a $50.7 million shortfall, he added.
THA secretary of finance Joel Jack has said Tobago will continue to be in charge and to take charge of Tobago’s development, budget underfunding notwithstanding. In his presentation during a motion on the matter in the THA last Thursday, Jack listed a number of strategies which he said could mitigate against the impact of a $2.492 billion gap in the budgetary allocation to Tobago.
He said he and chief secretary Orville London have already approached the Ministry of Finance with a suite of proposals to ensure that viable development programmes can proceed. These included:
•Long-term bond financing
•The establishment of a Tobago Development Bank
•Public/private partnerships (PPP)
Jack said while Howai was open to the exploration of PPP, he declined to consider issuing bonds, citing a reluctance to add to the country’s debt burden. Among other strategies outlined by Jack to deal with the underfunding are:
•An assembly-wide programming adjustment, with priority projects agreed by all secretaries
•The redeployment of budget and non-budget cash resources to meet financing needs
•Tighter budgetary management headed by THA secretaries.
Jack reaffirmed the commitment of the London administration that, notwithstanding the severe underfunding of the fiscal 2014 budget, it would guarantee the continued employment of all THA and contract workers, maintain URP and CEPEP programmes and work towards the conclusion of all outstanding major projects.
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