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Larry Howai: Budget to focus on debt reduction
Don’t expect an election budget filled with goodies. Instead, Finance Minister Larry Howai said yesterday, his ministry’s focus for the 2014-2015 fiscal package would centre on government’s commitment to reduce T&T’s national debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. Howai was addressing a special media conference on the 18th floor of the San Fernando Teaching Hospital, Chancery Lane, after a cabinet meeting on the national budget yesterday evening.
He said that the budget, which will be read on September 8, would “continue to focus on our growth momentum and the initiatives we put in place to continue to grow. That would be the first order of business.” Howai said the focus would also be on keeping the commitment to reduce the deficit. He said the trajectory of reducing the budget deficit by one per cent of GDP on an annual basis would be continued as from last year.
The minister said it was expected that this year’s figures “will come in a little better than originally forecast. We will be better.”
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar did not attend the meeting. She was expected to address the media conference but did not turn up. Also absent from yesterday afternoon’s discussions with the Cabinet were Minister of Public Administration Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, both of whom voted against the Government, on Tuesday, on the controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. Howai said yesterday’s discussions were “wide ranging” and “general in nature.”
Discussions, he said, mainly focused on revenue and revenue generation, individuals and what could be done to assist them in different phases of their life cycles and housing. Howai said the contentious Land and Building Tax was still being worked on by his ministry. He added that the ministry was still putting arrangements in place to facilitate the Industrial and Building tax. “We would need to put legislation in place for that; (it) will take a little longer than originally expected,” he said.
Security measures, he said, were not discussed in detail at the meeting. Howai said he was surprised to learn yesterday that pay inequity existed in the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) where women performing certain duties were paid less than men doing the same tasks. An increase in the minimum wage and salary increases for URP and CEPEP workers, he said, were also discussed. However, he said, these aspects would have to be evaluated and their policy and cost implications considered.