Trinidad and Tobago should expect a feel-good Budget when Finance Minister Colm presents his fifth fiscal package on Monday.
Sources with intimate knowledge of the Budget told the Sunday Guardian that Imbert’s 2020 Budget will be larger than 2019 as he increases expenditure in the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) and several construction projects, while at the same time paying some of the bills he has been owing to the business community and contractors.
Among the construction projects that will either get started or accelerated are the Central Block at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, the four major highways under construction, additional housing construction, a massive road paving exercise, more resources for the police service and delivery of the Tobago vessels.
The THA is also expected to get an increase in its allocation in keeping with the regular formula but with added expenditure to assist the sister isle to meet its infrastructure and tourism needs.
The Sunday Guardian has been told that the minister will not raise taxes nor will he be increasing the price of fuel, arguing that the citizens have already made significant sacrifices and there is no need for any more onerous measures at this time.
But even so, the Minister of Finance is not expected to commit the Government to any significant increases in recurrent expenditure, because he does not feel at this stage this is sustainable. An insider at the Ministry of Finance described the upcoming Budget as "fiscally disciplined."
The insider said that while the Government was not going to "give away the shop, the people will be pleasantly surprised" by Monday's Budget presentation.
The source said that the Budget was not influenced by the fact that there is a general election next year because the money is simply not available for the usual election spree.
The Sunday Guardian was told that the Budget is likely to be based on a natural gas price of US $275 per mmbtu and an crude oil price of between US$55 and US $60, with the Minister of Finance preferring the US$60 because of the higher prices being paid in the international market for heavier crude due to the skewing of the global market by light shale oil and the collapse of Venezuela’s oil sector.
Sources said the Government's revenue continues to be constrained because of relatively low oil and gas prices, low production and a stagnant non-energy sector. However, the sale of Clico and British American is expected to add at least $3 billion (TT) to the Government's revenue and that money is to be paid in US dollars.
There will be additional money from Atlantic LNG’s new arrangements and from dividend and taxes from Heritage Petroleum.
Heritage is also going to play an important role in the Government’s plans with attempts to increase production, with the concomitant effect of more land rigs and more employment in the oil belt.
The Minister of Finance also has loans to draw down on which will allow for a more expansionary approach in this year’s Budget.