Finance Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Joel Jack yesterday presented a $4.3 billion budget.In his maiden budget presentation, which lasted approximately three hours, Jack complained that Tobago is being short changed by the Central Government. He said the financial shortfalls have affected several development and social programmes and forced the THA to dip into its reserves."Total expenditure by the Tobago House of Assembly in fiscal 2012 amounted to $2,271,486,114. Recurrent expenditures represented $1,478,398,215 of the total and development programme expenditures amounted to $411,508,448. Contingencies Account expenditure and other operating expenditure amounted to $271,466,026 and $25,198,085 respectively," he said."Total expenditure increased by $273,102,800 in fiscal 2012 –equivalent to a 14 per cent increase over the previous year," he said.
As a result, Jack said, the THA's Contingencies Account was used to finance several important projects and programmes, including a road resurfacing programme, at a cost of $81.4 million; continued work on the Shaw Park Recreational Grounds and Cultural Complex, at $56.7 million; upgrade and construction of multipurpose community facilities in Belle Garden, Lambeau,Speyside and Lowlands, at a total cost of $22.3 million; the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (Cepep), at $14.2 million; and the Unemployment Relief Programme ((URP) at a cost of $41 million."This explains why programmes like Cepep an URP would have had to be closed down had not been for the use of budgetary savings where they occur to support such programmes," he said.
On a more positive note, Jack said Tobago had been awarded a Baa1 rating by international rating agency, Moody's–the first such sub-sovereign rating issued in the English-speaking Caribbean."This rating underscores the steady progress that the Assembly has been making in managing its finances; and provides an indication of Tobago's creditworthiness and its capacity to enter the capital market on its own, to issue financial instruments in support of Tobago's development," he said.Jack said the energy sector has a critical role to play in Tobago's developmental thrust."While we acknowledge the recent efforts of the Central Government to boost oil and natural gas production at the national level, we need to emphasise that Tobago cannot, and must not, be ignored or left out of any discussion, strategy or plan to exploit the oil and gas resources that lie in its surrounding waters," he said."On the broader strategic and developmental front, Tobago sees its overall energy thrust as a two-pronged strategy aimed at not only better harnessing the hydrocarbon resources in its waters but also proactively developing alternative energy schemes."
Jack said Tobago's economy is also hampered by a large unemployment rate. One in every five young adults is unemployed in Tobago. He said data provided by the Central Statistical Office in 2012 shows that 20 per cent of Tobago's labour force between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed.He told the THA: "A breakdown of these data by gender reveals that, within this age group, 27.8 per cent of males and 8.3 per cent of females are unemployed. This administration recognises the consequent need to grow the economy and create more jobs, especially in the private sector; and to ensure a better match between the skills needed by employers and the skill-sets of our young adults."Programmes put in place by this administration, such as the Youth Energized for Success, are designed to help us assess and address this latter issue, in order to equip young adults for self-employment and for the jobs that are, or soon will be, available."
Jack said economic development in Tobago also requires that the THA play a more facilitating role with the private sector taking a greater and more proactive position as the engine of growth. "By its outlay of $20 million to the THA Venture Capital Equity Fund, the Assembly has demonstrated its preparedness to lead this transformation of the Tobago economy," he said."The mandate of the Fund is to partner with the private sector to provide equity capital to support sustainable high-yield business start-ups which meet the investment criteria of the Fund. To date, the Fund has received several business proposals in four of its six priority sectors. It has committed capital to two green field companies, both in the light manufacturing sector; and continues to work with these companies to fast- track early start-up dates."It is envisaged that, by the end of 2013, the Venture Capital Equity Fund will have partnered with entrepreneurs in all six priority sectors in at least eight (8) investee companies. Tobago's economic diversification has begun; and the THA Venture Capital Equity Fund is playing a major role in reengineering its entrepreneurship."
The largest chunk of the THA budget–$845.7 million–will go to the Division of Health and Social Services, while the second largest allocation of $536.2 million is for Education, Youth Affairs and Sport."Tobago has grown faster than the national average: between 2000 and 2011, the national population grew by 0.5 per cent per annum, while the population of Tobago grew by 1.1 per cent. As a result, Tobago's share of the national population stood at over 4.58 per cent. Thus, simply on the basis of population, the crude measure on which the present DRC is based, Tobago would be entitled to no less than 4.58 per cent of the national budget, without factoring the catch-up component""Tobago has long gone past the mind-set of a lowly mendicant–meek and mild and well contented and well-behaved in its island-ward status. Neither pauperism nor mendicancy has ever been, or is now, part of Tobago's heritage" Jack said.