Finance Minister Colm Imbert has announced a nearly $60 billion 2024 budget, promising to pay public servants' backpay of $1 billion by Christmas this year, to triple the intake of police officers to 1,000 next year and to allocate school supplies and book grants of $1,000 to needy students chosen through a means test.
Tobago will get $2.58 billion, an increase of $64 million over 2023.
Minister Imbert, who spoke for over four hours, also promised to collect property tax in 2024 and to work aggressively to address foreign exchange supply issues.
Here are some highlights of the presentation.
Total revenue: $54.012B
Total Expenditure: $59.209B
Oil estimate: US$85/barrel
Gas estimate: US$5 per mmbtu
Oil revenue: $16.79B
Non-oil revenue: $35.54B
Capital revenue: $1.756b
Tobago to get $2.585 billion, of which $2.298 billion will be for recurrent expenditure and $260 million for the development programme. $18M for URP and $9.2M for CEPEP. The total is an increase of $64.2 million over 2023.
Additional allocation totalling $80 million in 2024 for new vehicles and equipment for police over and above 2023 allocation. This will allow for more community patrols. A further sum of $50 million for a riverine unit at Carenage station.
Police training and recruits increase:
The total number of active police officers is constantly affected by mandatory retirement, vacation or other forms of leave. To bring the Police Service back to full strength, we have mandated CoP to triple intake from 300 to 1000 recruits in 2024. Schools will be included in the training of recruits.
Settlement with CPO:
$1 billion in backpay by Christmas this year. Government has decided to make $4000 lump sum payment to retirees tax-exempt. This will cost us $19 million, but we believe they deserve it.
New modern scanners are being procured for the ports. Contract awarded at an estimated cost of $90 million for the supply and delivery of four large-scale inspection scanners. It will be operationalised in 2024.
A further $400 million in 2024, comprising $250 million as an incentive to farmers and $150 million for the development of infrastructure through the Palo Seco Agricultural Enterprises Company. Rehabilitating 240 kilometres of access roads; replanting 900 acres of coconut; revitalising the cocoa industry; strengthening the Praedial Larceny Squad; rejoining the International Coffee Organisation; necessary support to cocoa farmers and entrepreneurs.
Tourism industry revitalised. From January to July 2023, T&T got 182,508 visitors. Hotel industry reported 62% occupancy rate during that time.
Caribbean Airlines to return fleet size to pre-pandemic level will four additional ATRs and three Boeing 737-800s. Will also lease 5 other aircraft to meet regional demand.
$100 million for housing:
$100 million to be allocated for ongoing and new projects under the housing and village improvement programme. Will yield over 600 housing and village improvement units in 2024. We allocated 2500 units between 2019 and 2023 of which 469 were allocated in 2023.
School supplies & book grant:
Minister proposes to provide in 2024, for needy students in primary and secondary schools - using a means test - a school supplies and book grant of $1000. Estimates this will cost $65 million in 2024 and assist parents of 65,000 needy students. Intends to consult with all stakeholders in the education sector, standardise textbooks as far as practical and eliminate the arrival of new textbooks every year, making it very difficult to pass on books to other members of the family.
Memorandum of Understanding with India to advance digital transformation and information technology.
Making 2,400 fit-for-purpose laptops for students and associated staff.
We are now continuing discussions with stakeholders for the increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65. This process is at an advanced stage, with majority support for increasing retirement age.
Government to set agenda on causes for increased demands and devise strategies for the management and allocation of foreign currency. We intend to move aggressively to develop strategies to increase the repatriation of foreign exchange earned overseas by local and foreign businesses operating in Trinidad and Tobago, as this is key to an increased supply of foreign exchanges. In 2024, the government will create new arrangements for preferential access to foreign exchange for qualified small and medium enterprises.
The collection of property taxes will be effective in the year 2024. Residential taxes will be collected by municipalities. The base for calculating property taxes is the annual rental value of properties. Property owners and occupiers will soon begin to receive notices stating the amount of property tax they're required to pay, which, when they see the actual rates for themselves, will bring the charade perpetrated by those opposite to an end.
We envisage that the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority will significantly reduce the current estimated tax gap of up to $10 billion.