MORE $$$ FOR SECURITY, HOUSING
By Nalinee Seelal Monday, October 1 2012
NEW FINANCE MINISTER Larry Howai will take centre stage today when he presents the 2012/2013 fiscal package dubbed “The People’s Budget” in the House of Representatives at Tower D of the Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre at 1.30 pm.
Howai who replaced former Minister of Finance Winston Dookeran on June 25 following a reconfiguration of Cabinet is expected to announce a series of initiatives aimed at kick-starting the national economy during his maiden budget presentation.
On Saturday Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar stole some of the spotlight at the People’s Partnership’s pre-budget rally when she announced that the 15 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food items will be removed effective November 15.
While prices of most food items will be adjusted to factor in the removal of VAT, the tax remains on luxury items, including alcoholic beverages and cigarettes.
In an interview with Newsday yesterday, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar also revealed some of the other initiatives to be introduced in today’s national budget presentation.
She said coming out of today’s fiscal package for 2012/2013, will be initiatives to kick-start the economy including an aggressive construction drive, introduction of new techniques in the fight against crime, allocations for improved health care and the lowering of food prices, among others.
Sources close to the government have also revealed no new taxes will be introduced in today’s budget presentation. They also revealed the Property Tax will not be introduced, despite the perception that this will be the case.
“Minister Howai will include in his budget 2012/2013, initiatives for a construction boom. This will not only stimulate the economy but will remain grounded in the philosophy of the People’s Partnership government of people-centred governance. This initiative will include announcements for a housing construction boom as well as other areas of construction.
“The Minister is also expected to announce several initiatives including the establishment of 32 community policing centres, and the consideration of radar to detect speed on the nations roadways to bring down carnage, as well as the use of CCTV cameras on the roadways. Further consideration is to be given for the taser guns in the fight against crime. Indeed, there will be many more crime fighting initiatives as the Minister of National Security will be given a large slice of the Budget,” she revealed.
According to the prime minister, among the government’s main priorities are “human capital development, crime fighting, and infrastructure development.”
Newsday understands that major allocations in the budget are expected to go to the ministries of housing, national security, local government, food production and health.
Sources also revealed yesterday because the Prime Minister is intent on generating jobs and getting the economy going again, the Housing Ministry will get a larger allocation than previous years partly because Udecott has now been added to the portfolio of Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal.
In addition to completing ongoing projects such as the building of hospitals and fire stations, Udecott will also need additional funding to construct facilities such as 12 new Coast Guard stations, as well as Police Stations throughout the country. Yesterday, Moonilal told Newsday his ministry welcomed any move to boost the construction industry.
“We welcome any announcement of a construction boom which will go a long way towards generating economic growth and prosperity, particularly among the small to medium contractors and the thousands of their employees,” he said.
“We expect an expansion in the home construction programme to ensure that every deserving applicant can secure housing units in a reasonable time,” he noted.
The provision of low-cost housing was also a priority for the government. “While we welcome our allocations, the Government operates as a team and we will be working closely with Local Government, Works and Infrastructure and the ministries of Health and National Security to boost construction and ensure the resources of the state, reach those most in need,” he stressed.
Also speaking ahead of today’s budget was National Security Minister Jack Warner who told Newsday he was unaware of what his ministry will receive.
“I do not know what the exact allocation will be for my ministry but I remain optimistic because in order to succeed in the fight against crime, we have to put more resources into the law enforcement agencies and into social programmes”. Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is expected to begin the Budget debate in the House on Friday at 10 am. By law, the Budget must be passed by the House and the Senate.
In the previous fiscal package of $55 billion, while no new taxes were introduced in an effort to encourage trade and tax payment, stiff penalties were rolled out to deter habits which drained the Treasury.
In what was the second People’s Partnership coalition budget, a bold series of new initiatives to benefit pensioners, the disabled, low-income home owners, suffering Clico/HCU policyholders and small business owners were announced. Most notably, the minimum national insurance retirement pension will be increased to $3,000.
At the same time, a raft of stiff penalties and licence fees in relation to the fuel trade, most notably a $3 million fine for persons caught exporting or attempting to export volumes of fuel in excess of 160,000 litres without authorisation were also announced. Tighter regulations targeted students, illegal traders, insouciant companies, delinquent VAT payers and gamblers.