US Embassy in TT cuts back
By Andre Bagoo Wednesday, October 2 2013
TRINIDAD and Tobago yesterday began to feel ripple effects from the United States shutdown of government agencies due to a budget standoff in Washington, as the US Embassy in Port-of-Spain announced that certain operations would continue, “on a limited basis” and signalled that some operations would only continue, “for a short period of time.”
Late Monday evening, talks between rival-party Democratic and Republican US lawmakers collapsed, resulting in the failure to extend crucial authorisations for the State to spend money; triggering a partial shutdown of the US government.
In the first shutdown of its kind in 16 years, an estimated 800,000 US federal workers were immediately put out of work, forced to embark on unpaid leave, as the US literally had no money to pay them since no new budget had been authorised. The US Embassy at Marli Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday issued a press release saying, “Due to the lapse in appropriations which began today, certain Department of State operations will continue on a limited basis. Certain multi-year State Department accounts have residual funds that are available after September 30, 2013. These funds will allow the Department to continue to operate for a short period of time.”
The Embassy, whose statement was issued through its Public Affairs Section, said fee-funded activities, including visa and passport issuance, and US citizen services abroad, are expected to continue since fees are collected to finance these services. As such, applicants with scheduled visa interviews should come to the Embassy at the scheduled time, and they will be seen. New applicants may continue to register for appointments, as usual.
American citizen services will also continue normally. However cutbacks will be made in relation to other aspects of the Embassy’s operations.
“During this time the US Department of State will not hire any new personnel, and will have to severely constrain spending,” the Embassy said. “This includes avoiding new obligations; sharply curtailing travel and conferences, and avoiding making all, but the most essential purchases. Foreign assistance programmes with Fiscal Year 2013, and prior-year funds available will continue, as will implementation of ongoing programmes.”
In contingency plans drawn up by the Department of State, the Embassy was due to report on residual balances available to it, and to liaise with the Bureau of Budget and Planning (BP) and the Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources.
Guidelines issued by the US State Department further stipulate that no representational events may be held; no speeches should be made unless approved; and no new obligations should be made except for payroll, and to protect life and property.
Acting Prime Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal, will today seek advice over the situation in the United States as it relates to Trinidad and Tobago, officials at the Office of the Prime Minister said yesterday as Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador in Washington, Dr Neil Parsan, warned that the situation could impact the local economy due to the flow of remittances.
“This shutdown will affect the US economy, and if it continues over time will inevitably affect the Trinidad and Tobago economy as the US is a major trading partner of Trinidad and Tobago. The longer this shutdown continues, the worse the effects will be.” Parsan noted money being sent back to the country by relatives abroad could be affected. He said, “We may wish to pay attention to the issue of remittances to the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago, especially if this shut down is prolonged.”
Minister of Finance Larry Howai said there was no impact as yet on the local economy, but made clear that the situation would be one that would have to be monitored for any longer-term implications. He said he was hopeful for a speedy resolution.
The shutdown is related to a series of political moves by Republicans to stall healthcare reforms ushered in by US President Barack Obama. See Page 25A