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THA proposes $5.68 billion Budget

By Sasha Harrinanan in Tobago Tuesday, June 24 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Money matters: THA Chief Secretary Orville London (left) and THA Health Secretary Claudia Groome-Duke during yesterday's presentation of the Assembly'...
Money matters: THA Chief Secretary Orville London (left) and THA Health Secretary Claudia Groome-Duke during yesterday's presentation of the Assembly'...

ROAD works and tourism infrastructure upgrades account for a significant portion of the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) proposed $5.68 billion budget for the financial year, October 1, 2014 — September 30, 2015. Last year’s proposed budget was worth $4.95 billion.

Secretary for Finance and Enterprise Development, Joel Jack, said $184 million would go towards “Massive improvement in our physical infrastructure on the island.”

Seven projects were mentioned by the secretary, with the least expensive being $11 million Plymouth/Arnos Vale Road. Construction of Sea Defence Walls were estimated to cost $32 million while the Road Resurfacing Programme was allocated $35 million but the most expensive item of the seven was “major improvement work on secondary roads, at a cost of $53 million,” Jack stated.

During his three-hour presentation at the Assembly Chamber in Scarborough yesterday, the Finance Secretary also said while efforts are being made to diversify the economy, tourism continues to be the main income earner for Tobago. As such, the THA’s “development estimates caters for a number of programmes to ensure our recent successes in the tourism sector are not compromised.”

This would include a proposed $12 million for the revitalisation of the Fort King George Heritage Park in Scarborough, $10 million for additional tourism marketing, $6 million to buy land at Pirates Bay in Charlotteville, $1 million for the restoration of historical sites and $1.2 million specifically for the restoration of historical sites at Cove Estate in southwest Tobago.

While recurrent expenditure for the most part remained the same, including $50 million for the School Feeding Programme, Jack’s second budget as Finance Secretary saw him increasing the Pre-Investment Studies allocation from $1 million in the previous budget, to $25 million for the 2014 — 2015 financial year.

Why? “To facilitate pre-investment studies for new projects and programmes,” including a location feasibility study for a port at the Cove Eco-Industrial and Business Park (CEIBP), marine development in Tobago, a wastewater treatment plant for southwest Tobago, downstream options for the Studley Park Quarry and surveys for coastal protection options.

This year’s proposed budget also called for $2 million to provide Venture Capital funding for investment in emerging industries, $6.5 million for the Enterprise Development Company of Tobago and $22.1 million for the Establishment of a Fish Processing Company of Tobago.

Jack didn’t only focus on internal matters. Rather, he spoke of the need for “a THA representative on the Central Bank Board,” to give Tobago a “voice” when it comes to monetary policy.

“We know that monetary policy also influences the general level of economic activity through its effect on interest rates, investment and ultimately, output and employment. This nexus between monetary policy and the real economy is of particular interest to us here in Tobago in view of our ongoing efforts to diversify and develop an indigenous business class here on the island. Indeed, inappropriate monetary policy interventions could push up interest rates, jeopardise investment options and affect the level of growth and employment,” Jack stated.

The Finance Secretary intends to raise this issue at the THA’s “next meeting with the Minister of Finance” Larry Howai.

Another area of the economy where the THA feels it should have a say is in the oil and gas sector, because “resources in the marine areas around Tobago have been contributing significantly to the economic well-being of the country for a considerable period of time,” Jack noted, “and the people of Tobago are adamant that some form of revenue sharing mechanism to govern the resources of this area should be put in place in the constitution.”

Crime was another area of concern. Although Jack did not give any specific allocations toward fighting crime in Tobago, he did note, “Where crime is concerned, Tobago and the Tobago economy, is even more susceptible than Trinidad because we depend heavily on the tourism industry, where perception of crime could have a deleterious effect.”

As such, Jack called for special measures to be instituted, specific to the island. He also said there was need for greater use of sniffer dogs on the seaport and airport, greater use of CCTV cameras at strategic locations throughout the island, a greater focus on community policing, the introduction of tourism oriented policing and increased patrols at tourism sites and greater use of available crime statistics to aid in crime prevention efforts.

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