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Howai promises flooding relief

By Richardson Dhalai and Clint Chan Tack Saturday, August 16 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Chairman Moonilal: Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal (back to camera) chairs yesterday's special Cabinet meeting at the San Fernando Teaching Hospit...
Chairman Moonilal: Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal (back to camera) chairs yesterday's special Cabinet meeting at the San Fernando Teaching Hospit...

FINANCE Minister Larry Howai yesterday said Government will make a decision within the next two weeks, regarding a financial package from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to deal with flooding in Port-of-Spain. Howai made the disclosure at a news conference at the San Fernando Teaching Hospital, following a special Cabinet meeting there to discuss the budget.

The meeting was chaired by Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal in the absence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. No reasons were given for Persad-Bissessar’s absence or why she did not address the subsequent news conference. A statement issued earlier in the day by the Office of the Prime Minister said Persad-Bissessar would address the briefing. Only Howai and Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan spoke at the briefing.

Told by reporters about yesterday’s flooding in Port-of-Spain and asked what action Government will take to address this perennial problem, Howai replied, “There has been a financing package which has been worked out with the IDB to address this particular matter.”

Saying this package was negotiated by the Planning Ministry and is receiving urgent attention, Howai said his ministry is looking at it in the context of the overall portfolio of debt and “how much expenditure we want to incur in the next year or so and how do we manage all of the issues that we have to deal with.”

Notwithstanding this, Howai said, “Our capital city is our capital city and therefore we need to pay particular attention to the impact that flooding would have on overall levels of productivity.”

He reiterated that “it is something that is receiving very urgent attention from us. We should make a decision in the next week or two.” Asked if the public could expect the return of the land and building tax in the 2014/2015 budget which he will present in Parliament on September 8, Howai said, “We are still working on that.”

Stating the ministry is only looking at the introduction of the first phase, an industrial tax (which was supposed to have been implemented on July 1), Howai said legislation is needed to effect this phase of the tax. “That will take a bit longer than we originally expected,” he added.

In his budget presentation last September, Howai indicated that a tax on commercial properties and one on agricultural and residential properties would be introduced after the industrial land tax. Howai was unable to say what measures for national security will be placed in the budget. While disclosing this was not discussed at yesterday’s meeting, Howai said National Security Minister Gary Griffith gave him “a special package” outlining what he wants for his ministry.

Reiterating that the emphasis will be on growth and his optimism that Government could be able to reduce the deficit by better than one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year, Howai said Cabinet ministers and MPs made suggestions for things which could be included in the budget.

He made it clear that not all of the things that were discussed “will necessarily find their way into the national budget when the budget is read.”

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