In T&T: Budget of deception

8 October 2012


Strong words, as concerns on Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (among other items) are expressed.

ENERGY expert Gregory McGuire has warned that the country is living beyond its means and will face disaster should oil prices plummet for an extended period.

McGuire was a part of a post-budget panel at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, on Thursday.

Senior Lecturer at the UWI Dr Roger Hosein and Research Fellow Dr Anthony Birchwood also sat on the panel.

The trio, speaking at the Learning Resource Centre, made similar remarks with respect to the 2013 budget being ‘vague” and lacking a clear sense of priority in Government’s spending.

McGuire said Monday’s budget presentation by Finance Minister Larry Howai was a “budget of deception”.

Howai attempted to paint a picture of an economy that was in good shape, McGuire said, when in fact, after years of talk of diversification, the local economy was still being kept afloat by oil and gas.

“We are living beyond our means and any sudden collapse of oil prices will result in the immediate collapse of this economy,” McGuire said.

He said the 2013 budget “may not take us very far” and the Government appeared to be “marking time” in the hope of a big event, such as an oil or gas mega-find.

In the meantime, he said, the Government appears to be trying to purchase political currency.

The removal of the State’s subsidy on premium gasoline may also not have the desired effect with respect to Government’s savings, McGuire said, as the subsidy bill could in fact, rise, if more people switched to super gasoline.

There is wanton wastage and inefficiency across the country, McGuire said, adding that one example was the fact that staff employed with the now-defunct Alutrint smelter project were still being paid monthly salaries.

Dr Roger Hosein, who said there was a lack of clarity and some confusion over the figures being presented by the various agencies on such issues as unemployment, called for tighter monitoring of some Government programmes to stem wastage.

Among these is the Government-assisted tertiary education (GATE) programme, which should employ more rigorous approval methods to ensure would-be students are given the funds they need with no room for wastage.

Hosein said it was also still too “tedious” to conduct business or to accomplish regular requirements in Trinidad and Tobago, such as owning a house.

Dr Anthony Birchwood said the Government’s declaration of efforts to balance the budget deficit by 2015 may not be realistic, as the 2014 budget will, typically, be “an election budget”.

The Government could also find itself in danger of having to borrow to invest in the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.

There are “hard choices” to be made, Birchwood said, including adherence to strict fiscal rules and a respect for the debt ceiling.

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