Chief Secretary Orville London has said the arithmetic for the Tobago allocation in the $61.3 billion national budget for fiscal 2014 must be gotten right.
He made it clear that the allocation to the Assembly was not $3.309 billion or equivalent to 5.39 percent of the national budget. He said the allocation was $2.477 billion of which $2,095 billion was for recurrent expenditure, $363 million for capital expenditure and $19 million for the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP). He said the $831.2 million revealed by Finance Minister Larry Howai in his budget presentation on Monday was to be spent by Government Ministries.
London said the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) was clear that the THA must receive a minimum of 4.03 percent of the total allocation so what “we did in fact get was somewhere in the vicinity of 4.03 percent which is the norm the Central Government has given Tobago over the years, the minimum allowed under the DRC, therefore it followed the law”.
He said the THA had requested under development $1.98 billion and recurrent $2.97 billion, a total in the vicinity of about $4.95 billion. “It meant therefore that we would have received exactly half of what was requested,” London said in an interview yesterday. (Tuesday 10th September 2013)
He said what was even more significant was that the development funds requested was in the vicinity of $1.98 billion so that with the receipt of $364 million was less than 25 percent. “Anybody would recognise that it is really in your development allocation that you would be able to do the things that would propel the economy and give the island the kind of future that we desire.”
London said it meant that a number of important projects would have to be shelved for yet another year because what will happen was that the Central Government will give minimal sums for items. “It means therefore that none of these projects can be completed with the sum approved, so what we have to do is to lump monies from various items together and in local parlance scrape up money to do a number of smaller projects,” he said.
These include the development of the Cove Eco Industrial and Business Park for which no money was allocated and he found it quite ironical that the Minister would have said Cove would be given Free Zone status.
He said he had made the point to the Minister that the Assembly was to a certain extent hamstrung by the lack of funding for its housing thrust and requested from him that even if he might not be able to give the kind of allocation necessary to provide Tobagonians with the number of housing opportunities on a consistent basis that he should state in the budget his intention, his commitment to a process that the THA could collaborate with the Central Government in accessing the resources whether by loans, grants, public private partnership whatever.
He added that it was quite ironical that in the budget there were a number of opportunities that were made public for the homeowner in Trinidad because of the various strategies the Government was introducing in Trinidad but in the Tobago situation there were no such opportunities.
He said the total allocation to the Division of Settlements and Labour for all the projects at Adventure, Courland, Belle Garden, and Adelphi along with the Home Improvement Grant, the Home Improvement Subsidy, the Home Completion Programme and the new Home Construction Programme left just $20 million for housing construction and at the present prices can provide between 25 to 30 houses.
He said his biggest challenge was that the Minister did not say anything about the housing solutions while his statement on CAL was quite confusing since the Assembly has had challenges with the airline.
He said the Assembly will also have challenges with its Human Resources Development Programme, the GAP programme for shut in persons, the long promised Bacolet Indoor Sporting Complex and the Bacolet Aquatic Centre, among others.
“I am saying all of this to put the people of Tobago on notice that despite what was said in the budget there are a number of projects for which funding would not be available,” London added.