THA contemplates legal action

Finance and Enterprise Development Secretary, Assemblyman Joel Jack.
The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) may trigger provisions of the Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) in the THA Act to seek arrears of funding of hundreds of millions of dollars in budgetary allocations dating back to 2010.

This was stated by THA Finance and Enterprise Development Secretary Assemblyman Joel Jack at Wednesday’s post Executive Council media briefing.

He said: “We have that mechanism at our disposal and I believe that at the conclusion of our deliberation (with the Minister of Finance) that might be one of the options available to us. In addition to getting this year’s arithmetic correct we also have the issue of previous year’s balances that are owed to the THA.”

Jack said beyond the legal measure in terms of financing Tobago’s developmental agenda a THA team led by Chief Secretary Orville London recommended to the Minister that if he was unable to fund Tobago’s development needs allow the THA under the law to float two Tobago Development Bonds, a billion dollars this year and a billion dollars in another year.

He added that in the light of the strong credit rating of Baa 1 by Moody’s Investors Services, the liquidity in the banking system as well as low interest rates and the recent FCB public share offer he believed that investors in the market were looking to park their funds.

“The Assembly has the ability to approach the Bond market, we have taken the necessary steps to do so and I believe it is time. We cannot be shackled in terms of Tobago’s developmental agenda to be constrained by subvention budgeting and subvention financing. I believe that we are at a critical juncture in Tobago’s development and the response to the mandate given to us by the people, it is time that the Minister of Finance sit and discuss with us by the end of September an amicable solution to this issue,” Jack said.

Jack who was commenting on the $61.3 billion budget presented to Howai on Monday said while there were some positives in the budget, “we in the THA are concerned with the allocation to Tobago. I want to clear up a misnomer that people are thinking that the Assembly received 5.39 percent of the budget. That has to be corrected, at the barest minimum the Assembly received 4.03 percent and there is a bit of contention about it”.

He said what the Minister added to the THA allocation of $2.477 billion was the over $800 million allocated to other Ministries within Trinidad and within the Ministry of Tobago Development. “The Assembly has only received 4.03 percent,” he stressed.

Quoting from a paper that was given to the Assembly by the DRC, Jack said it recommended the range of 4.03 to 6.09 percent that was related to the areas of the national budget for which the Assembly was responsible, matters which fell primarily within the fifth schedule of the THA Act in respect to the recurrent and development expenditures. “That clearly spells out that the DRC ruling relates specifically to funds related to the THA,” he said.

Jack said the minimum 4.03 percent allocation was a crude estimate of the size of the Tobago population which had increased to 4.5 percent and the Assembly was looking for something close to that base figure. Additionally, he said, in the heat of the political battle in the THA election the Prime Minister promised an increased allocation in this year’s budget and it was hoping that she would keep her word and deliver on her promise to the people of Tobago.

The Assembly will convene a two-day retreat on September 19 and 20 to deliberate how it will manage financial resources going forward for the next financial year. This will be followed by a Motion on the matter by Jack on September 26 at the plenary sitting of the House of Assembly.

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