THA in financial limbo

A September 7 General Election means Tobago will be in a state of “financial limbo” for an extended period this year, Chief Secretary Orville London has said.

London made the statement as he led off Thursday’s debate of the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) Fiscal 2016 budget request, which was presented by Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development Joel Jack on June 22 at the Assembly Legislature.

The Chief Secretary said the election date means the national budget will be presented in “late September for the earliest”.

“We will be in a state of financial limbo for even a longer period than in previous years,” London remarked, “and of course this will present significant challenges for our planning as we move forward.”

The Chief Secretary said it is important for Tobagonians to understand the constraints under which the THA has to operate.

Another big challenge for the Assembly, London stated, is the restriction on its ability to borrow based on its credit worthiness. Although local financial institutions are willing to fund the THA, he added, it has not gotten the “relevant” approval from the Central Government.

“It means that 95 per cent of the requests that were made under the various line items for various projects and programmes – especially under development – 95 per cent of them would be grossly underfunded. Therefore we will find ourselves in the very challenging position, where when we finally get our allocation, we have 50 projects and have to debunk 45. I want the people of Tobago to understand that,” London said.

The Chief Secretary said he understands the challenges of presenting a budget in a “financial vacuum”, with the Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries only able to indicate what they would like to do rather than what they can do. This is why they will return to the Assembly Legislature once the national budget is read to announce what they can actually do with the resources allotted to them by the Central Government.

On June 22, Jack presented a request for $5.8 billion for Fiscal 2016, including funding for both the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) and the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP).

The budget proposal, which was accepted by Assemblymen and Councillors at Thursday’s sitting, is expected to be sent to Finance Minister Larry Howai by Tuesday (June 30, 2015).

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