Wages a priority despite funding challenges

The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has not yet received its full parliamentary allocation for the third quarter in fiscal 2016.

Instead the Ministry of Finance has forwarded funds for one month’s recurrent expenditure and little more than one month’s funding for its development programme. However, Chief Secretary Orville London told reporters at Wednesday’s post Executive Council media briefing wages and salaries to Assembly workers remain a priority.

According to the THA Act, the Ministry has to forward the Assembly’s quarterly allocations “en bloc”—or all together—at the beginning of the quarter.

“There is a problem with the THA finances,” London explained. “Usually and legally, the Tobago House of Assembly receives its parliamentary allocation from the Ministry of Finance ‘en bloc’ and in advance. “This did not happen in this particular quarter. In fact, funding was received the middle of this month; we received one month of funding under recurrent and one month and a half funding under the development vote,” London said.

London said Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development, Assemblyman Joel Jack, discussed the matter with Minister of Finance Colm Imbert while they were at a conference in the United States.

The Chief Secretary added: “The reason of course is the reason put forward in the mid-term review, where the government is operating in a scenario where they can only spend what they collect.

“With the unavailability of the $9 billion overdraft, the government has no flexibility and therefore only what it collects it can spend, so although we are concerned and of course challenged, I think we are aware of what the real situation is.”

London said Imbert has assured the THA that the rest of the allocation should come within the next four weeks. Officials in the Finance Division have indicated that the situation, although difficult, is not “totally unmanageable”.

“I have every confidence that we would be able to treat with the major priorities in the short term,” London said.

“As the rest of the country, we recognise two things: we hope the situation is going to improve but the reality is that it is unlikely to improve in the short term.”

London said the THA is monitoring the situation, and will make the necessary adjustments, as well as keep Tobagonians notified.

“We do not think that at this point in time there is any need for any serious adjustments beyond what was made when we spoke to the island after the first seven percent cut,” London added.

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