Budget by everyone, for everyone

By Raffique Shah
September 15, 2020

Raffique ShahI imagine that every citizen who is conscious of the state of the country’s economy must wonder what magic Finance Minister Colm Imbert will weave when he presents his sixth consecutive Budget in a few weeks. The economy was already battered and bruised by plummeting oil and gas prices and struggling production levels when Covid-19 entered the picture and added to its grimness. The deadly virus savaged economies around the world, bringing many countries to their knees, leaving behind scenes that seemed to be apparitions of Armageddon.

Here in Trinidad and Tobago, five years of deficit budgeting, in which expenditure had exceeded revenue that drove the country deeper into debt, signs of a recovery crumbled cruelly in the economic earthquake, causing much moaning, weeping, gnashing of teeth, not to add tens of thousands of outstretched hands seeking food and basic needs for survival.

It is against such a gloomy backdrop that the People’s National Movement won the general election on August 10, leaving me to wonder why anyone would want to run this country in such times. So now, with no respite from the pandemic—if anything, it has grown worse—Minister Imbert must find ways to raise revenues of TT $50 billion or more, or wield a mean blade to cut billions off the expenditure column of his balance sheet, in order to satisfy the needs of a nation that could be unreasonable in the best of times, or unforgiving when the going gets tough.

I don’t know what the actual revenues collected for the year will be, but common sense tells me they will be substantially below what he estimated in the last Budget. Then, nobody could have imagined the Covid-19 Pandemic and the shutting down of the country, hell, a global shutdown. Our economy, like so many others, ground to a screeching halt. Revenues from oil and gas companies, those that had not stopped operations before March (many petrochemical plants did), will have fallen precipitously.

No sales so no profits, no salaries so no income tax, and so on, so short. The Treasury will have been way short of cash. On top of that, during the Great Shutdown, Government borrowed huge sums to pay all public sector employees who were on ‘lockdown’, as well as fund a number of grants to thousands of other workers, unemployed, poor people and businesses. I shudder to think of what the national debt must look like. It was more than TT $100 billion at the end of 2019.

Taxi drivers, doubles vendors, market vendors, some hoteliers and other citizens benefitted from the charity. I am sure that some “Venes” and other non-nationals passed in the rush.

While we did not vote on it, I am sure the vast majority of citizens and tax payers had no problem with the Government giving charity or support to people of the country who might have otherwise suffered immensely for lack of funds and lack of food. I have not even mentioned the cost of mobilizing and expanding the health systems in preparation for the fallout from the Covid-19 Pandemic. I can easily see Government spending maybe $20 Billion more than budgeted for the current fiscal year. While they must account for every dollar so spent we citizens must join with them in finding ways to repay what is truly a national debt. In fact given that Minister Imbert has allowed time for organisations and individuals to make suggestions with respect to the 2020/2021budget. We have an opportunity, Government and citizens, to prepare what is truly a budget by everyone, for everyone. This could be one of the great benefits from Covid-19, an opportunity that arises out of a crisis. Here is a chance to practice what has been preached ever since Independence.

In this new milieu the masses must not only shape the instrument that will determine how we make and spend public funds, but also offer us an opportunity to determine where we can make savings and where we must spend money.

In such situations, Trade Unionists, especially those who represent public sector workers, will easily see that their members, who were participants in the decision making process cannot, all factors considered, demand increased wages and salaries at this point in time. Indeed, because Trade Union leaders will have been part of the process along with their members, they will see the wisdom in steering the country out the perilous waters we have had to navigate over the past year. Also, senior government officials, business owners and managers, will see the workers and the jobless as human beings. And just maybe, everybody, ministers, senior public officials, private sector leaders, public sector workers and employees in general, will instinctively improve their productivity in this new social and economic order. Just maybe.

I have always been a dreamer. It is neither a nightmare nor day-mare. It’s possible. Let’s just do the damn thing. (This one is for O.B. Thanks for everything, Bro)

5 thoughts on “Budget by everyone, for everyone”

  1. Colm is the economic genius he skillfully managed the economy by not having one year of positive growth. For that remarkable (first of its kind) achievement his steady hand will again continue this pattern of economic decline.

    He is also the borrowing and differing genius. He borrowed over $70 billion in just over 4 years raising the deficit to a staggering $107 billion (Central Bank fig.) He also differed some massive loan repayments (Petrotrin) to 2022. Meanwhile asking his Syrian friends to help him find money to borrow to repay loans.

    Colm must be a PNM god, he is untouchable. He increased taxes on everything. His biggest claim to fame will be when he buss some more taxes in his first budget of this new administration. The PNM supports love it and they love him, a slave race relishes the massa whip it demonstrates love for their people.

    The measures he will take will be draconian, but PNM supporters will continue to cherish and savour the fat of the land CEPEP CEO enjoys a cool $65,000 a month salary. Well deserved. President Paula Mae Weekes will get a pension of $1.4 million upon retirement for all the hard work she has done so far. The treasury will only be empty for those who are not part of the balisier brigade.

  2. The budget should focus on (1) cutting salaries, all government workers making over $50,000 should get a 25% cut. (2) State enterprises that are a burden on the tax payer should be privatized. WASA, T&TEC etc. (3) Property tax should be deferred and land tax increase by 100% (land tax is very low). (4)
    Old age Pensions should be cut by 5%. (5) All M.P salaries should see a 5% cut. (6) the government should work on a more equitable model of transfer payments to regional cooperations. (7) Gas price should increase by a modest 5%. (8) the presidents retirement pension should be reduced to $300,000 yearly tax free. From the current $1.4 million. The position of President is one of service to nation, not an opportunity to exploit the treasury and must embodied sacrifice .
    Whilst there is a lot of goodwill for the government these drastic measures must be taken immediately. It is the first step in addressing the economic problems that keep being deferred.

    1. Lead by example. Cut all politicians and state employees salaries and benefits by 25 percent this year and a further 25 percent next year. This includes everyone, Gov’t, Opposition, State employees, army, police etc plus all those retired politicians like Panday etc. They already lived high on the hog.

      Leave old age pension alone. These poor people have already paid their dues.

      Cut imports on every thing except food, medical supplies and essential items.

      This is a start. Self sufficiency in food should be a national goal.

  3. “TRINIDAD and Tobago’s (T&T) total net public sector debt rose to $120.5 billion, or 71.7 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product at the end of July 2020, according to the Central Bank’s Economic Bulletin for July 2020, which was published on Tuesday” Express.
    All along I have been saying the debt is $120 billion but prior to election the Central Bank had it at $107 billion. Hmmm where is the honesty and integrity? Bet no one dares to question changes in figures! Public institutions should function independent of the government. But the EBC, Police, now Central Bank are all working hard for massa….

  4. Trinidad is no longer an energy based economy. The world is flooded with oil, gas, etc.
    From a $52 billion economy to a $39 billion economy and with covid much more lower. The true state of the economy is one heading into the arms of the IMF or heading to bankruptcy. With 4 1/2 years of negative growth, the future looks like increased negative growth and more taxation. . You cannot have a $120.5 billion deficit and expect to live life as though there is enough money for everyone. There has to painful cuts and deeper taxation. All must contribute to the effort to keep the sinking boat afloat. We all have to say grreat is da PNM. Welcome to the tax and borrow economy.

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