After a three-hour presentation —
Manning gives a little bit to everybody
By RIA TAITT, www.newsday.co.tt
In what seemed like a "Robin Hood" Budget, Minister of Finance, PM Patrick Manning’s $27.9 billion package gave generously to the very old, the very young, the very ill, the indigent and the differently-abled. In presenting the 2005 Budget in the House of Representatives yesterday, Manning kept his promise to bring special measures to ease the plight of those in the society least capable of taking care of themselves. For the middle-income earner, however, there was only meagre benefit — in the form of very modest tax relief. In the almost three-hour long presentation, entitled "Ensuring Our Future Survival," Manning trumpeted Government’s macro-economic achievements, the most significant being that the country had secured in the second quarter of this year, the lowest unemployment rate since the PNM came to power in 1956 — 7.8 percent. Pledging 34,000 more jobs within the next three years, Manning stated that full employment (that is an unemployment rate of five percent) was now an achieveable goal.
For the lowest income earners, the Minister of Finance announced an increase in the minimum wage from $8 to $9. He also increased the personal allowance of people with a gross income of less than $30,000 a year (less than $2,500 a month). It means that anyone in this category would not pay any taxes. The old age pensioner also had much to smile about. Manning announced an increase in the maximium old age pension from $1,000 to $1,150 per month, effective from October 1. Public Assistance was also increased by $150 per month from the same period. And the strong lobby from the Local Chapter of the Disabled International apparently paid off as the Disability Assistance Grant was increased from $650 to $800 per month, effective October 1. For the chronically sick of any age and station — those suffering with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, glaucoma, arthritis, asthma and mental depression and other illnesses — they can now access free drugs under the Chronic Diseases Assistance Programme (CDAP). The Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex from January 1, 2005, will be a free hospital for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, who would now be able to access all of its services, including the use of the medical facilities free of charge.
The retired public servant was well treated with an ex-gratia payment from October 1. Those who retired on or before December 31, 1984 will receive an ex-gratia payment of $400 per month. Those who left the public service between January 1, 1985 and December 1 1994 an ex-gratia payment of $300 per month and those who retired between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 1999, $150 per month. Widows of public service officers will receive an ex-gratia payment of $150 per month. For the simple consumer, the Minister of Finance removed VAT from brown sugar, cocoa powder, coffee, mauby and orange juice. He also announced that Government proposed to remove the duties (Common External Tariff) "subject to the approval of the Caricom Secretariat" on powdered milk, split peas, black-eye-beans and cheese. But what might turn out to be the biggest win for consumers is the reduction in the duty on imported chicken and turkey parts from 86 percent to 40 percent. The local chicken producers, who have been hiking chicken prices, will be the biggest losers when this measure takes effect from November.
"If this measure does not generate an appropriate reduction in poultry prices, the surcharge will be reduced further until the expected benefits to the consumer are realised," Manning stated. Annual vacation travellers who enjoy shopping overseas and returning with full suitcases should be pleased with the increase in the duty-free allowance from $1,200 to $3,000 per annum. To help small businesses to deal with the increase in the mininum wage, Manning said Government proposed to remove the business levy from registered small businesses. The Budget was based on an average oil price of US $32.80 per barrel. However Manning stated that the expenditure programme for fiscal 2005 was based on an oil-planning price of US $25 per barrel. Manning announced that the difference between the oil price on which the revenue estimates is based (US $32.80) and the expenditure planning price (US $25.00) was estimated at $1.3 billion, all of which will be transferred to the Interim Revenue Stabilisation Fund.
Among the healthy economic indicators cited by the Prime Minister were an external trade surplus of US $1.6 billion, a trade surplus of US $952 million with its Caricom neighbours, external reserves which now stood at a healthy US $2.7 billion — the equivalent of 6.2 months of imports , a performance rate in excess of 100 percent in the PSIP and an inflation rate which was "under control" at 3.3 percent. There was one very funny moment during the speech. It happened when the Prime Minister was boasting about the School Nutrition Programme. "Government is providing 95,000 lunches and 30,000 breakfast....." There was a long pause followed by laughter in the Chamber. "Breakfast meals" Manning said very slowly, before turning to Ken Valley, and in sotto voce, saying half-jokingly: "You know I almost said breakfasses." Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday will respond to the Budget presentation on Wednesday at 10 am.
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