The Iceberg Budget
Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2002
By Stephen Kangal MOM
The Hon PM/ Minister of Finance in introducing the 2002/03 Budget proclaimed it as a Vision 20/20: People Our Priority.
This constitutes an extraordinary, optimistic, long-term planning framework that seems to be premised on the questionable prognosis that the PNM will be in power until 2020 continuously. The UNC on the other hand is of the view that First World Status can and should be achieved within a shorter time span possibly by 2012.
One needs to ask who amongst us is qualified or gifted with ESP to make any accurate and suitable projections on the configuration of the 2020 social and economic landscape having regard to the escalating rate at which technological and knowledge-based innovation is reforming the contours of the contemporary international system.
What are the relevant economic and social indicators to be met in order to merit entry into the developed club? This would appear to a pie in the sky aspiration premised on navigating into unknown and uncharted waters. It does require segmenting the 18 years time frame into smaller, realistic, more manageable modules and time frames to facilitate ease of planning, implementation and monitoring of targets if this is a serious issue and not just politicking.
I have branded this 2002/03 Budget an iceberg budget because it is more notable for the incomes and expenditures it conceals than what it reveals. What you see is not what you get (wysinwyg). There are so many hidden dimensions, perhaps the proverbial hidden 4/5 of the iceberg. What are the real annual debt repayment obligations? Is it $6bn each year or only in respect of 2002/03 because debt repayment were re-scheduled in the previous budget period? What are the sources of sustainable revenues to fund the expenditures? Will the State Enterprises be used to undertake enormous borrowings on the domestic market cushioned by permissive letters of comfort geared to circumvent budgetary procedures in order to show an artificial and wholly misleading budget surplus in the face of the public disclosures of a substantial budget deficit in respect of the 2001/02 in the region of $1.5bn at the Guyana Summit. By a wave of a Manning Wand this has now changed into a $68.9mn surplus? Did the Gov’t float loans on the local market to fund its expenditure? What is the exact quantum of the national debt?
The state enterprises have now assumed an unintended role in aiding and abetting the Central Government to circumvent parliamentary oversight after having been abused conveniently as mechanisms to circumvent Central Tenders Board tendering procedures. The electorate would have reasonably expected Government, in the face of a non-functioning parliamentary democracy during the last 10 months, to level with the people in relation to incomes and expenditures for the last 10 months including the size of the National Debt. The paramountcy of Parliament is being trivialized.
In true PNM tradition when the focus is on putting people first the focus is on the urban-sub-urban centres in which geography has a nagging way of coinciding with ethnicity to the neglect and marginalisation of the rural heartlands. Examine the areas earmarked for developmental/infrastructural works and determine whether the rest of T&T matters. So that whereas the intention on the Budgetary Pre-ambular Statement is " All our citizens must benefit from the wealth of the nation" and " Every citizen at every level must have the opportunity to find individual fulfillment and to contribute to the progress in the nation... (and) be brought into the mainstream of national development.." these are mere words with no reference to past or future reality. Once again we are being led back wards to the discriminatory period of the 60’ and 70’s when pluralism was ignored and the East-West Corridor monopolised and usurped the rewards financed out of the national patrimony.
What has become of race relations which figured on the hustings and which must now occupy front burner status if we are disentangle the tentacles of ethnic polarisation. It must serve as an important underpinning of the philosophical matrix that attempts to put people first. A labour force that is divided along the lines of ethnicity and geography stultifies the best policies, programmes and priorities designed to galvanize and mobilise all our cosmopolitan human resource endowment for national reconstruction and take-of.
In addition to allaying and diminishing ethnic strains and stresses we must seriously address fundamental health and welfare problems that are peculiar to both ethnicity and geography. This is of paramount importance in according priority to people. So that while allocating $500m for undertaking an effective anti-HIV/Aids initiative- a scourge of the 21st Century which is no respecter of persons but is predominantly an urban-suburban phenomenon we cannot justify relegating rural folks to languish and perish under the scourges of Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases resulting from poor dietary habits and sedentary/ non- active life styles. Central Government must conceptualise a sustained preventive/public awareness program of affirmative action geared to counteract the incidence of these ailments within rural and urban communities as well in order to conserve our human resources to power us into the challenging second decade of the 21st Century. This would indeed be walking the talk.
The Proposed University of Trinidad and Tobago
The proposed University of T&T would appear to be premised on the inability of nationals to gain entry into UWI owing to regional quotas/ lack of capacity e.g in the Faculty of Engineering and the Sciences.
With the proposed establishment of UT&T what message are we telegraphing to our Caricom partners? Why not expand facilities at St.Augustine to cater for the specific S&T needs of T&T by way of an Institute of Science and Technology? Are we signaling that of two most successful institutions of regional integration, namely, the West Indies Cricket Team and UWI, we are bent on presiding over the collapse of the latter? This proposal is an avoidable, expensive and unnecessary duplication that is going to suffer from diseconomies of scale.
What restrictions are there at UWI currently that militate against according priority to Science and Technology? Does this have something to do with the fact that:
The traditional African male students at UWI are no longer the dominant group?
The Principal is an Indo- UNC appointee?
The Government proposes to use UT&T for political ends and to use political criteria to determine entry?
Is this a part of the Iceberg Budget where there are more than meets the eye?
This University is a bolt from the blue proposed without the necessary consultations.
National Academy for the Performing Arts
This proposed facility was earmarked for construction as a module of the proposed Waterfront ACS Conference Facility by the UNC in the previous Budget. This Government now proposes to establish an Academy for The Performing Arts on the former Princes Building Grounds. While this location is superior to that of the POS Waterfront I do not believe that POS should continue to hold the monopoly for the arts.
POS is benefiting from the expensive refit of Queen’s Hall. There is the Arena Theatre of the Queen’s Park Savannah, the Jean Pierre Complex for cultural shows, The Little Carib Theatre and The Central Bank Auditorium, the National Stadium, the Library Complex etc.
Government is on record of being committed to eliminating pockets of inequities and geographic marginalisation. We the representatives of the people must take steps to unravel the urban-rural dichotomy by according due recognition to the rights of rural folks to development and justice and facilities.
Why must we deprive the artistes/patrons of Central and East Trinidad from equality of performing facilities? It would now appear that the Proposed Millenium Arts Centre to be located on the Old Caroni Racing Site is to be abandoned. This facility must be located either in Chaguanas or in Trincity, Orange Grove. Rural-based artistes do not have a decent performing facility to encourage the flowering of the Indian arts. North of the Divali Nagar site has ample space for this facility.
In fact if this were to be located in Orange Grove it would serve as development pole and with the proposed Marriot Hotel can cater to the needs of the Airport. The addition of the ACS Conference/ Secretariat Facility to this project in Trincity can complement the proposed University town of St.Augustine and circumvent the escalating traffic problem along the East-West Corridor.
National Strategic Plan For Culture
The development of a National Strategic Plan for Culture is an important manifesto for driving the full flowering of our cosmopolitanism. This blueprint must faithfully reflect our multiculturalism and be the product of the most widespread consultations among all the stakeholders. Mother T&T cannot and should discriminate among its children and marginalise and suffocate important strands/manifestations of our cultural mosaic.
The Community Concerts Programme
The Community Concerts cannot continue to pander to the cultural palates of the dominant urban-sub-urban enclaves. The cultural offerings of the rural heartlands must be showcased and given adequate patronage and exposure. This Concerts Programme cannot continue to be the sole preserve of soca and steel band and be a duplication of the annual Carnival exposition. This is 21st Century T&T and the proposed format of these Concerts must meaningfully and not cosmetically reflect our cultural diversity.
The Case for bringing the National Cultural Council out of mothball is clearly established. This Council must have its own Secretariat and must formulate policies, programmes and priorities for the balanced growth of our cosmopolitan cultural legacy and not pander to and legitimise any sectoral interest to the diminution of others.
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