TOBAGO’S $2.23b slice of the $53b national budget will be enough to only pay wages and bills according to Martin George, interim chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber.
Speaking hours after Finance Minister Imbert delivered his fifth budget on Monday, George told Newsday that after the THA uses 90 per cent of the allocation for recurrent expenditure, Tobago will not have enough money for critical development in the next fiscal year.
“So what will there be for capital expenditure, infrastructural development and investment in building up the business capacity of Tobago,” George asked. “We would have hoped there was a greater emphasis on infrastructure development and capital expenditure.” The THA in its budget presentation, requested over $4b from central government to carry out its mandate for the 2019/2020 fiscal year.
The chamber head applauded government for increasing the basic minimum wage from $15 to $17.50, introducing daycare centres for children under the age of three and 15 per cent increase in the salary of Cepep and URP workers.
“We are still concerned about the dependence on the employment capacity and capabilities on the THA and too much dependence on the Cepep and URP programme in Tobago,” George said.
“We wish to see greater investment in the private sector so that we can see greater growth and development so that we have job creation in the private sector that can be achieved.”
Martin said while he is happy the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort will be rebranded, he questioned where is the proposed replacement for Sandals Resort International. Sandals pulled out of negotiations with TT last year because of, “too much badgering and negative publicity.”
On the recovery of the seabridge, George said the Port Authority must ensure proper management so that travellers sail comfortably between the islands.
“They need to upgrade the facility, they need to provide wifi, they need to have proper restaurants so that people can relax while they are awaiting the ferry. This is where the tourism experience begins for most people.” Of the 6,000 houses government proposes to build by December 2020, George asked: “How many will b built in Tobago?”
George said he anticipates the construction of the new Roxborough hospital but called on government and the THA to address existing issues at the Scarborough General Hospital.
Speaking on government’s approval to allow the THA to borrow $300 million via bonds financing for development, George called on the THA to say exactly what projects will they intend to use this loan on.
“We welcome the new housing loan and hope Tobagonains can access these loans. We have requested that the government give a guarantee in terms of the local Tobago content for all major industrial projects and works to be done in Tobago for at least ten percent. We haven’t seen that reflected in the budget. We hope it’s facilitated for Tobago businessmen and contractors.”
George also hopes government will consider removing the 12.5 per cent VAT for Tobago to stimulate its economy. He said he was also concerned nothing was said on the repeal of the foreign investment act. “We command that act be repealed in order to stimulate investments.”