6th October 2023
The Keith Rowley Administration has tabled a TT$59.209bn (US$8.7bn) 2023/2024 national budget in Parliament.
The budget includes Total Revenue of TT$54.012bn (US$7.98bn), based on a projected oil price of US$85 per barrel, and natural gas of US$5 MMBtu. The shortfall under expenditure will lead to a TT$5.197bn (US$767.72mn) fiscal deficit (2.7% of GDP).
Some TT$16.709bn (US$2.47bn) is expected to come from oil revenue, TT$35.547bn (US$5.24bn) from non-oil revenue and TT$1.756bn (US$259.98mn) in capital revenue.
“I am confident that the estimates under this budget framework will materialise and ensure that the economic recovery is anchored on sound and stable macroeconomic conditions,” said Finance Minister Colm Imbert as he announced the major budgetary allocations.
Education and Training has been granted the highest allocation with TT$8.022bn (US$1.19bn), followed by Health, which will receive funding to the tune of TT$7.409bn (US$1.09bn), and National Security which has been allocated TT$6.912bn (US$1.02bn). Social Development has been allotted TT$5bn (US$740.26mn), while the Ministry of Works and Transport is set to receive TT$3.394bn (US$502.09mn).
Additionally, public Utilities will get TT$3.018bn (US$446.5mn), Rural Development and Local Government TT$1.825bn (US$269.77mn), while the Ministry of Agriculture has been promised TT$1.442bn (US$213.04mn) and Housing TT$1.165bn (US$172.12mn).
Touting the reduction in the unemployment rate to 3.7% between April and June 2023, from 4.9% from January to March 2023, Imbert noted that approximately TT$1bn (US$147.82mn) in back pay will be paid to the 37,000 public-sector workers who accepted the 4% wage increase offered by government.
In terms of economic policy, he announced that the government will seek to bring closure to the ongoing debate about the national minimum wage by legislating an increase, while moving ahead with its plan to increase the retirement age from the current 60 years to 65.
“I propose to increase the minimum wage by 17%, or TT$3 (US$0.44) per hour, from TT$17.50 (US$2.59) to TT$20.50 (US$3.03) per hour. This measure will benefit approximately 90,000 persons in the workforce and will require an amendment to the Minimum Wages Act via a Minimum Wage Order,” said the finance minister.
The government also revealed that collection of property taxes will begin in 2024. Imbert said that based on progress in the compilation of the Valuation Roll, the Ministry expects that at least 50% of all residential properties will pay the 3% property taxes totalling somewhere between TT$540 (US$79.82) and TT$1,080 (US$159.64) annually.
In an effort to combat the growing crime problem, Imbert announced that the Police Service will triple the annual intake of new recruits from 300 to 1,000 for 2024 and will be given TT$80mn (US$11.83mn) in additional funds for new vehicles and equipment. Some TT$90mn (US$13.3mn) has also been budgeted to procure four container scanners for the Port of Port-of-Spain.
Despite an increase of TT$64.2mn (US$9.4mn), the Rowley Administration has again come under fire for the size of its budgetary allocation to Tobago. The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) expressed disappointment with the island’s budget allocation of TT$2.585bn (US$382.1mn) for 2024, which falls far short of their requested TT$4.54bn (US$671.1mn).
“We could have all stayed at home, turned off our televisions and practically predict what the THA would be allocated… It does not even inch close to the middle percentile of the range recommended by the Dispute Resolution Commission and agreed to by Parliament in 2001,” said THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar also criticised the budget, calling it “painful” and arguing it failed to address crime and the cost of living. She accused Imbert of manipulating fiscal statistics to create a false sense of economic security and questioned the budget’s lack of diversification and continued reliance on the energy sector.
On the other hand, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) has expressed optimism about the benefits for local manufacturers in the 2024 budget, including the introduction of e-payment options, expansion of the foreign exchange framework at the Exim Bank, and the introduction of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises forex facilities. TTMA Head, Roger Roach welcomed the push for growth led by the non-energy manufacturing sector, supported by an enabling environment for business competitiveness.
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