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Why the T&T Budget always disappoints

“As a people we are not part of any budget preparation which would determine our destiny for the next fiscal year. Why all this secrecy?

“Why is there no participation by the ordinary citizens? Why don’t we have a date clearly identified for Budget presentation every year?”

The following Letter to the Editor on the Budget was submitted by Bryan St Louis:

Photo: Two spectators take a selfie during Trinidad and Tobago's 2016 Independence Day Parade celebrations. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Two spectators take a selfie during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade celebrations.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

For the ordinary citizen, a budget is an estimate of income and expenditure for a set period. Simply put, it is an itemised summary of likely income and expenses for a given period. It is supposed to be an invaluable tool to help you prioritise your monetary affairs, regardless of how much or how little you have.

In the political arena, a National Budget is a government document which reflects its expectant revenues and proposed expenditure for any given fiscal year. It is supposed to answer questions such as: how much money the government intends to spend, where our tax dollars are going, what services are to be provided, how much will go to reducing debt, how much will be allocated to areas such as Health Care, Education, Crime etc.

Additionally, it should also contain an analysis on what was proposed in the previous budget, what was achieved, what was not achieved and why.

For fiscal year 2016 to 2017 has the Minister of Finance fulfilled these theoretical aspects of a Budget?

It may appear so but if a careful analysis is done it would reveal that successive Finance Ministers have failed to provide a Budget document with any clear philosophy, strategy or context about where we are going—taking into account our social, cultural and economic environment. Examine the Themes for the past five National Budgets:

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
  • Stimulating Growth, Generating Prosperity: 2012 to 2013
  • Sustaining Growth, Securing Prosperity: 2013 to 2014
  • Empowering our people through sustained economic growth and prosperity: 2014 to 2015
  • Restoring Confidence and Rebuilding Trust: Let’s Do This Together: 2015 to 2016
  • Shaping a Better Future: A Blueprint for Transformation and Growth: 2016 to 2017

In our twin island Republic, after 54 years of Independence and forty years as a Republic our budgetary process can best be described as a sham, as all the themes sound the same but were any of the vision from these themes achieved?

As ordinary citizens we are not able to assess and appreciate the performance of the government based on previous Budget Presentations because of the absence of a critical analysis of achievements or lack of achievements. Further, no mention is made of any of the critical analysis of fundamental concepts used or looked at in developing Budget Statements.

In fact, there is a lot of secrecy in the preparation of our national budget. As a people we are not part of any budget preparation which would determine our destiny for the next fiscal year. Why all this secrecy? Why is there no participation by the ordinary citizens? Why don’t we have a date clearly identified for Budget presentation every year?

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert. (Copyright WEFM)
Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
(Copyright WEFM)

This whole budgetary process, inclusive of the debate, is really a forum for gallery and pappy show by opposition and government whilst we as citizens are left to make comments negatively or positively depending on which party we support.

What we have experienced once again is a political statement without any clearly outlined and factual evidence or justification for specific allocations and measures which they intend to implement or achieve in fiscal 2016 to 2017. We are yet to be told what the strategic plan for this budget is. Is it long term or political?

This budget like many others before lacks creativity. It is intended to appease everyone whilst we wait and see what will happen in years to come as it relates to a recovery of the oil and gas sector. The government, however, has a responsibility to relate to the people in a transparent and meaningful manner on the true state of the economy.

Our political system facilitates antagonism because of the struggle for economic and political power. And recent controversial statements by the Prime Minister, the ongoing tension with the Prime Minister and the President and the FATCA fiasco amongst others does not augur well for the progressive development of our society.

Additionally, if the Prime Minister wants all hands on deck, he needs to temper his tone to avoid comments and statements which then require damage control.

What these incidents suggest is that our First Republic has failed.

Photos: Patrons enjoy the festivities during Trinidad and Tobago's 2016 Independence Day Parade. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photos: Patrons enjoy the festivities during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

There is no transparency, no consequences for lack of accountability, misbehaviour in public office, corruption or poor governance. Our society is decaying rapidly.

So, it is time for Constitutional Reform so that we can build the Second Republic and create a Society where everyone would count and there will be Social Justice and Equity for all.

About Bryan St Louis

Bryan St Louis is the education officer for the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU).

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19 comments

  1. Agreed but we are a society who shun others opinions so why should we be surprised

  2. Once a country is devoid of data a budget will never involve the population . The CSO is non exsistant so the IMF , World Bank and others direct our revenue and expenditure while the population complains after the budget is presented . Its data we need from the previous years .

  3. What does he want, for the citizenry to have direct participation in the budget?

  4. Earl Best

    Bryan, this is clever manipulation of the material not unlike what the politicians do. To started where you started and end up when you ended i up is a stretch. Not that I disagree with the need for a Second Republic. What I don’t see is how preparing bad budgets, which speaks, to my mind, to incompetence in the MoF, is a constitutional problem.

    Think the budgets will get any better if we adjust the Constitution and leave in place the same people who are essentially concerned only with themselves and their rich friends and financiers? Ha!

    • I agree with Mr. Best that there is need to vision a 2nd Republic but that the budget is not an issue for constitutional reform. Staying with the major points the author has made about the need for governments to develop a better system for reporting on financial periods and fiscal strategies. I totally agree. At this point in our history we need to better engage society as a whole in these decisions as you might find that there are those not in the halls of power that may have innovative solutions for our dilemma.

      It is obvious Vernal that the system and our elected leaders have failed us. The collective successive mismanagement of our leaders have squandered our legacy with wonton disregard and now we mire in fear of the unknown. As citizens we should not just be asked to swallow whatever is thrown at us as if we were rabid dogs on the street. We need to be better engaged in this process of deciding what direction we will take, what sacrifices we must endure, what benefits are to be accrued and how will they be equitably accessed.

      We need a 2nd Republic vision desperately as we can ill afford to mark time to our ultimate demise or wish or hope for some illusive change or we doom ourselves to the past we should have left.

  5. I support this thinking. the author makes some great points