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Education to get biggest chunk

2014-2015 budget
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Finance Minister Larry Howai

While education is expected to get the biggest chunk of the budget again this fiscal year, Finance Minister larry Howai says the Ministry of National Security will not be receiving much more funding than what was allocated in last year’s budget. 
He said what was needed is more effective use of the funds provided to that ministry.

Howai stressed that the budget to be presented in Parliament tomorrow would not be one to scare citizens. The minister assured there would be no significant changes to the Gate programme in this budget. He said they recognised the need to restructure Gate, and in fact, there is a move towards making it more effective. 

Q:Mr Howai, this is something that amazes me each year the country presents a budget—some of us seem to be petrified for each presentation and yet nobody has dropped dead with the reading of a budget. What do you think is responsible for that level of anxiety?
A:(In his Twin Towers office at Brian Lara Promenade on Friday morning) I think it goes back many years.  I suppose when Dr Williams was reading the budget…there were always adjustments to various prices at that time, whether it was fuel, whether it was alcohol and the like. I suppose as a consequence of that, people expected something to happen. So I think over the years, there has been a bit of expectation that something could happen.

I cannot say that I am a good student of the psychology of the Trinidad mind, and I did not realise there was such a significant amount of anxiety as you are saying, but certainly because the budget impacts on lives, people will obviously be a little concerned.

Today is three days before you present the 2014-2015 budget, and I suppose you just came out of a pre-budget meeting with your technocrats to do this interview...
Yeah, and I am going into a meeting as soon as we finish to deal with this chat. (Sighs) Well there is still a lot of fine-tuning of things to be done, the numbers have been by and large worked out, and there may be minor things that need to be adjusted, documents to be printed.

I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but is there anything in the budget that should scare citizens?
No. No. I do not think so. The important thing is to continue the growth momentum, then simultaneously continue the growth process we need to implement. The strategies that we have adopted are to put the country back on a growth path and from there, begin the reform process.

Senator Howai, why is the Government spending so much on subsidies?
Well, of course, there are the big areas like Gate and fuel subsidy, and the fact is we have recognised that we have to gradually move out of this regime. What we did effective from last year is to develop an alternative strategy which deals with compressed natural gas as an alternative.

Mr Minister, last year the biggest chunk of the budget went into developing the country’s human capital—a key component in creating a more competitive nation. What percentage will be allocated for this purpose this year?
I expect that will get the biggest chunk of the budget.

I would think in the vicinity of about 12 per cent of the budget, and that is across a broad range, from the early childhood centres right up to tertiary level.

If we go back briefly to the Gate issue, would any significant adjustments be made in that area one way or the other?
Not in this budget. The thing is we do recognise the need to restructure Gate, and in fact, there is a move towards making it more effective. But we are not going to make any significant changes this year. We have to consider all of the issues, one of which is that human capital is an important part of the development of any society—which is why most countries have free primary and free secondary education.

We added free tertiary education, not just in the traditional sense, but any type of qualification post-secondary that one can get. 

Senator Howai, it is generally accepted that crime is our biggest concern at this time. Do you plan to pump more financial resources to wage war against the criminal elements?
Well, there are some additional things like equipment and so on that we need to invest in and we will make allocations for those in this current fiscal period, but I think the minister (National Security) has made the point in general that he thinks that a more effective use of the existing funds can perhaps take him a little further than actually giving him additional money. So there is no real increase in this budget this year. We are close to where we were last year. 

It really is to deal with how the funds are spent and the areas of emphasis that the security forces place on the different challenges that rise.

Mr Minister, are you satisfied that this PP administration has adequately funded the security services since it took office in 2010?
Yes. Certainly. I don’t think there was any paucity of funding. Of course, everybody could do with more. I have had requests for considerably more from each ministry than we can afford to give, so therefore there is always the need to manage things in such a way that you could effectively deliver the most important things with the funding that you have available.

That would always be the situation and I think this has been so with national security, but I don’t think there has been any concern that they have not been properly funded.

What about the question of greening the environment by the Government. Did it work, did we benefit at all from this?
The Ministry of Water and the Environment has been one of the more active ministries over the past year in terms of increasing the supply of water. I am told that in 2010 only about 18 per cent of the country had water 24/7 and today, over 50 per cent have water in T&T. 

So there has been a significant improvement.
Similarly, in the environment, a lot of work has been done in the area of reforestation and it is not something that is widely known, but I think they replanted more than 1,000 acres of forest cover in a couple of years. That is something that is very positive and perhaps we need to make a little more of it because a lot of people do not know much work is actually being done in that area. 

 If I should get a little personal, Mr Minister, you came from a very successful career in the private sector; did you have any difficulty in making that quantum leap into the public sector?
Well, actually, the public sector is a lot more bureaucratic. In the private sector you are able to make decisions a lot quicker, a lot faster. In the Government, the whole process through which things have to go—and also the size and complexity of ministries—you would find that it is extremely difficult or it takes a lot longer to get to a decision and to implement that decision.

Senator, would the budget provide additional funding and incentives for alternative energy sources?
We have given a number of incentives for alternative energy sources. In this budget we would also continue that process and would seek to provide those incentives to move ourselves in that direction. The thing is that we are faced with legacy systems; for example, we may say, okay: if you bring an electric car to Trinidad we could wave VAT or something, you know, but that is a new car.

What happens to hundreds of thousands of people with their existing cars? You cannot say: throw away your car and go get a new car. The issue for us is how to deal with the legacy system and that is where the challenge is in terms of formulating solutions; gradually we have to move in that direction.

The heath sector is still a problematic one and it has always been a critical issue. Would that area be allocated more donzai in the upcoming fiscal year?
Health is one of the major areas that was identified by the Government when it came into office in area that needed attention. There has been a significant investment in the physical structure and we have to continue those investments. In other words, we have several major projects now under way and we have to continue to provide funding to ensure that those investments are brought to fruition.

How much, Mr Minister, do the creative industries contribute to this country’s GDP?
They remain an important part of our own diversification of the economy. They generate foreign exchange earnings and diversifying the economy is a process that would take some time. We are heading in that direction with some speed; in the financial services sector we are starting to be more diversified to become a bigger part of the economy.

Finally, sir, what about this tax amnesty to benefit the business sector?
Well, it is not so much an amnesty as much as it is the creation of tax free zones and companies do come into those zones. I expect as we go along we continue to see opportunities for that to take place.




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