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Commentary: Imperfect Budget Shows Seeds of Progress

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By Alicia Chamely

YOU must first cross the desert before you get to the oasis.

Unfortunately for last 50-plus years, we have been lost in the desert.

Our leaders were never too sure where they were going. Despite all the warning signs they held on to the hope that our limited supply of oil and gas will get us to paradise.

It appears they have started listening to voices of reason. Now for the first time in a long time we can see an extremely faint outline of that oasis.

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While the 2020/2021 Budget was not perfect by any stretch, it contained some seeds of progress in terms of economic diversification.

Most notable was the focus on agriculture. I am assuming a member of government visited the supermarket full of hope and dreams and, like most of us, left empty and full of despair.

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Food prices have continuously risen and for many the situation is dire. The best way to deal with this is to start growing more of our own food and to develop a food processing/manufacturing industry that leaves us less reliant on imports.

A $500 million stimulus package, along with the regular budgetary allocation, is a sign that finally the government is on the right page or at least in the process of turning to the right page.

Should this focus on strengthening our agricultural sector actually materialise successfully, not only will we see a greater variety of locally produced food stuff in our super markets, but we will see the creation of new jobs, new industries and hopefully opportunities to export our goods, in the quantities needed, to create a fresh avenue of foreign exchange earnings.

It must be said however, for all of this to be as successful as we hope many of us need to abandon this belief that foreign food items are better. I mean I will admit, when it comes to cereal sadly Sunshine cannot compete with Kellogg’s, but when it comes to Ketchup; Swiss, Matouks and Mabels beat out the sourness that is Heinz.

Fingers crossed!

Another sign of the nearing oasis is the government’s decision to relinquish control of NP gas stations and the commercial activities of the Port of Port-of-Spain.

Over the past few days I’ve seen the usual plenty talk, no brains comments about the government “gonna sell we whole island.” Uh no the government has finally, after an eternity, come to the obvious conclusion that they suck at running certain businesses.

For those saying the moves to privatise NP Stations and the port will “turn us into the next Venezuela,” I implore you dumb dumbs to read up on Venezuela. You will learn that a majority of their problems come from their government owning the majority of their industries.

To the naysayers, let me put it into perspective. Let’s say you own a couple of businesses, one business you really don’t have the time for or the vision for. That business is doing poorly, to keep it afloat you keeping pumping money from the other successful business into it.

In doing so, you are unable to give your successful business the capital it needs to continue to grow. So you have a choice, sell your unsuccessful business to people who have the time and expertise for it or just keep it around like a cement block tied to your ankle.

Obviously you would sell it.

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That is exactly what the government is doing; freeing up its resources to focus on what is working, while handling over something that is problematic to them, to those who have the knowledge to make it successful again.

The removal of the fuel subsidy, which we all know like property tax had to happen and the privatisation of NP stations allows for gas station owners to set their own prices, encouraging competitiveness.

Competitiveness is not only price based, but service based. Now all these gas station owners will be forced to up their standards to stand out against other owners who may be able to sell their gas cheaper.

It allows for choice. We the consumer, finally have a choice.

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As for the port, it’s a mess. I feel pretty bad for whoever decides to take over the port, but at the same time I have a world of respect to the person with that much testicular fortitude.

Unfortunately increased taxation, especially on cars mostly affects those in the middle class. Increased prices will simply put owning a new car out of range for someone who at the moment can manage to purchase one on a tight budget.

Likewise with the increased VAT on luxury items, those on a strict budget may now have to forgo apples and the occasional “luxury.”

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Property tax, while we were assured would be fair and would not lead to any hardship, is still digging into people’s earnings that are already stretched so thin.

No budget is perfect. Unfortunately we are not in the greatest economic shape and certain measures had to be taken. While the budget had the expected removal of the fuel subsidy and the implementation of the property tax, it also raised the tax income tax bracket.

I will tell you from having worked jobs were I was barely earning over $5,000, those few dollars no longer being taken by the tax man makes a difference. It’s now my choice whether to spend those savings on apples and Prosecco.

Before I go I will say one thing regarding the failure to remove tax emptions on imported cars purchased by government Officials. You cannot expect people to make sacrifices and then speed pass them in your million dollar vehicle. So man up and set an example.

 

 

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