The Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) (Fiscal Year 2022) Bill 2022 passed the Senate on Friday after eight hours of debate. The bill, as is customary, was not passed by a Senate Committee of the Whole.
After debate, the bill was read a second and third time and passed.
Acting Prime Minister and Finance Minister Colm Imbert, pilot of the bill, said an additional $26.7 million had been allocated to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) for child care and protection.
This included $23 million to the Children’s Authority, $3 million to St Jude’s Home, $1 million to non-profit institutions/children’s homes, $289,000 to St Dominic’s Home and $500,000 to Cyril Ross Home.
Some $59 million to OPM would fund a commission of inquiry into land acquisition for the Solomon Hochoy extension, to pay Gender Affairs Division contract staff, pay arrears to TSTT and TTEC, and fund staff training in the Communications Division and the cost of media advertisements. He pledged $60 million to the THA to pay for national helicopter services to transfer critically ill patients to Trinidad for essential tertiary healthcare.
Imbert said the attorney general’s office would receive $79 million to fund new polymer birth and death certificates and similar issues, back wages for contract workers, and fees and gratuities for attorneys and accountants. . Some $20 million to the Department of Tourism and Culture would help repay a $100 million loan taken out to help artists during the covid19 period and pay some bills.
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedia has called for tighter controls and greater scrutiny of spending. She said the government should not be shocked by the revelations about children’s homes, as previous administrations had gone to the Privy Council to challenge whether children could be housed in adult prisons.
Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye focused on education and said the non-payment of bills to schools, such as bus drivers and the feeding program, was negligence on the part of the government.
AG Reginald Amour gave details of the ongoing digitization project of the Vital Statistics Department, which was being done with a loan from the IDB. He corrected an error made in the House, saying former lead counsel Russell Martineau and associate attorneys received a total of $415,815.63 for legal fees, not $790,000 as previously reported. He noted that he was looking at the issue of senior fraud.
Concluding the debate, Imbert said that TT had recorded growth in nominal GDP, used by rating agencies to measure the debt-to-GDP ratio, of $40 billion in GDP since 2020. He said GDP data could be found on the CSO website from 2012.
He said the energy sector accounts for between 25 and 30 percent of TT’s GDP.
He said the fuel and LPG subsidy for 2022 would cost the government more than $800 million. He said the last withdrawal from the Heritage and Stabilization Fund was in July 2021, and the last time the government went to local and foreign markets to borrow was in December 2021. He said Petrotrin n was not profitable and still owed the government $3 billion in royalties and taxes, while the government had to guarantee loans of $3 billion to pay for the refinery’s operating losses.
Imbert said the government, after generating windfall revenues, would clear existing debts and arrears, amounting to $641 million, with additional funding to repay the principal of the loans. He reminded the Senate of the recently announced Government Guaranteed Long-Term Loan Facility for MSMEs, which will be launched in two months.
(With reporting by Sean Douglas)