PORT OF SPAIN –– The budget is based on an oil price of US$80 a barrel and a gas price of US$2.75 per mmbtu. Total revenue is $60.351 billion and total expenditure is $64.664 billion, suggesting a deficit of approximately $4 billion. Minister of Finance Larry Howai however stressed that the deficit was 2.3 per cent of GDP, down from the 3.6 per cent of GDP in 2014 and was in keeping with Government’s commitment to reduce the deficit by one per cent per year.
He said in 2015 public investment would amount to approximately $8.2 billion.
Howai yesterday presented a juicy $64.6 billion budget flavoured with giveaways for the grassroot voter.
In its flashy 2015 budget package, which was free of any belt-tightening measures, the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration sought to appease the pensioners and police officers, the physically disabled and the financially disadvantaged, the baby mammas and the low income breadwinner, the female “CEPEP worker” and the self-employed and the home seeker, the government homeowner and tenant. All these categories of the Trinidad and Tobago electorate got some and more.
Old age pensioners totalling 84,720 and the 35,000 public service pensioners can smile at the $500 a month increase in their pensions, taking it to $3,500 a month. Both pensions which are non-contributory were favoured by the finance minister, over pensioners to the contributory NIS scheme (who got no increase). The measure would cost the Government an additional $200 million and $240 million respectively a year. The minister said the senior citizens pension, with the receipt of other pensions, would be capped of $4,500. Milking the announcement for maximum political effect, Howai emphasized that in 2010 [when this government took office], the old age pension was $1,950.
The Finance Minister made good on the Prime Minister’s promise of the $500 a month baby grant which would run concomitant with the election season.
Howai continued to spread good news with the announcement of a $300 a month increase in the disability grant given to 24,100 persons, taking it to $1,800 a month. In 2010 the disability grant was $1,300, Howai pointed out, adding that this benefit would cost the government an additional $86.8 million. The minister complemented this with a $300 increase in the public assistance grant, which would now have 24,797 happy beneficiaries. This benefit would pull an additional $89.3 million from the government’s coffers, he said. Furthermore the public assistance grant would be given to the head of a household where the person supports a disabled child under 18, a measure which would benefit 1,300 persons, Howai stated.
Workers can rejoice at the increase which Howai announced in the minimum wage from $12.50 to $15 an hour, even though it fell short of the $20 demand of the trade unions. The minimum wage was $9 an hour in 2010, Howai underlined. The move would immediately impact those workers [domestic workers, private security workers and so on] making the [old] minimum wage and also have a knock-on effect on those whose wages are now at the new minimum wage.
$1 million payout
But perhaps the biggest potential benefit in the Minister’s basket comes in the form of a $1 million payout to the estate of law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty.
“This high-risk responsibility by our protective services personnel cannot be discharged without the incidence of some casualties,” the minister said, as he announced a fund “from which can be drawn $1 million which will be placed in the estate of a member of the State protective services killed in the line of duty”.
Howai followed the policy of his predecessor Winston Dookeran [who is overseas on government business and missed the budget presentation] and granted a tax amnesty to delinquent taxpayers, making it the second one granted in this term of office, an unprecedented benefit in this country. The tax amnesty would cover all tax penalties and interest for late filing of returns and late payment of income, corporation and value-added taxes, business levy and environmental levy, up to 2013. However in order to benefit from the amnesty, individuals and corporations must file between now and March 31, 2015.
$53.9 million NIS injection
The minister announced that government would inject $12.9 million and $41 million into the national insurance system to bring the self-employed into the NIS net. He said government would subsidize contributions by low-income self-employed persons [those earning less than $3,000 a month], to the tune of two thirds of the contributions due.
“Government will inject a further $41 million into the national insurance system to meet this liability over the next five years, but with an injection of $4 million for fiscal 2015,” he said.
For home seekers, the minister announced more affordable housing, stating that he would expand the two per cent mortgage programme from property valued up to $625,000 to properties up to $850,000, The qualifying income levels for this programme have been raised from $8,000 to $10,000. A new five per cent mortgage programme has also been introduced for households with a combined income of over $10,000 to less than $30,000 for mortgages over $850,000 but less than $1.2 million. The minister said this measure would benefit 26,100.
For owners of government houses, high-rise apartments at Pleasantville, Laventille, Morvant, Gasparillo would be refurbished and refitted as would tenanted units at Charford Court, Maloney, Paradise Heights, Beverly Hills, Dorata Street, Lisas Gardens, Pleasantville, Irving Street, Clifton Street, Ramsaran Street and Lady Hailes Avenue.
In terms of allocations to ministries,
Education and training received the largest –– $10.126 billion, followed by:
National security –– $6.994 billion;
Health –– $5.545 billion;
Public utilities –– $3.932 billion;
Housing –– $2.877 billion;
Local Government –– $2.649 billion;
Works and infrastructure –– $2.542 billion;
Transport –– $1.984 billion;
Agriculture –– $1.328 billion.
Of the total revenue, government expects of $60.3 billion.
Howai said it expected to receive $21.223 billion from oil revenue and $39.128 billion from non-oil revenues.
The debate budget continues at 10 a.m. on Friday with the reply of the Opposition Leader.