Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday presented a TT$52 billion Budget for the country and in so doing, one commentator expressed the view that it appeared it was an election budget. The only election on the horizon, however, is for the Tobago House of Assembly. There were promises of settling outstanding wage negotiations in the public service and plans to regularise the employment of nurses currently on contract.
In the past year, the Government allocated over $5 billion to COVID relief, which resulted in over 51,000 grants being given to people who lost their jobs at a cost of $221.4 million. Minister Imbert said a further provision of $200 million for COVID relief has been made in the 2022 Budget. He also announced fuel and utility cash cards for the vulnerable among a swath of relief measures.
More importantly to the man on the street, however, was the announcement that a number of basic food items, including biscuits, cooking oil, canned vegetables, cornflakes, canned fish, canned meat, curry, juice, sausages, ham, ketchup, bottled water and pigtail, will be made VAT free, with a full list of the items to be published soon.
The assistance to those most affected by COVID is welcome relief, especially since the pain caused by the pandemic has affected those who can least afford it.
There was also good news for businesses impacted by COVID-19, including a reduction in taxes by 5 per cent for significant exporters of local goods and those whose core business relate to technology solutions and digitisation.
Imbert also noted that the Government has been able to raise $1 billion from the current tax amnesty drive, which has been extended to October 15.
The Budget also provided relief for the differently-abled community, with the removal of VAT and customs duty on specified therapy equipment for the hearing and visually impaired and those with physical disabilities. This takes effect from January 1, 2022, but is good news for a community that feels their needs are usually widely ignored.
There are also plans to divest over 10 million First Citizens shares to raise just over half a billion dollars and a plan to increase rebates on utility bills from 25 to 35 per cent.
Also of note was his announcement that the Government is not yet able to implement the Property Tax since not enough citizens have filed their documents and that the Revenue Authority is yet to come on board, but that implementation plans remain firmly in place. From all accounts, it was a mixed bag budget, with tax cuts that will impact a spectrum of people and hopefully will make life a little easier for those who need it most.
Many promises were made in Budget 2022 which, if implemented, could have meaningful benefit for the country. The Opposition is not impressed and has deemed it a biscuit and cheese budget. However, only time will tell whether as has happened in the past, the real sting is in what was not said. We hope, though, that in these difficult times, the Budget is not just about promises but a statement of intent to bring real benefits to the thousands of ordinary citizens and businesses that really need it.