ECA's Statement on the Government's Mid-Year Budget Review

 

The Employers Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ECA) views the proposed measures articulated by the Honourable Minister of Finance as setting the tone for Trinidad and Tobago to take ownership and responsibility for charting a new course in this period of structural adjustment.  We fully support the view that it cannot be business as usual and, more importantly, we can no longer continue to spend more than we are earning.

The Government must be commended in its capacity as the largest employer on its stated commitment to meet the outstanding obligation to pay outstanding arrears in salaries to Public officers. While we note that the intended approach outlined by Minister to settle these outstanding arrears may be contrary to the principles and practices of good industrial relations and to the expectations of many, we call on parties to adopt a true spirit of tripartite co-operation in the conversation.

Also, the attempt to stabilise the critical pillar of foreign exchange supply and demand will contribute significantly to reducing the anxiety of businesses as it relates to future trading and reports of speculative practices to maintain jobs.

In addition, as representatives of Employers in Trinidad and Tobago, the ECA applauds the government’s proposal to seek to bring the payment period for VAT refunds down to around three months. This measure would positively affect the cash flow of businesses. 

Some of the other measures that are of particular interest are:

  1. Reduced funding for GATE, CEPEP, URP

While we await the recommendations of the committee on the GATE programme, the focus should not only be on the alignment with the specific needs and requirements of the job market, but, in addition, the structure and beneficiaries of the program must be better targeted.

With regards to CEPEP and URP, the ECA’s stated position has always been that these programs should be transitionary eventually culminating into productive and decent work in other sectors of the labour market.  The structure should be developmental where skills are taught and are seen as mandatory during the individual’s tenure. Twenty-four months should be the maximum period of time in this program after which time the participants should become sufficiently functional to go into more productive areas of the labour market. The agricultural sector should be one such area targeted.

  1. Increased Price of Super Gasoline and Diesel

While this is tangible evidence of cutting our cloth to suit, much, much more will be required to address the poor public transportation system in the country. The nation’s productivity levels both in terms of adults and children, have been severely dented as the travelling public has to spend far too much of their waking hours on the roads. The time has come for a serious progressive conversation on flexible working hours and telecommuting.

  1. Diversification of the Economy

We hope that this time the conversation will result in some meaningful action. Recognising that the diversification process is more of a medium to long-term journey, the government has hinted at building the infrastructure to kick-start the process which is indeed a positive step in the right direction.

There are some gaps in the mid-year presentation which need to be filled and around which clarity needs to be sought.  An example of one such gap is the approach that will be adopted to execute and drive the strategic initiatives for improved revenues and curtailment of expenditure for the successful management of Trinidad and Tobago in the short term, medium term and longer term. 

Overall, the ECA is satisfied with the signals which have been sent by the Honourable Minister of Finance and to give the assurance of our continued support and participation in efforts for a better quality of life for our citizens.