National Debt, Security, Health and Social Services top priority for Budget 2021

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National Debt, Security, Health and Social Services top priority for Budget 2021

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said a few key areas will be prioritised in the budget for fiscal 2021.

During the Spotlight on the Budget forum on Monday morning, he said the State will have to make difficult decisions and focus on a few key areas.

“For the next budget, the Minister of Finance will have to tell the country just how much money is available to be appropriated in the national budget. Let’s face reality- how much do we have to allocate on the revenue side.”

He described 2015 as abnormal, adding that the country was spending more than earning but supporting the gap by advance payments, fiscally put, borrowing money to add what was earned.

This budget’s revenue, however, may come from taxes or borrowings.

He then identified a few areas that need the most attention such as the national debt.

“If we do not service our national debt, there are consequences to that, the most obvious is to ask for help and that help comes from a place that brings with it more pain in the shortest possible time,” said Dr. Rowley.

He said national security is also a priority- if we are not safe and secure then our circumstance will not enviable.

Dr. Rowley said the next generation has an opportunity to grow and prosper, so the Government must look after the nation’s children.

He said, “Health is a priority as we must ensure that we stay healthy.”

Dr. Rowley added that the State must ensure that those persons within the national community, who cannot look after themselves, can live with dignity among the population.

“(We) can’t focus on funding those who are on the national nipple. (We’ll focus) on those who are off the dining table by creating opportunities for them to come to mealtime.”

As such, the social support system will remain a priority.

He said the State must also create opportunities for employment, adding that a development program will address medium and temporary employment.

He mentioned investing more in the private sector which will create opportunities in the employment sector.

He said the Government cannot budget for one year but must look ahead to future years.

“Very many years that we have been budgeting with a deficit (and) we want to ensure that decision making is available to overcome all difficulties. Some decisions are required to be made now.”

While he admitted it is a difficult period, he said the state is the major contributor to the national economy, in more ways than one, and in T&T’s case, directly, is the largest investor in national and economic infrastructure.

He said the Government has also, over time, assumed more and more personal responsibility funded from the national treasury but in 2020, a lot of what has been done, cannot be sustained in the way it has been.

“We will have to make difficult decisions,” said Dr. Rowley.

He added that in 2019 and even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government realised that things could not continue as they should which promoted the restructuring of  Petrotrin.

But he said it was better off to accept the economy, face it, and make the best decision to ensure that provisions are made for the citizens of T&T.