KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Vincentians will on Tuesday hear the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2012, which will be debated in Parliament this week.
Minister of Finance and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves will table the figures in Parliament, one year to the day that his government was re-elected to an historic third term in office for a labour government here.
Tuesay also marks the expiration of the one-year timeframe that Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace had set for the fall of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, which he has since said will not be realised.
Gonsalves will present the estimates at the end of a year that saw a reduction in government revenue amidst the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, the fallout from the CLICO and British American saga regionally, and mismanagement of the black sigatoka disease locally.
“It is clearly going to be a very important set of estimates in light of the present state of the economy and the government finances in particular,” Eustace said last week, noting the three years of negative growth and adding that the government’s financial situation “has deteriorated considerably”.
And even as the nation struggled with the aftereffects of Hurricane Tomas, which destroyed 98 per cent of banana cultivation and damaged 1,200 houses and other infrastructure last year October, flash floods and landslides in April this year significantly damaged infrastructure and housing in northeast St. Vincent, further compounding the economic situation.
Vincentians are also waiting for some definite word on the performance of the local economy, which has contracted for each of the last three years.
Gonsalves, in a letter to the International Monetary Fund on June 27 said that negative growth was expected for this year, the fourth in a row.
The IMF has said that the local economy will be the only one of the 32 countries in Latin American and the Caribbean to register negative growth this year.
However, government economists in Kingstown have told Gonsalves that the economy will grow by 0.8 per cent even as the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank says that growth is expected to be 0.4 per cent.
Social and political commentators are not agreed on whether there is a link between the lagging economy and the 20 or so homicides this year, many of which have been against women, resulting from domestic disputes, or absence of restraint.
The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has tried to pin onto the government blame for the crime situation.
But Gonsalves has said that the NDP is politicising the crime situation, saying that they consider every bit of bad news to be good news for them.
“So if somebody gets kill it is the government’s fault? How is it the government’s fault?” Gonsalves said.
And even as Gonsalves prepares for the debate of the estimates, a group, calling themselves the “Concerned Citizens Movement,” will picket his National Security Ministry at the Financial Complex today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Our picket is geared at highlighting the recent upsurge of crime and violence in our society. As our society continues to degenerate before our eyes it is our responsibility to stand up and be heard on the issues that affect our families, our communities and us,” the group said in a press statement last week, signed by radio talk show host Junior Bacchus.
Meanwhile, tourism has registered increases in stay over and yacht visitors amidst a spate of yacht burglaries in Bequia in November.
Further, the government is widely expected to implement a market value property tax protocol next year, a change from the current rental value based regime.
Gonsalves, commenting on this recently, said that comments by Opposition Leader Eustace that this could result in increase hardship for citizens, were premature.
“Nobody … asked ‘what the rate is going to be, are we going to have exemptions for [houses under a certain value], are we going to have a moratorium on property taxes owed before, particularly interest and penalties. There is no nothing about it but yet it becomes a front page in their favourite newspaper. I mean, it is just wrong and bad,” he said last week.
Gonsalves, at the beginning of the year, said that in order to keep within expenditure allocations, he would be insisting that government ministries and departments pay more attention to financial controls and reduce wastage.
“Good procurement practices will be demanded for all government purchases as this will have a direct and positive impact on cost and quality,” he said while presenting the budget on Jan. 24.
Gonsalves further said his government hoped to finalise the Procurement and Contract Administration Bill and Regulations this year and to advance work on the Government Assets Regulations, “to help instil and foster this responsibility among public servants”.
He also suggested that his government would crack down on the wastage of electricity in the public service this year.
“The cost of electricity continues to be a large cost driver for the government. In the 2011 budget, an increase of 13.5 per cent was provided to take care of electricity arrears,” Gonsalves said while presenting the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
Parliament this year approved an EC$786.5 million expenditure budget for 2011, a decrease of 13.9 per cent of the budget for 2010.
Of the 2011 budget, EC$609.8 million was for recurrent expenditure, including amortization, and EC$176.7 million is for capital spending.