Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, on Monday, said the 2020 Budget is “an ambitious attempt to accelerate the economic transformation” of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
“At $1.2 billion, it is the largest budget ever tabled in Parliament,” he said at the beginning of his four-hour Budget Address, ahead of the debate, which begins today (Tuesday) with the response by Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday.
The 2020 fiscal package contains no new taxes but shows “moderate” increases in some user fees across the public service and additional fees for new services offered by various ministries and departments.
The increases include the fees that private patients pay for several hospital, laboratory, and dental fees, the cost of obtaining a passport, and the fee visitors pay if they overstay their time in the country or if they want to extend it.
He said that in 2019, the fees collected at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital represented just 8% of the amount spent at that institution.
“For the most part, the fees paid by public patients, who make up the vast majority of persons accessing these services remain unchanged,” the minister said.
The cost of a medical report will increase from EC$25 to EC$40 for all patients.
Private out-patient surgery fee has moved from EC$30 to EC$36.
The increases in radiology fee, applicable only to private patients, range from EC$2 for a dental x-ray, which will move from EC$10 to EC$12, to EC$22 for other types of procedures, where the price has increased from EC$110 to EC$132, while they remain at EC$50 for public patients.
For dental services, where public patients now pay EC$15 for cleaning, it will increase to EC$25, a filling will move from EC$20 to EC$25, extractions from EC$5 to EC$10 and root-canal treatment from EC$20 to EC$40.
To obtain a new passport, Vincentians 16 years old and under will pay EC$20 more, with the fee now standing at EC$100.
Adults will, however, have to come up EC$50 more, paying EC$200.
Gonsalves said that in 2019 the government entered into a new agreement with Canadian Bank Note for a comprehensive upgrade of the hardware and software required for the smooth operation of services and for the introduction of a 48-page e-passport, which has enhanced security features.
He said that the new seven-year contract amounts to EC$18.45 million.
Persons overstaying their time in the country will now pay EC$100, up from EC$25, and those seeking an extension of their stay will pay EC$50 more, taking it to EC$75.
In agriculture, farmers will have to pay 25 cents more for day-old broiler chicks, the price of which is now EC$2 and 75 cents more to reach the new price for layer chicks: EC$5 each.
There is now an administrative fee of EC$15 to obtain a chainsaw licence.
In fisheries, there is now a local fishing licence of EC$25 for vessels 10 to 30 feet long and EC$50 for those 30 to 60 feet. A fisher’s ID card and health certificate attract an EC $5 fee each and a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) certificate goes for EC$10.
The budget represents a 9.1% increase over the 2019 fiscal package, and includes an EC$2 million current account surplus.
The EC$311 million in capital expenditure is another record high category, 34% of which is devoted to climate resilience, disaster response and renewable energy.
The finance minister has allocated EC$16 million for solar and geothermal energy projects, while EC$31 million — 1.4% of GDP is currently held in the Contingencies Fund.
The figures provide for a 2% salary increase to government workers, placing salaries at 4.5% higher than at the start of 2017, even as wages to low-wage part-time employees who clean or prepare meals at government facilities will increase by 25%, the minister said.
The 2020 fiscal package establishes 106 news jobs in the public service and provides for the building of six new sports facilities, including the athletics track at Diamond, playing fields, and multipurpose hard courts.
The government has allocated EC$16 million for additional school repair and reconstruction beyond the EC$6.8 million spent in 2019.
EC$24 million has been allocated for capital works in tourism, including the construction of two state-owned hotels.
EC$2 million has been budgeted for cash grants to young entrepreneurs and microenterprises through PRYME — a government initiative, and 700 young people are given annual internships and stipends under the YES and SET Programme.
There is EC$1 million in additional support to farmers and fisher folk through the Farmers Support Revolving Fund. The budget allocates EC$104 million in total expenditure in health and the environment, 105% per cent more than in 2001, when the Unity Labour Party came to office.
The minister has set aside EC$39 million for the construction and repair of roads, bridges, footpaths, and other infrastructure.
And persons importing new tour buses to alleviate capacity constraints in cruise tourism will receive a 90% duty concession.
Gonsalves said that Budget 2020 builds on the foundation of the government’s work over the past two decades and “hastens the transition from colonial-era economics underpinnings towards a modern, competitive, post-colonial economy.
“Significant investment in ICT, tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy and entrepreneurship further this objective,” he said.
He said that the budget continues to emphasise climate change adaptation, disaster preparedness and sound environmental practice.
“The government’s signature focus on education is continued in 2020, with a special emphasis on school reconstruction and the provision of improved opportunities to access technical and vocational training. More students than ever before are accessing tertiary education and internships through student-support loans, scholarship and stipends,” Gonsalves said.
“Budget 2020 is ambitious, but attainable. It places its confidence in the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and sets forth a developmental vision that is sustainable, progressive, and people-centred. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is well-positioned to accelerate its economic transformation,” Gonsalves told lawmakers and media audiences.