UNC queries Imbert’s budget surplus

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert –

The UNC is criticising the announcement by the government of a $1.08 billion surplus for 2022.

The party said it could not really be called a surplus if the government had “saved” by owing money.

In a statement on Friday, the Finance Ministry reported revenues of $54.21 billion for fiscal 2022, almost $11 billion more than originally estimated, resulting in a surplus of approximately $1.08 billion, the first in 14 years.

At the UNC’s Monday night Virtual Report, former temporary senator Dominic Smith criticised Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s announcement that the surplus was driven by the war between Russia and Ukraine, which had led to higher oil and gas prices.

“It took a war between two sovereign states for the Finance Minister to have his best year ever.

“Our economic future cannot rely on a war between two nations.”

Smith queried where the surplus was coming from.

“I want to ask the minister, what about the money owed to contractors? Recently the Minister of Housing said the Housing Development Corporation owed $1.3 billion to contractors. So I’m asking the minister, did you account for this in your grand surplus?

“What about VAT returns? Have you been paying businesses their VAT returns? And the minister even said, ‘We have an inefficient VAT system.The problem with the VAT system is compliance.’

“In terms of the ministries and the allocations, how many ministries did not get the allocations that went back to the Finance Ministry? How much money did the Ministry of Works and Transport not get so that work could have been done to relieve flooding?”

Former senator Taharqa Obika also queried the source of the government’s surplus.

“When you cut back on spending to the extent where you unlawfully withhold funds due to manufacturers as VAT refunds, they are breaking the law, unlawfully holding people’s monies, and then coming to say they saved. The billions of dollars this government has not paid businesses and manufacturers, the companies involved in international trade where in fact they are due VAT refunds, it’s not the government’s money, it belongs to the businesses – give it to them.

“They are owing people money. You can’t owe people money and claim surplus, go and fete with the money, and disregard their concerns, and then claim you make a profit.”

Obika called on the Minister of Trade and Industry to disclose to the population the sum of VAT refunds owed to businesses.