Wednesday 23 October, 2019

Budget 2020: Where are the Venezuelans in the national plan?

One of the most glaring omissions in the 2020 Budget presentation on Monday was the Venezuelan migrant situation in Trinidad and Tobago.

One economist who took note of that omission told Loop that the Government cannot continue to be silent on the issue and bury their heads in the sand.

Dr Marlene Attz said though 16,000 migrants were registered, she believes there are a lot more than that domiciled in T&T and thus cannot be ignored.

“It would be foolhardy not to capitalise on the skills and work ethic they bring. We talk about agriculture and mega-farms but nothing was mentioned about that. There is an opportunity for us to integrate them into the economy more fully and into the agricultural sector, their work ethic is different. It is an opportunity for us to capitalise on the skills they bring,” she said.

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On the issue of CEPEP, where workers received a 15 percent increase in salary in the budget, Dr Attz said Government measures are not developmental.

“Many years ago we spoke about the recognising the need to reform the programme because we can’t have people vulnerable in perpetuity. I feel having had that conversation years ago in the 2016 budget, I have waited since then to now for this reform to come. I used the example from Argentina's Heads of Households programme, where you work for four hours a day and receive a stipend from the State but you develop skills like plumbing, masonry... you develop the trades side.  I accept the point that some of the CEPEP workers form landscaping companies but how many landscaping companies will we have? What you really want is tradeable skills where they can become independent, that is more sustainable,” she said.

Looking at other parts of the budget, Dr Attz said she was particularly disappointed with the tourism allocation and plans. She said last year the Sandals Resort was identified as one of the six pillars but that fell out and nothing replaced it. She questioned the impact of the ANR Robinson airport upgrade in Tobago in light of the fallout from the Thomas Cook closure.  

Describing the budget as the same old, same old, Dr Attz said there seems to be a disconnect with the Government and the population, especially the middle class and a lack of vision on the way forward beyond oil and gas.

“I am not keen on the word diversification, it has lost its resonance. I really want to talk about transformation and it will require a change in how we educate our population. We are not educating a population to be forward-thinking, we are educating them for oil and gas. Diversification to me suggests it will happen and the Government will do this and that as opposed to a transformation which is a holistic change,” she said.

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