A mixed bag. That’s about as accurate a description I can use in reference to the Budget Statement 2023 that was presented in the Trinidad and Tobago House of Representatives on Monday 26 September, by Finance Minister, Mr. Colm Imbert entitled, "Tenacity and Stability in the Face of Global Challenges".
Of course, the budget, like its previous incarnations, is arguably not meant to be a figurative bag of tempting goodies as some would hope, or yet still others might accuse it of being. Nevertheless, in the same breath, it cannot be denied that government budgets generally try to curate a realistic balance of what the country needs to survive, alongside with what it would like to achieve in order to survive.
Included within these objectives are the various population demographics with their specific concerns and needs, such as the enterprise-minded individual, the fledgling business owner and also the established entrepreneur of a micro, small, medium or large enterprise. Therefore, here are a few noted takeaways for the benefit of this group from this year's budget:
The increase in the cost of fuel will likely correspond with an increase in the cost of your goods and services: Whether this fuel increase came immediately (as was done on Monday) or gradually (as many others and I would have hoped), it was inevitable. While the existence of a fuel subsidy does make living less cumbersome in the interim and long-term, we have to be pragmatic, even at the risk of a further blow to our pockets. It is my respectful view that, the government of the day can no longer be reasonably expected to continue to bear the costly existence of a fuel subsidy, while still trying to expand and improve basic public infrastructure and (subsidised) services at the same budget allocation year in, year out.
Of course, the current Russia-Ukraine conflict would have indeed triggered a sharp increase in the cost of fuel and supply chain services. Yet, the dubious nature of oil prices since time immemorial and the drastic closure of several businesses since March 2020 due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with yearly inflation made this year’s increase particularly jarring.
Granted, it is still the sixth increase in the cost of fuel over the seven years of the Dr. Keith Rowley-led administration, while many within the local labour-force still operate on 2013 salaries. Therefore, many business owners and operators of all sizes and strata would have felt duty-bound and compassionate (and still do, to some extent) to temper the cost of their services and products in relation to the limited disposable income of their customers and clients.
Yet, they cannot be reasonably expected to maintain this action for very long, since they too have to face increased overhead costs such as the payment of utilities and staff salaries, etc. In essence, the message to product and service suppliers is simple yet concise: be prepared to charge a little more; likewise, to product and service receivers, be prepared to pay a little more.