KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The broad issues for the budget to be presented on Monday were laid out in the estimates that parliament approved in December, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Wednesday.
But citizens are undoubtedly anxiously looking forward to the hear what Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, has to say about the introduction of a new property tax regime here, amid falling government revenue and a declining economy.
Parliament on Dec. 13 approved estimates of EC$793,911,053 for this year’s budget, an increase of 0.7 per cent or EC$7.42 million over the approved budget for 2011.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, told lawmakers that the estimates “are fashioned to respond to the current economic circumstances and the strategic path which this government has chosen.
“It balances restraint on the recurrent side with well-targeted capital projects, aimed at increasing economic activity in the key sectors of the economy,” he said.
He told journalists on Wednesday that while “there are some particular issues that will come up in the budget, naturally” the numbers are actually framed from the Estimates.
“… and what we see in these Estimates is that 39.8 per cent of the capital budget is directed to economic affairs and therefore will provide some job creation,” he said.
Gonsalves further said that the budget “consolidates and streamlines the Estimates and puts on a surer footing the Education Revolution.
“What we see is a rebalancing in the numbers, the additional monies which are put both on the recurrent side and the capital side for health, wellness and the environment.”
He said that his Unity Labour Party administration would over the next three years focus on the health of citizens to take advantages of increased access to higher education.
“… it is not going to make any sense if you are trained but you are not fit to work with this training or if you die younger because you are not fit. So we have to emphasise health.”
He said that his government has been focusing on public health and primary, secondary health care.
The government provides some tertiary healthcare services but make arrangements with other countries, such as Cuba and the Untied States in that regard, Gonsalves said.
“But in the period going forward, over the next three years, we are seeking to modernise the health sector and we have a specific programme for that with funding from the European Union, in addition to funding from ourselves — 30-something million dollars,” Gonsalves said.
He said that even with increased spending on healthcare, there would be no reduction in the nation’s education budget.
“It is a fascinating thing the way in which matters are unfolding. And all these are things which came out of the Estimates.”
Gonsalves said that when the Estimates were debated, many citizens had already begun to focus on Christmas celebrations.
“I hope that they begin to refocus as we start the debate on the budget,” he added.
Gonsalves told Parliament during the Estimates debate that four ministries — Transport and Works; National Security, Seaport and Airport; Education; and Finance and Planning — will receive 70.3 per cent of the EC$184,915,470 capital estimates for the 2012 budget.