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September 28, 2022
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September 29, 2022

Budget for Creation? – A 2023 Budget Analysis

By Ryan Assiu

Each year from September 1 to October 4, we Catholics observe the Season of Creation in which we unite in prayer and action to protect our common home – the planet – and all who share it. The 2022 theme is Listen to the voice of Creation.

We centred our prayer on the cries of the Earth ravaged by environmental degradation, resource overexploitation, pollution, and climate change. We also respond to the cries of the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities whose lives and livelihoods are lost.

Pope Francis once said, “prayer that does not lead to concrete action is fruitless and incomplete…[they] should never be separated but lived in profound unity and harmony”.

Thus, as the honourable Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, read the 2023 budget on September 26 amidst this special season, I keenly listened for measures that aimed to address the threats to creation, protect the vulnerable, and empower us – as a Catholic community – to act. I was not disappointed.

Creation-centred measures

Themed Tenacity and Stability in the Face of Global Challenges, the 2023 budget threads this line with a mix of measures that tries to appease both the cries of the vulnerable as well as the Earth.

Pollution Control, Overexploitation and Ecosystem Loss

These measures aim to address illegal activities that threaten environmental health.

· Penalty for illegal timbering on State Lands increased to $100,000 from January 1, 2023

· Penalty for oil pollution increased to $100,000 from January 1, 2023.

· Amendments to law to allow the State to levy on, seize and forfeit equipment found at illegal quarry sites.


Agriculture and Food Security

These measures aim to enhance food security and sustainable investments into the sector.

· $3 million allocated to marketing and awareness campaigns, training of staff and purchasing of materials to address Morgue Locusts and the Giant African Snail.

· Grant funding facility of 75 per cent up to $340,000 to producers of alternatives to wheat flour.

· Up to $25,000 rebate for implementing renewable energy in approved agricultural holdings from January 1, 2023.


Renewable Energy and Energy Transition

These measures provide incentives and disincentives to fossil fuels.

· No VAT on new equipment for manufacturing companies using alternative energy sources such as biomass, wind, solar or water for 1 year, January 1 to December 31, 2023.

· Prices of premium and super gasoline, and kerosene increased by $1 per litre, and diesel by 50 cents per litre.


Social Safety for Individuals

These measures help provide home, education, and financial security to the most vulnerable.

· 2,563 HDC homes under construction for low- and middle-income citizens.

· All recipients of social grants to receive a one-time transportation grant of $1,000 in 2023.

· Personal income-tax allowance exemption limit raised to $7,500 per month from January 1, 2023.

· Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) standards relaxed to allow those who previously accessed funding for diplomas, associate degrees or lower TVET level to pursue baccalaureate level degrees.

· Apprenticeship allowances to NTA-registered companies that hire persons 16 – 25 years old in short-term capacities for all remuneration paid up to 5 per cent of company’s total wages for one year starting on January 1, 2023.


Entrepreneurship and Business development

· Approved small companies exempted from Corporation Taxation for six years from January 1, 2023.

· VAT registration threshold increased from $500,000 to $600,000 from January 1, 2023.

· Tax amnesty for small businesses up to the year ending 31st of December 2021 from the November 14, 2022, to February 17, 2023.

· One-time Manufacturing Tax credit up to $50,000 for companies investing in new machinery, product lines and equipment from January 1, 2023.


Trinidad and Tobago’s tight rope

Within the budget presentation were also incentives to continue oil and gas exploration, stimulate government construction, and encourage the digitisation and financial sector growth.

This may seem antithetical to Creation because the fossil fuel extraction and use are responsible for 90 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. These pollutants drive global climate change, which manifests locally in warmer temperatures, more extreme rainfall, increased flooding, and greater agricultural pest prevalence.

However, oil and gas sector contribute the most to our gross domestic product (GDP), at about 30 per cent. As such, investing in the sector is an unavoidable necessity if we are to balance the country’s short-term fiscal needs against long-term sustainable development.

This is especially important because in recent times external shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic and declining global energy prices have led to country’s spending more than they earn.

At the onset of the pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago’s debt-to-GDP stood at 80 per cent. This means that for every dollar we earn as a country, 80 cents must go to repayment. The little that remains must be shared between meeting the needs of this generation and invested into future generations.

The message to Catholics

Through a Season of Creation lens, the key message of the 2023 budget is that we must support a low emission economy by pioneering sustainable enterprises in agriculture, manufacturing, and digitisation.

For example: setting up a renewable-energy powered Agri-processing operation to develop root-crop flour allows one access to over $400,000 in grant funding and tax rebates, with added tax breaks and reimbursement on machinery and labour.

Youth entrepreneurship in agriculture is strongly encouraged, as most measures also complement two recently launched programmes mentioned in the 2023 budget: the Youth Agricultural Homestead Programme which provides young nationals with land as well as financial and technical support for entrepreneurial efforts; and the Youth Agriculture Shade House Project that provides one-year of specialised training on intensive, small-area farming for high yield.

To those uninspired by business or agriculture, the Creation message is more subtle: adjust your transportation habits toward zero emission vehicles. The fuel subsidy has been reduced across four successive budgets in a complementary effort to measures implemented in 2021 and 2022 that remove taxes on hybrid- and fully electric vehicles.

Ryan Assiu is a sustainable development and climate change specialist by qualification, project manager by experience, and educator by passion. He is currently the Principal Environmental Consultant at Advisors Next Door Limited, a Trinidad-based sustainability and financial consulting firm that supports Caribbean governments and companies. His writings focus on his experiences and knowledge on various environmental topics relevant to Small Island Developing States.

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