This year the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands presented a budget for 2020/21 to the House of Assembly in the amount of $261.5 million in recurrent revenue compared to the 2019/20 unaudited amount of $313.8 million. On the other, the total expenditure before capital contribution for 2020/21 is $301.7 million compared to the 2019/20 unaudited amount of $239.2m. The expenditure is higher than normal due to the Government’s “stimulus” package to alleviate the impact of COVID 19.
The budget booklet is 455 pages so I will highlight some key areas of the budget.
Import duty which is the highest element of the recurrent revenue is $69.1m or 26% of the total recurrent revenue. This is a decrease from the prior year actuals of $78.7m resulting in a difference of $9.6m. One would assume this has taken into consideration the duty exemption for the hoteliers in the stimulus package and the reduction in duty on the COVID 19 basket items.
In 2019/20, accommodation tax represented approximately 24% of the recurrent revenue in the amount of $74.8m. In this financial year, accommodation tax is estimated to be $45.8m resulting in a significant decrease of $29m or 40%. This means that tourism is expected to decrease which will impact all of us given it is our only main industry.
Salaries and wages
Salaries and wages is showing an increase from $87.8m to $104.7m. There are increases in almost every department but the greatest increase is in the area of the Police which is quite needed in light of the crime that is taking place in our country
Pensions and Gratuities
Pensions and gratuities increased from $6m to $7.3m to reflect the government’s desire to restore pensions and gratuities.
NHIB and Hospital
NHIB and Hospital charges continued to be a major element of our budget representing $55million. This has been like this now for the past couple of years. Of the $55million, $33m is for NHIB and treatment overseas.
Property rentals expense
Property rentals is expected to be $5.4million showing an increase from the unaudited 2019/20 figures of $4.9milion. This is very interesting considering that the Government has purchased the land where the stadium is housed, the school building where the tentative vocational school is expected and the acquisition of two other buildings in 2016/17. One would expect the property rentals to decrease but it is showing an increase.
Work permit revenue
Many of us complained a lot about work permit holders but the revenue from work permit holders was $22.8m in 2019/20. The budget for work permit for 2020/21 is $21.6m, a slight decline of $1.2m or 5%. The accommodation tax as explained above has decreased by 40% but yet work permit revenue only decreased by 5%. Does this make sense? If accommodation tax decrease, the hoteliers will not need all of the staff and hence one would think that the work permit revenue would decrease further.
Technical Vocation School
There is a budgeted amount of $1.15m for the technical vocational school. The Government has purchased a building for the Technical Vocational School which is currently being used by the Oseta Jolly Primary School. I don’t know the status of the OSeta Jolly former building as to whether or not the Blue Hills location will be ready for September.
I always felt that the Vocational School should have been an umbrella of the Community College. In fact I mentioned that to Minister the last time I saw her. The money that was used to purchase the building should have been used to start phase 1 of the Community College for Providenciales. Furthermore administration costs could have been reduced if all were under the Community College.
Contingency Military Force
There is an element of $450,363 for a contingency military force. This is a great start.
On January 24th 2018, Stephen Turnbull released his report on the study of the statutory bodies. I am not sure whether anything was done with this report but I personally believe there are some savings particularly in the area of payroll that can be achieved in some of these bodies and there are some excess revenue that TCIG can get from some of these statutory bodies.
The budget reflects $4m in excess revenue from Airports Authority and 8.2m from Ports Authority
35.9Million is allocated for capital projects. South Caicos looks like they will finally get the airport. However, the public deserves to know the real reasons why the airport project has taken almost four years to come to fruition.
I have only highlighted only some of the budgeted items. I know it is a challenge to provide reasonable estimates given the uncertainty surrounding the impact of COVID 19 crisis so it is difficult to say whether the budget is reasonable or sustainable at this time. One thing I know that whoever wins the next election will have to make some hard decisions such as the implementation of a form of tax or getting a loan.