(Trinidad Newsday) FINANCE Minister Larry Howai is on Monday poised to announce in the Budget presentation that 10,000 acres of land in Guyana will be made available for use by local farmers under the terms of a new facility to be administered by the Ministry of Food Production.
The facility is the result of the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Guyana which, sources last week told Sunday Newsday, Howai is to announce.
Under the facility, investors will be able to apply to the Ministry of Food Production for licence to use the lands in Guyana.
These applications are to be made in the form of business proposals which will be evaluated by the ministry. The land must be used for the purposes of food production and to address demand for food locally.
It is expected that the initial amount of land to be made available will be 10,000 acres but this could be increased to 100,000 acres.
In the 2013 Budget, Howai had noted that steps were being taken to establish such a facility.
“The Ministry of Food Production, with agricultural land becoming less and less available in Trinidad and Tobago, is moving to establish a Food Security Facility with the Government of Guyana,” Howai said. “The Facility would commit both Governments to expanding agricultural production in Guyana through the establishment of commercial relationships for funding the establishment of several large agricultural estates in Guyana.”
The announcement of the new facility is likely to trigger debate on the question of local land-use and the accessibility of land.
Howai is also expected to note that the agriculture sector has recorded, for the first time in years, two successive periods of growth, and to underline efforts to encourage economic diversification.
It is also understood that the 2014 Budget will once more focus on the vexed issue of the fuel subsidy. Though incentives to encourage CNG fuel use did not appear to take off or make much of a dent on the overall fuel subsidy, the Government is set to once more announce incentives to encourage CNG use as part of its strategy to cushion the taxpayer from the billion-dollar subsidy.
The Budget is to contain more aggressive attempts to encourage changes in consumption habits, with the introduction of “CNG credits” to off-set the cost of conversion to the alternative fuel.
One high-ranking Cabinet source last week refused to rule out any changes to the fuel subsidy regime, which was adjusted last year with the subsidy on premium fuel being reduced, making that class of fuel more expensive.
The source said, however, that in the 2014 Budget the underlying principle will not result in any increased prices at the pump for the consumer, an indication that Howai could be set to maintain the status quo or introduce a marginal adjustment.
The budget will be the second for Howai, who has already hinted that the issue of pensions reform will be addressed in his presentation due at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain at 1.30pm. Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal on Friday agreed to defer all Parliament questions due to be answered for the day, as per the convention on Budget day.
With concerns over deficit financing levels, Howai is expected to underline how revenue levels exceeded expectations while expenditure levels were not as high as expected, meaning the planned deficit ($7.6 billion) was not as large as projected.
It is expected that another deficit budget could be unveiled, as the Government seeks to maintain signs of growth in the economy.
In the last few years, the trend has also been for budgets to be larger than the last. Last year’s budget was pitched at $58.4 billion.