IN any country, the Ministry of Planning addresses the issue of how to make development happen for that country. In any government, whatever the ministry of planning is called, it is generally focused on a three- to five-year policy framework and an action agenda to get required results within that timeframe.
The results sought are usually the creation of infrastructure assets, the generation of economic growth through investment and incentives, an environment conducive to confidence building, and the facilitation of citizen sustainability, if not prosperity.
Generally, this involves a medium-term framework, which all ministries would then use to fashion their own plans and an annual agenda for budget financing.
Budget financing focuses on two broad areas for which allocations are made—operational expenditure and development projects. The first is to keep the system and processes of government going. The second is to generate economic activity, create jobs, enhance development.
In good governance money should follow plans, objectives set, results to be achieved. That is why political parties offer manifestos in an election campaign, so that voters can understand what the party stands for and what the party sees as important to the country, because priorities identified may find their way into policy.
So, rationally speaking, the Ministry of Finance should follow the framework and plans of the Ministry of Planning in making budgetary allocations.
It is the job of the Ministry of Finance to establish a fiscal plan to support the medium-term framework, budget by budget. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance to track how allocations are being spent by each ministry.
It is the job of Ministry of Planning to track progress on the achievement of desired results. These two ministries are meant to work hand in hand.
Government does not always work like that though. The Ministry of Finance, whose job it is to find money and to control the flow of money to priorities, often has the upper hand.
It takes a very strong Minister of Planning to get the Minister of Finance to allocate funding in an annual budget aligned with declared national priorities. And fiscal measures are, by and large, exclusively the domain of the Finance Minister.
Of course, a Prime Minister always reserves, his or her right to have a say—before, during and, at the last minute. But the Minister of Finance can, and does, withhold releases for anything at anytime given his cash flow and sense of priorities and so he has final say.
What often happens in reality is that policy and priorities are determined by allocations and fiscal measures. Money determines policy, priorities and what projects get funded. Once done, ministries determine the level of effectiveness of execution or implementation and there is usually a back and forth between individual ministries and the Ministry of Finance to get timely releases.
In some countries, the dominant ministry is planning and finance or finance and planning, in a single ministry. These two key ministries are brought together, so that policy framework, national plan, annual priorities, fiscal plan and annual allocations as well as the monitoring of spending and assessment of results can be aligned.
Dr Eric Williams served as both minister of planning and minister of finance at different times. prime minister Patrick Manning and prime minister George Chambers served as minister of finance.
For the first five years this Government’s focus was on the management of money; not on the management of growth and development. So by the time Covid-19 hit us in March 2020, Trinidad and Tobago had seen a five-year recession, perpetually denied by the Finance Minister, but real nonetheless and now, we are seeing our sixth year of continuing decline and unravelling of confidence.
And the focus continues to be on our financial situation. How much money we have? How much revenue we can get? What to spend on? Without any economic strategy except counting money. It is as if all pretence to a development agenda has been abandoned entirely.
No plan for food production, no deep concern about reducing the food import bill, no talk about saving or earning foreign exchange through agriculture, no strategy for a reasonable level of food security. No strategy for flooding that could link to irrigation and drainage initiatives for agriculture.
We have no accurate numbers on any current statistical information that can help us make sense of our economic reality. Much less how this might be linked to some development strategy, now or later. All we know is that we are short on revenue, and we borrowing and drawing on the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) to spend. And we are short on foreign exchange.
The job of the Minister of Finance is to align the money behind a plan of priorities. But there is a Vision 2030 document but no plan of priorities, and so the release of money determines what happens on any given day.
The fact that so little is going on means money is scarce, not being released, and there is nothing meaningful that the Planning Ministry and the Finance Ministry can work together on including anything in any of the ministries that excite. So little money with no clear priorities.
It may well be that they never did find anything exciting to work on together at any time.