As the nation stands divided on the decision by Minister of Finance Colm Imbert to withdraw $2.5 billion from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF), no doubt with the backing of the cabinet, I offer my perspective on the issue. The Opposition Leader correctly expressed the opinion that though the Prime Minister saw nothing wrong with the move, but it was wrong not to properly inform the country of its true purpose.
The current explanation, can be likened to a child asking his father for $250 to go to the shop. Obviously this is not $25, and the father would want to know why a child would want such a sizable amount, when he has already received his usual allowance (national budget). The nation needs to know the exact purpose of this withdrawal. Is it that after months of waiting, the public servants and protective services will be paid all or just part of their back-pay? Or is it that this money is to be invested in the development of local industry?
If we as a country are about to jeopardise our collateral, as the HSF is used for credit ratings by the IDB etc, in a bid to stimulate the economy, then the Minister of Finance and by extension the Prime Minister must move to assure the nation that a percentage of the revenue is to be returned to the HSF. This cannot be a case of “well, we need the money” or “this is what the fund is for”, but rather it should be viewed as an investment to be returned with interest.
In keeping with suggestions from Senator D Mahabir, if the budget were to be pegged on the oil price of US$45 per barrel, anything above that should be placed into the HSF.
This move, if it is a mere withdrawal, is wrong, but if it is an investment with returns pledged to the HSF and the nation, with proper monitoring and evaluation through transparency, then it may fulfil the purpose of the fund in the first place. And, if it is so, then what are the measures being used to get value for money, how are we as a nation going to ensure that the difference promised in the build-up to September 2015 is realised and not just an empty promise?