Mathur wonders whether Brian Kuei Tung can juggle
all calls” said Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung to his secretary.
Imagine him, head down, a semicircle of paper on his desk, UNC manifesto,
public service bills, notes from the Chamber of Commerce, unanswered
messages, a pot of hot coffee to take him through the days and nights. He
has a budget to present.
can only speculate on what it will hold, because like the Chamber
President, Mr. Michael Arneaud, who has not heard from him at all, we have
not been able to break his concentration. So we try and get pieces of the
jigsaw together. The Finance Minister has been largely left to his own
devices (The Prime Minister is determined not to interfere in Ministerial
portfolios) but he does have some loose directives from his boss. One,
that he tackles poverty, two, that he “rake and scrape” a budget that
will put cash in the hands of public servants, three, that the budget
gives “an indication that we intend to implement the promises we made in
then he’s had the missives from the Chambers of Commerce: “remove
motor vehicle license fees”; “drop corporate taxes to 30 percent”;
“create jobs”. Public Administration Minister Wade Mark gives another
clue. He says the budget will be “prudent and controlled.” There will
be no flight of capital or inflation or fluctuating exchange rate. No
wonder the Finance Minister is incommunicado. Can he take the pressures
and balance opposing forces? Can he deliver to everyone’s satisfaction?
bio-study of him may give us more clues. Brian Anthony Kuei Tung was born
on March 23, 1946 in Frederick Street. His parents separated when he was
12, and he was left with his father who struggled to support him, and gave
up, leaving young Kuei Tung to bring himself up. After attending Park
Street Boys RC (now Rosary Boys) he went on to St. Mary’s College on
scholarship where he took his higher certificate in languages.
Kuei Tung then joined Pannel Fitzpatrick as an apprentice where he studied
accountancy for four years. After he qualified as a certified accountant,
he joined IBM and was sent to Guyana to set up a new IBM branch there. In
1974 he left IBM to take up a position at Maritime Insurance Company
Limited. It was here that he met Mervyn De Souza who introduced him to the
PNM, and Steve Ferguson. Nine years later, in 1983 he accepted the post of
deputy managing director of American Life General Insurance Company (ALGICO).
Within the year he was appointed managing director.
Tung resigned from ALGICO in 1991. In December that year he was appointed
Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism by the new PNM government. He
resigned from his Cabinet position in December 1993: Manning dropped him
from the finance and general purposes committee and speculation
surrounding a Cabinet reshuffle that would split his Ministry into three
separate portfolios. He left on January 31, 1994 but like his successor
Wendell Mottley, quietly, without apparent rancour. Between then and his
appointment as Finance Minister under the UNC government, he went into
business with Ishwar Galbaransingh, setting up BRI Holdings to purchase of
West Indies Drive Inns - the company that started the first fastfood chain
in Trinidad & Tobago, Royal Castle - from the Montrichards.
can we deduce?. As a student, and accountant, Kuei Tung’s rise seemed
meteoric. He obviously knows the value of turning a dollar as his business
successes indicate. He is independent - he has studied and succeeded on
his own with few props, from the age of 12. He is bright - he went to St.
Mary’s College on scholarship, and was given high positions in the
companies he joined. He is a hard worker but you wouldn’t want to cross
him. He is strong willed - unafraid to resign over a dispute. He is loyal
- stood by a party which sidelined him and by friends who suffered the
same fate. He is tough enough to take on the after budget flak,
independent enough to hold his own, and bright enough to understand the
political and social issues at stake. And he does not take calls from the
hallowed Chamber of Commerce on the eve of a budget. He has his priorities
right. But after interviewing representatives from academia, business,
politics who held divergent points of view on what he should do, one
burning question remains: can he juggle?
Rampersad, economist, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of
can be tackled in four ways:
Social security benefits systems benefits should be adjusted to
cope with inflation.
Attention should be paid to the growing phenomenon of the single
female parent. Policies should be devised to enable parents to cope to
prevent young people from committing anti-social acts.
Malnutrition should be controlled through properly structured
school feeding programmes which are tied to domestic agriculture.
The budget must give serious consideration to a modified
unemployment insurance scheme, that is contributory, and short term, based
on the number of weeks the applicant has worked. The scheme should be one
which the society can afford and will take the sharp edge off poverty.
Valley, Opposition parliamentarian, former Minister of Trade and Industry:
course I believe he should consider poverty. In the early years we had to
get the economy moving, and so could not concentrate on social policies.
Only after enlarging the cake could we begin to think of distribution.
Mark, Minister of Information and Public Administration:
cannot consume without producing. Public servants have to work hard,
expand the national cake. Out of a budget of $10 billion, $6 billion is
allocated to public, foreign debt and expenditure on salaries. That leaves
us four billion for national development, for the street children, the
unemployed., the homeless....We can’t just leave them. We need funds to
address crime, drugs, poverty, high prices.
Arneaud, President, Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce
recommend that VAT is removed on cheddar cheese, sardines, corn beef,
cooking oil, salt, tuna, mackerel, saltfish, sugar, butter, bread and
sausages to help less fortunate people in society: There are no free
lunches but this should help them. The Finance Minister could also
allocate funds for organisations that deal with poverty on a daily basis.
Finance Minister should increase Corporate and personal taxes because
indirect taxes such as VAT hurt the poor . Pressure groups are saying cut
direct taxes on goods such as imported cars. These are goods which only
the better off people afford. The last government and one before it cut
direct taxes but increased indirect taxes (VAT).
have no problem with VAT I think VAT is a fair and equitable system. VAT
is one way that people who spend have to pay. We’re hoping as a business
community to see a tax break so we will have more funds to reinvest.
We’re hoping the Finance Minister will cut corporate tax to 30 percent.
We didn’t get a square deal with the last government which started at 35
percent, took it up to 45 percent and brought it back down to 38 percent.
government can get tax revenue from massive petrochemical projects in
return for concessions to investors.
would like a reduction of taxes both at corporate and personal level to a
maximum (corporate tax rate of 35 percent).
Finance Minister has to recognise that the national savings ratio has to
increase and this means they have to generate a fiscal surplus. (The
National savings ratio is determined by personal savings and any
government surplus. It is now about 15 percent and needs to go up to about
25 percent because the money will then be available for investment in
pressing needs in the country such as schools, health, housing, social
services. Without savings, interest rates are pushed up.)
budget must keep purchasing power particularly among better off sections
of population on a tight reign. This can be inflationary and puts pressure
on foreign exchange.
would like to see a budget with a surplus at least equal to 1995 (0.4
percent) overall surplus. I would like to see a continuation of economic
policies of PNM.
corporate groups should be allowed to offset losses in one company against
profits in another. In the Supermarket industry we feel the business levy
should be reduced to a quarter of a percent because at its rate of .5
percent equates to tax rate that is higher than the present tax rate of 38
think the minister should concentrate on improving the government’s tax
position by computerizing, modernizing the tax system so everybody pays
and not some.
were happy with the previous government’s budgets. Under the last
government we got messages from Minister of Finance every week. This
Minister has be busy so we haven’t heard from him. I hope this
government will build on the policies of the previous government.
PNM left the treasury in better state than when we got it.
We met the treasury with an overdraft of 1.9 billion dollars and
left it with surplus of 433 million. Debt servicing has also been coming
down. We moved from a defect to a 2.3 billion turnaround. Our policies
have led to growth and I hope the Finance Minister continues them.
finance minister has to be careful not to tamper with the exchange rate.
Since the floating of the dollar our economic stability has been measured
by the stability of the exchange rate. This has been stable since the
dollar was first floated in 1993 ($6TT to $1US). A sudden drop will halt
investment and start capital flight causing a vicious circle by putting
further pressure on the exchange rate. With liberalization he has to use
the two tools available to control the exchange rate: the investment/
interest rate policy (which keeps interest rates high and makes Trinidad a
good place to deposit money in) and the fiscal surplus (keeps a lid on
public and government spending ensuring money is available for businesses
to borrow to expand and create jobs).
want to state categorically that whatever efforts are made by the
government to meet commitments to public servants will not destabilize the
national economy, impact negatively on exchange rate or trigger a spiral
in inflation. Anything we do will be prudent and controlled. We have a
commitment and are keeping it but are also constrained by the financial
are 14 public sectors groups, 10 of which have signed an agreement to take
arrears in bonds. We have said that some payment will be made in cash.
This will be manifested in some sense in 1996, but not at the expense of
the economy. We have already agreed to pay PSA, first and second division
prisons officers their correct salaries which should amount to 130-150
have to ensure equity in the system. One group cannot be too far ahead of
others. We have raked and scraped to satisfy the public servants.
are sure that the men and women in the trade union movement are rational
and seek the nation’s interest. A trade union will never be happy until
all demands are met. We hope they understand the fiscal constraints we are
is no question that the Finance Minister can(not) pay public service debt,
except through bonds. Paying cash will increase money supply and
destabalise the exchange rate. If he does, the country will suffer the
fate of Jamaica and Venezuela which have sliding exchange rates.