Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar led off the Opposition’s response to the 2017-2018 Budget debate in the House of Representatives yesterday.
Using the theme “A return to the Oppressive PNM status quo of bankruptcy, betrayal, bias, blame, brutality and blatant incompetence, corruption and mismanagement of the economy and country,” Persad-Bissessar very calmly and professionally unravelled the PNM’s fiscal policy, mismanagement of the economy and lack of leadership since it came into office in September 2015 with surgical procedure and precision and offered them lessons on how to manage and govern.
She condemned the budget as an act of terror against all citizens, one that has traumatized the country and betrayed the trust of the people, a bankrupt, brutal and biased one, long on rhetoric but short on substance.
The greatest irony about this Budget Presentation was the lofty title presented by the Minister of Finance: “Changing the Paradigm: Putting the Economy on a Sustainable Path.”
And now, the Minister of Finance is calling for a “Change in Paradigm.” What a moron – sorry oxymoron.
This is an admission that all they did thus far failed so, they have to change their paradigm; but the budget presented clearly makes no paradigm change.
We have absolutely no confidence in this Government, and they have shown that they cannot be trusted to fulfill any of promises they made. It is distressing to me to see all the good work undertaken by the Government which I led now crushed by this PNM administration, which is bankrupt of ideas
She accused the Govt of repeatedly breaking the promises they made prior to elections and thereafter and by being bankrupt of a plan and a vision for the way forward; they are guilty of betraying, brutalizing and pauperizing the population. What the country witnessed was a poor attempt at covering the current administration’s failures, incompetence and ability to effectively manage the country’s finances to take us on a road to growth and development.
Persad-Bissessar said Imbert had “obfuscated, distorted and fudged the numbers presented and uttered some blatant untruths. Never in the history of this Parliament have we ever had a Budget that essentially amounts to an act of terror against citizens, one which would conscientiously and actively destabilise T&T’s economic standing, the population’s lives and economic and social well-being.”
She lamented that this budget has alienated every single sector of the national community with the poor and middle class feeling the full brunt. Every citizen of the country, already battered by rampant crime, high food prices, unemployment and under-employment are now being alienated by this budget.
Persad-Bissessar said this budget was bankrupt of ideas to take the country forward and would bankrupt citizens; the impact of these measures will lead ultimately to rising unemployment and under employment, increasing levels of poverty and crime, growing income inequality and concentration of wealth, loss of business confidence and competitiveness, increasing political risks and industrial instability and possible civil unrest in society.
It’s clear the majority of citizens feel this way and are angry; they are tired of excuses and directives to do more with less, to tighten your belt and ‘shut up’ while those holding high office enjoy every luxury.
It’s biased in favour of the super elite; it’s brutal fiscal measures would further pauperise people and would reduce the middle class and working class to abject poverty.
The Budget and rhetoric from ministers give the fake impression that this budget places a fair burden on all sectors to contribute. But it’s common knowledge that taxes on corporations, private hospitals, the banks, the so-called wealthy businesses will be passed on to the common man.
This budget has to be the most severe manifestation of misalignment of policy, as virtually every revenue raising measure will fall on the backs and pockets of one group directly or via pass on: the working class. She again cautioned the Govt against attempting to tax citizens into prosperity and its fiscal measures on an already overburdened population will have led to an explosion of fear, disappointment and disenchantment, particularly among the working class.
Saying that the Rowley-led Administration is still blaming her Government and everyone else for its incompetence and mismanagement of the economy, the former Prime Minister said that the blame-game must end.
The Rowley-led Administration continues to blame the police for crime, to blame parents for delinquency, to blame public officers for corruption, to blame residents for flooding and to blame Kamla for everything.
Imbert, she said, created history with this budget as it is the first in living memory to have alienated every single sector of the national community. This budget is a brutal betrayal of the people littered as it is with rehashed and broken promises and which is biased in favour of the super elite.
She called the public utterances of the Minister of Finance to the citizens of this great nation are at best condescending; and to our brave and hardworking business community have been called disrespectful.
Since September 2015, this country has been subjected to a Government that has failed to look after the needs of the people, choosing instead to focus on vanity projects, million-dollar paintings and cars, soca on the seas etc. whilst cutting funding to critical areas, such as the tertiary education sector or health care.
She also reminded Rowley about his decision to hire a lobbyist known to him for millions of dollars without process, then declared that corruption is his biggest challenge.
This PNM Govt has wasted $3.5M for the chair of CL Financial on sexual harassment charges; Roamsingh Shampha’s $59,000 bill; Smith’s $92,000 romp in Tobago; Massy Communications’ $225M; lobbyist’s $18M; Petrotrin strike cost $4M; Ernst and Young $20M for audits; PwC, $10.5M for audits; Brian Lara Stadium, $100M; soca on the seas, $3M; paintings, $3M; House in Tobago, $20M; jazz festival, $12M; golf course in South Trinidad, $.25M; $3M for CDA golf course; CEPEP legal fees to sue Moonilal, $.5M; $2.5M for a fete match to open the Lara Cricket Academy; $100M on fake oil; does this sound like a government without money? You cannot fool all the people all the time
She questioned the Govt’s rationale that all will bear the burden of adjustment saying that it is common knowledge that taxes on corporations, private hospitals, the banks, the so-called wealthy businesses will be passed on to the common man. At the end of the day, the patient who can’t get treatment at the public hospital will pay more at the private institution. The poor bank customer or account holders will absorb the bank charges. And the working class will pay for taxes or increases on tyres, diesel and inspection fees. All this so the Rowley led government can find $3M to upgrade a golf course. This is obscenity personified, she declared.
The former Prime Minister also questioned the Govt on its distorting and fudging numbers in order to lay blame at her government. “My government reduced expenditure to $57B in 2015 from the previous year’s $62B when the price of oil collapsed notwithstanding that it was an election year,” she said.
The deficit was also $2.7B in 2015 and has since increased even when the Minister is saying he needs to reduce expenditure.
During her tenure in office, she said, the country experienced the largest increase in output and employment in history. Under her administration, expenditure increased from $45B to $62B, an increase of $17B or 36%.
She was adamant that the increase in expenditure started under the PNM represented the largest increase in expenditure in TT’s history, moving from a budget of $15B in 2002 to $45B in 2009. This represented a $30B or 300% increase over the period.
After two years in government, the PNM has pushed the Net Public Sector debt up by 23%; in only two short years, $17.201B has been added.
At this rate, the PNM will incur the largest intergenerational transfer of debt in our history. At his rate our grandchildren will have to clean up the mess that this current administration is making. Under this PNM administration, every man, woman and child has to face a debt of $69,099.
She also questioned the Prime Minister about his recent statement that the Govt received $2.1B in energy revenue. But she alluded to the Review of the Economy 2017 which shows it as $9B.
According to the Review (page 96, Appendix 20) – Central Government Fiscal Operations: current revenue of which Energy Sector Revenue: fiscal 2016 was $8,278.2B or $8.3B. In other words T&T received 419% MORE revenue in 2016 than what the Prime Minister told this country just over a week ago.
Persad-Bissessar also criticized for negotiating a gas price on behalf of the NGC with EOG resources in a meeting in Houston in March 2017 with no officers of the NGC and the Ministry of Energy present; only Minister Young.
The Prime Minister was only accompanied by Minister Stuart Young.
“The Prime Minister is not a contracting party in this matter, it’s a matter between the NGC and EOG resources and therefore was highly improper for him to assume the role of the NGC and led negotiations on their behalf. This incident has led to the fixing of natural gas prices by the political directorate namely the Prime Minister and has undermined the Board of the NGC and its management. Such a course of action flies in the face of transparency.”
The former Prime Minister reminded the national community that “we (the People’s Partnership Govt) delivered a better quality of life for the people of Trinidad and Tobago”.