“ON THE BALLOT” UNC VIRTUAL MEETING (June 25, 2020)
Good evening and thank you for joining us once again as we continue to set the trend in holding online virtual meetings to keep in contact with you, the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Like you, we too are slowly adjusting to the changes we’ve had to make as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. But, throughout the last few months, we have redoubled our efforts at reaching out to people in need, because we have seen the suffering that many have had to endure.
After three months and billions spent, thousands are still waiting for the salary relief grant. Families have had to rely on NGOs and concerned citizens who volunteered to prepare meals and deliver hampers and other relief items.
All the while, this Keith Rowley-led Government is patting itself on the back, claiming they’ve done a good job. I think Keith may have forgotten the time old saying that “self-praise is no praise!”
Where is the salary relief grant? Anybody got that yet?
Where is the small business grant? Anybody got that yet?
They are completely out of touch with the reality that people are facing. They have been out of touch since day one and nothing has changed after almost 5 years.
As our country slowly re-opens, people can get back to work, but for many, there are no jobs to return to.
People are feeling hopeless, and many are unable to cope.
Life in our beloved nation has changed dramatically as a result of the health crisis, but unfortunately, there are some negative aspects that have seen little change. One of these is the unacceptably high levels of crime.
Crime & Security
This past weekend the country was rocked by the news that a two-year-old girl, baby Aniah, was shot and killed, along with her father.
This rocked me to my core – an innocent child caught in the crossfire and now gone – murdered in such a gruesome manner. I heard her mother’s cries of anguish – no mother should have to bear such pain.
What is the Government doing about crime?
What kind of society we have become where the murder, the cold-blooded murder of a two year old child can even happen?
And there are countless harrowing stories. For this year alone so far, the murder toll stands at 228. And since the Rowley government came to office to date – 2,379 persons have been murdered. Since I spoke to you on the 4th of this month – 32 more people have been killed.
The Archbishop recently asked, “What kind of nation has Trinidad and Tobago become?”
It is a question I am sure many of us have asked.
Today, citizens are living in fear. They wonder if they would become the next statistic. Or if they would get that dreaded phone call that one of their loved ones had fallen victim to criminals.
I have shared with you some of the UNC’s plans to address this problem.
I remind the population that under the government I led we were able to bring crime down to the lowest level in over three decades.
We will restructure the administration of law and order by creating a Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Legal Affairs, and a Ministry of the Attorney General.
We will also move to address the root causes of crime – poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity for young people.
A common thread you would find running through all our plans is investing in our people through education and training.
Our greatest asset has not been our oil or natural gas but our people. We continue to believe that the people of Trinidad and Tobago will forever be the most valuable resource we could ever have. Because of this, I will always fight for increased investment directly in our people.
We will build on the programmes and initiatives started under the Government I led from 2010 to 2015 and work to transform all levels of our education sector.
We expanded educational opportunities by offering skills training and trade qualifications. We will look at re-introducing these programmes.
The focus must be on education as it is the passport out of poverty. Education is the key to a better way of life.
The Government I led built over 100 schools. Some of these have been left abandoned by this Rowley Government.
When I was Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago was praised by the UN Secretary General for implementing Universal Early Childhood Education Centres. This was a significant achievement, increasing access for many young children from poor families.
When we return to office, we will ensure our little ones will be able to go to school from ECCE to university.
We will reintroduce the laptop programme. This is critical for children to learn skills for the digital economy and jobs of the future.
We will also reintroduce a revamped Land for the Landless programme.
Reviving the Economy
When we walk and meet people in communities, they want two things – to feel safe, and to have jobs to be able to care for their families.
Under this Rowley Government – long, long before Covid-19 – our economy was in dire straits.
They have shown that they have no clue how to govern.
The Minister of Finance came to Parliament two weeks ago and said with a straight face that the country was in a good place.
Well, I’m not sure if he’s living in Middle Earth – but here in Trinidad and Tobago – we are in a deep crisis. And they have put forward no solutions to take us out of this crisis – which they created as a result of their mismanagement and incompetence.
Borrow, borrow, borrow, and tax, tax, tax – that’s their mantra.
How can we be in a good place when this Government has borrowed over 5.4 billion dollars in the last few months pushing our Debt to GDP ratio to more than 70 percent?
Just this week Imbert was actually celebrating putting the country in further debt.
You all will recall that one of the very first things this Government did when it came into office was to raise debt ceilings to allow it to borrow more money. And they recently again increased borrowing limits as they have almost reached the limits they themselves set.
Where are their revenue earning measures?
Imbert and the Rowley PNM administration have sunk us into the most debt we’ve ever accumulated and are pushing us even closer into the arms of the IMF.
With the surge in public borrowing, public debt has grown to more TT$125 billion in just under 5 years, the highest in our country’s history.
Our public debt is on an explosive path.
While earning less revenue, Imbert has borrowed over $45 billion since Sept 2015. Earlier this week, Minister Imbert gleefully boasted about borrowing US$500 million from the international capital markets.
Imbert has also approved the borrowing of some $25 billion by public sector agencies like UDECOTT, NIF, Petrotrin, HMB, CAL and TSTT.
This means the Rowley PNM Government has borrowed a total of $70 billion since they assumed office in September 2015.
Weigh this borrowing spree against the fact that we are already consuming 8% of all our revenues each year to pay these debts.
The IMF expects our public debt to become unsustainable by 2023, reaching over 85% of GDP.
Rowley’s mismanagement before COVID-19 put T&T into economic depression, with five consecutive years of persistent economic decline, so the growth Imbert expects next year is all political lies designed to fool people.
Even the business community have criticized Imbert’s projected growth figures as unrealistic.
I want to remind the population that
- Before COVID-19 over 60,000 workers lost their jobs under this Rowley regime.
- Before COVID-19 this Rowley regime closed down Petrotrin destroying the livelihoods of many
- Before COVID-19 this Rowley regime refused to settle a single wage negotiation as promised, extending the hardship of many workers
Keith Rowley and his cronies have done more harm to our way of life than COVID-19.
OUR PLAN TO TRANSFORM T&T
The UNC has spent months developing our National Economic Transformation Plan with one goal in mind – making your lives better.
The UNC believes that taxation, though necessary, should not be a burden or act as a punishment for success.
We will alleviate the tax burden for citizens as well as small and medium-sized businesses. We will simplify the VAT regime, removing food from the VAT net.
We will lower corporation tax and reform the tax regime in our oil and gas industry once again making it attractive to foreign investment.
By letting hard-working people and businesses keep more of the money they earn, it will mean more money that is saved as well as reinvested.
We will not proceed with the PNM’s poorly thought out Revenue Authority.
It is more sensible and feasible to increase the efficiency of the Board of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise Division, rather than creating a new entity.
We will raise 4.5 to 7 billion in revenues per year by strengthening these agencies.
We will also reduce the red tape and bureaucracy involved in starting a business – thereby unleashing the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of our citizens.
The United National Congress understands that while the energy sector is critical to our economy, we need to diversify.
To drive our diversification effort, we will create 12 prosperity engines throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
These prosperity engines are:
- Brechin Castle Agro-Processing Complex
- St. Madeleine Sugar Manufacturing Facility
- East West Biotechnology Manufacturing Corridor
- Sevilla Digital Innovation Park
- Tamana ‘SolarTech’ Renewable Energy Park
- West Port of Spain ‘Trinidad Creative Arts Street/Area’
- East Port of Spain Steelpan Manufacturing Facility
- Piarco Aircraft Maintenance, Repair & Operations Hub
- Cedros Special Economic Zone
- Point Galeota Energy Logistics Hub
- Plymouth International Cruise Ship/Marina Complex
- Tobago’s First Locally Branded Hotel
The First 90 Days of the next UNC government
We are ready to govern. We are ready to hit the ground running, and for this we have a plan of what we intend to do in the first 90 days after we return to office:
We have shown how the Property Tax legislation is flawed, and we will repeal it.
We will fix the broken sea and air bridge between the islands and have it running smoothly.
We will protect our farmers and fisherfolk by incorporating the Praedial larceny squad into the TTPS -So our farmers and fishermen would no longer be told that they need to “make a quiet request to the government for help”.
We will settle all outstanding issues for ex-Caroni Workers, Cane Farmers and Petrotrin employees.
Within the first three months in office, citizens will be able to benefit from the quality health care that will be available at the Couva Children’s hospital.
So that our citizens will feel safe once again, we will provide the TTPS with the resources they need to catch the criminals and bring crime down.
We will work with stakeholders to get the Petrotrin refinery working again.
We will work with the Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Statistical Office to determine the true state of the economy, the country’s finances and capital projects, and share that information with citizens. Unlike the conman stats we have been receiving.
A UNC Government is committed to transparency, accountability and good governance. We will fully proclaim the Procurement legislation and provide the Office of the Procurement Regulator with its budgetary resources.
- We will prepare a divestment plan and debt workout strategy for non-strategic, loss-making state enterprises.
- We will scrap the proposed Revenue Authority.
- We will examine and address the issue of outstanding VAT Refunds, which is crippling the business sector.
- We will prepare legislation to reduce personal income and corporate taxes and simplify the VAT regime.
- We will begin drafting legislation to fully integrate the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) into a new fiscal responsibility framework.
These are just some of the plans we have for the first 90 days in office, more will be revealed in the coming weeks.
Tonight, you have been introduced to some of our new candidates.
I am pleased to announce one more – our dynamic Deputy Leader Jearlean John is the UNC’s Candidate for La Horquetta/Talparo.
Jerlean John has a track record of entrepreneurial and management excellence for over twenty-five (25) years. She has served as the Managing Director of HDC, Chairman of UDECOTT, CEO of the Pizza Boys Group, Minister of Transport, Tourism and Tobago Affairs, Director of VMSTT (VMCOTT), CEO of PTSC and the Business Development Manager of the UWI St. Augustine along with Board Memberships of T&TEC and YTEPP.
John is a Chartered Accountant, Certified Professional Accountant and Certified Management Accountant. She holds an MBA from the Edinburgh Graduate School of Business and a Chief Executive Training Certificate from the National University of Singapore.
I say to our new candidates, go brave! And do not lose faith. I see people saying negative things about the choices that have been made, but I am proud to be a leader to bring into our party a new generation of leaders.
The future of our country will be in peril unless we groom a new generation of leaders to meet the challenges that have been defined as the new normal.
Sustainable economies will not be built on the ideas of the past. The need for creativity, the need for competitive minds, the need for human energy to create our own global niche is especially important, as our economic and financial dependence on oil and gas will be severely challenged.
Our answer has to be with our new generation. Our young people must not be left to stand as onlookers. Our young people must become involved in the process of governance.
It is dangerous to have the young ones looking on in resentment and cynicism of a system by which they are governed.
They must take responsibility and be part of that new generation of leaders.
I see my role and my job is to have people rise in a future of their own making, for in that way we will build a nation where people will enjoy the freedom and contribute meaningfully, without being afraid of discrimination because of the views that they may hold.
While some may not agree with me, I want to make it very clear that accommodation and inclusion must be our watchwords.
It is in this context that I take full responsibility for the changes that you are seeing and will see in the composition of the UNC’s slate of candidates for the elections.
The mix of skills and resources amongst this group has been aligned to our economic transformation plan, where they can find a space and a place where they can all contribute. They are there to deal with the critical problems facing our country.
Let me boldly declare that we cannot and will not move forward with the same old, same old.
But as much as we need the new generation of leaders, we will need the experience of those who have travelled the road – I fully understand that.
And to those who may not be selected by the screening committee, there is a space and a place for you, because we need some experience and some fresh ideas.
I invite the collective will and energies of our party to now work towards the transformation and security of all in a new world defined by the realities of Covid-19.
My vision is to build an intelligent nation, for intelligence will be the platform for global competition and national prosperity.
We have the most talented people in the world, and the UNC is the only political party which exhibits diversity, and that is the strength of the UNC.
I take pride and I say again, in ushering a new generation of leaders representing the diverse communities of our country.
I am proud of them. I ask you to be proud of them. Let us be all together UNC and proud.
Let us be proud of their achievements. I am inspired by their commitment to country and their determination to work toward a better future.
Together we will transform the economy and we will build a better Trinidad and Tobago.