Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has strongly criticised the Government for the crime crisis, loss of jobs, lack of energy exploration and interlocking directorships in companies to benefit from the sale of State assets.
In a stirring three-hour response to the 2016-17 National Budget, Ms. Persad-Bissessar said the Government had not improved the lives of nationals and had not delivered on promises in the previous fiscal package.
She also queried the correct budget figure, since Finance Minister Colm Imbert indicated $53.4 billion, but the Estimates of Expenditure stated $59 billion.
Almost $60 billion was spent in the PNM’s first year in office, she observed, and she questioned: “Where the money gone?”
There was also “a glaring lack of consultation,” Ms. Persad-Bissessar stated.
She branded the Budget “a colossal failure, an exercise in vagueness and obfuscation, of misrepresentation and miscalculation and an attempt to bamboozle the population.”
Ms. Persad-Bissessar said that none of the previously-announced national security measures had been implemented even as the rate of homicides and other crimes continues to rise.
“There is a rapid descent into tragedy and chaos,” she stressed.
She noted the major allocations to national security and stated: “The more the Government spends, the more crime rises.”
She said there is no anti-crime plan and only a single piece of legislation on national security was taken to Parliament during the past year.
Her administration had introduced 26 anti-crime measures in its first year in office, she recalled.
Ms. Persad-Bissessar slammed the Government’s continued refusal to pay the promised $1 million to families of law enforcement officers slain in the line of work.
She said that almost 20,000 jobs had been lost in the first year of the PNM Government, while her administration had created 47,000 positions.
There is a “deafening silence” by the Government on this matter, she noted.
There have been no reforms of labour legislation, she stated.
Health care continues to decline, Ms. Persad-Bissessar said, and “people go to die at the hospitals.”
She noted the plans of the Rowley regime to privatise the Couva Hospital.
The refusal to open the facility was the result of “spite and malice,” she said.
She expressed alarm over the Government’s attack on independent institutions, including the Presidency.
Ms. Persad-Bissessar pointed to the planned divestment of the residual 51 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago NGL Ltd., (TTNGL) and the announced plan to sell to current private sector shareholders.
She said in the transfer of the shares there would be a conflict of interest.
For example, Gerry Brooks, Chair of the National Gas Group of Companies, was previously the Chief Operating Officer of a conglomerate which owns one of the major current TTNGL shareholders.
Terrence Farrell, head of the Economic Advisory Board, was a director of a current TTNGL shareholder.
Ms. Persad-Bissessar accused the Government of setting up a “supra elitist club” and branded the move as “disgraceful.”
She said that the lucrative and high-yielding shares – worth about $4.1 billion – was being made made available only to the major companies, while there are no benefits to the small man.
The Opposition Leader chided the Government for the absence of exploration and production in the energy sector.
She said that all drilling activities by Petrotrin had been stopped.
She asked about the Gas Master Plan.
She questioned how much direct foreign investments the Government has attracted in its first year in national office.
Ms. Persad-Bissessar criticised the Government over plans to spend $500,000 to improve the Prime Minister’s residence in Tobago.
At the same time, the Government had slashed spending on the social safety net.
She noted Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley’s recent statement that the country must begin to wean itself out of Government-funded projects.
“In campaigning for the election it was ‘let’s do this together,’ now it is ‘you do it alone’.”
She called for a new industrial revolution, involving modern technology.
The Budget failed to address the reality of the national situation, Ms. Persad-Bissessar said.
She said the Government has “upside-down priorities.”
Here are highlights/bullet points of Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s stirring three-hour response to the 2016-17 National Budget in the House of Representatives earlier this afternoon (a copy of her speaking notes is attached)
- We’ve always been a party that has held firmly to the credo, you see, of “No Taxation without Representation” and such representation can only come through consultation with the people.
- If I am to sum up the general tone and message in the feedback we received over the past five days, it is this: that Budget 2016/2017 is a colossal failure, an exercise in superficiality, vagueness and at times even deliberate obtuseness.
- It is also riddled with miscalculations and misrepresentations, as last year for example, when despite our repeated words to the MOF that he would not get the $12b in VAT, he refused to listen.
- The Minister of Finance was wrong then and we will see if he is wrong again in other areas in this budget.
- It is clearly designed to bamboozle a population that is still waiting to hear the Finance Minister present any tangible measure that will adequately address the security matters, safety social and economic challenges we are facing in the country today.
- A government that can’t protect its people is a government that does not deserve to be in office.
- Our track record of job growth is in stark contrast to that of this administration in just one year.
- It has been a miserable year for labour and trade unions. Some have suffered large scale union membership decline bordering almost on wiping out of those unions.
In this Strange, sad land – incidentally it was not like this two years ago…
- we see mothers on television crying every day over their teenaged sons being wiped out by gang wars,
- we see nine-year-old children gunned down in the streets in broad daylight while running errands to their neighbourhood parlours, a woman, a young mother of two young children is kidnapped in broad daylight and her family weeps every day, begging for her return.
- Taxi drivers working to provide for their families are gunned down;
- videos of unmasked gunmen attacking a car with a woman on her way home in busy towns like St. James circulate online,
- people’s homes are being broken into and they are not only being badly beaten and robbed, you know—their autistic daughters are being suffocated to death in this strange land.
- In this strange, sad land, health Ministers seem clueless about the deadly Zika outbreak while hospitals remain closed, even as mothers die in hospitals giving birth and people wait for hours at the public institutions, only to be told that there are dire shortages of cancer and other medications. Instead of getting relief from our hospitals, people are going there to die.
- It was never like this up to two years ago. Had it been my government in office, initiatives to improve the failed health care sector would have been upfront in the Minister’s budget. If you or your loved ones are sick, dying or dead nothing else matters but their well-being.
- In this strange land, Independent Office holders like the former Central Bank Governor and the highest, most esteemed office in the land, the President, are being attacked by the highest Government holders, being harassed out and forced to engage in wars of words, while no attention is being paid, incidentally, to the declining value of the TT dollar, nor the appalling state of the justice system.
- There is rampant crime and unemployment, women and children being murdered, girls are being assaulted and are disappearing never to be found
- And, in this Strange Land, there is deafening silence from the Government and authorities as to what measures they intend to take to curb this rapid, deep descent into tragedy and chaos.
- In this Strange Land, the Prime Minister appears almost every week in some public forum or on the media prophesying doom and gloom, telling the citizens that we are on the brink of bankruptcy, that they must, to use his words, “wean” themselves off the State, that their tax paying dollars should no longer be used to build roads and schools and health centres in effect.
- At the same time his government discontinues a case against a friend for wastage of billions of taxpayer dollars.
- At the same time, his government invests millions of dollars in constructing a stadium that has no tangible use for the population at large (which was incidentally mired not too long ago in one of the biggest corruption scandals in this country—and we’re still to get to the Hart of the Matter on that) and
- And in this strange land, that same Prime Minister appears on a political platform telling public servants that if they accept their legally due back pay, they can lose their jobs, but at the same time that same Prime Minister appears on another political platform doing a very strange dance and singing an equally odd song in a voice that sounds, well, strange—saying “I want my money, I want my money.”
- This then, is the Trinidad and Tobago we live in—a country of paradox—where we don’t have money to buy medicine for the people but instead we have enough for mega construction projects and luxury hotels and paintings while single mothers who are losing their URP and CEPEP jobs daily cry and praying for God to send them food for their children when the day comes.
- In one year we have seen massive job losses of over 20,000 jobs have been lost in this country since this government came into office.
- Had it been my government in office, initiatives for workers and job creation as well as shoring up a social net for the most vulnerable would have been upfront in the Minister’s budget instead of the nonsense at pages 68 and 72.
- Tales from a Strange Land indeed where the most important issues affecting people, viz, safety and security, health care and sustainable jobs – these are relegated to the back burner whilst the government focuses on arithmetic, on adding sums and accounting in a vai-que-vai manner demonstrating upside down priorities. It should be people centred!
- They used to talk about money for value all the time; now all they talk about is money with no care for people.
It is against this tragic, frightening backdrop that the Honourable Minister of Finance delivered Budget 2016/2017 last week, and as I have said previously, if the population expected to hear any tangible measure taken over the past year to address the economic and social ills, we just had to live with disappointment. Instead, we were treated to a political diatribe for almost three hours. In fact the Minister said publicly that only two people knew what was in the budget, viz, the PM and himself.
We have been hearing the Prime minister speak about the “dependency syndrome” and the need to, if one is to go by his own utterances last week, privatise everything:
- from roads—which would entail a road toll for every road presumably, based on his own statements;
- for hospitals, would you now have to pay to go to the Couva Hospital
- and even schools—though it may be hard for many of us to imagine how he intends to make parents pay for their children’s education.
- The country needs clarification on the Government’s economic and social policy and should not settle for anything but providing a proper, honest and transparent statement on this matter.
- The people of this country are simply unprepared for the overnight “weaning process” the Honourable Prime Minister seems intent on implementing, incidentally, without the consensus of the citizens whom he governs.
- It is highly interesting the Honourable Prime Minister has only begun to speak of this policy after being elected to office.
- Before the elections he was promising the citizens the world, now, he has simply changed his tune, or revealed his true intention. Now you say “look! Don’t come by me!”
- Any attempt to bamboozle the population simply cannot be allowed to continue and the Opposition – I pledge- will not facilitate this under any circumstances.
- This population cannot undergo any rapid or overnight change in its economic and social framework of governance, far less the confusion of Prime Ministerial Freudian slips. We will descend into sheer chaos and anarchy.
- You cannot seek to privatise our public systems which are guaranteed rights of the citizens for the sake of some supra elitist agenda seeking to benefit an elite minority.
- And this then, is the true intention of this vague Budget—a deliberate attempt to mislead and bamboozle the population while implementing significant economic and social changes coming like a thief in the night.
This Opposition will not be part and parcel to any clandestine effort to overturn our economic, social and democratic system and transform it into a complete supra-elitist state without consultation and consensus. We firmly believe that there must be equality, equity and justice for all of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. We will not subscribe to the undermining of our Constitution to pave the way to an elitist state.
- The most important issue in our country today is crime and security. The duty to protect each and every citizen and to provide a safe country within which we could all live in harmony must be paramount to any responsible government that has the best interest of their citizens as a priority.
- Why is it that every single time there is a PNM Government in power, it is always marked by a frightening increase in violent crimes and the blatant attempt by the Government to destabilise some of our country’s most cherished and prestigious independent offices and institutions.
- In the 1991-95 PNM administration, they placed the House Speaker Occah Seapaul under House Arrest.
- Fast forward a decade later and the PNM Government engaged in one of the most unprecedented attacks on the sitting Chief Justice of the country, making Commonwealth History in the process.
- The then AG refused to appear before the Mustill Commission investigating the allegations of the Chief Justice by the then government and, the then Chief Magistrate refused to give evidence in the criminal trial against the Chief Justice once he went into the witness box.
- Fast forward another decade and here they are again, amid yet another uncontrollable crime wave, now they are attacking the Office of the President.
- When a country is destabilised from the very top, how then can you expect criminality to subside? It is as if there is blanket go ahead from the very Government who shows a lack of concern for the rule of law in the process, thereby inspiring criminals to break the law.
- In one year since the PNM has assumed office we have experienced an unprecedented level of barbarity, lawlessness and viciousness by the criminal element in our country. The rate of homicides since PNM administration has assumed office is in excess of 400 and quickly approaching 500. Serious crime has continues to rise.
- Crimes against our children and the elderly.
- And recently the ugly head of kidnapping has once again emerged.
- Under this administration we have seen a shuffling of portfolios which put three Ministers of National Security in charge. The country thought that the crime situation would get three times better, but instead it has gotten three times worse.
- The government gave national security priority in expenditure, but they barely scratched the surface when it comes to reporting value for money.
- Trinidad & Tobago has lost confidence in the government because they are losing the fight against crime.
- The government needs to get down to work because every day the criminals are winning and every day we are losing our sons and daughters daily. Wives are losing their husbands and husbands are losing their wives. Families are losing their loved ones.
- The Minister complained that my government spent $25 Billion on National Security in five years.
- As I will explain, we were executing a plan which this government has let fall by the wayside. And we were able to bring serious crimes down.
- The Minister allocated more than $10.8 Billion to national security in the last fiscal year and has allocated $7.6 Billion this year and he has very little to show for it.
- More than $18.4 Billion will likely be spent by the end of this fiscal year on National Security and after next year’s budget I am certain the government will have spent more than we did on national security in five years.
But arithmetic aside, the more this government spends, the more crime rises. Something is very wrong.
You cannot fight crime if you cannot execute a plan. You cannot execute a plan if your plan is vai-que-vai. We have offered to help the Government to fight crime, and whether or not our joint crime talks bear fruit is really in government’s hands.
Let me begin by speaking very quickly of a few of the more successful initiatives started by my government which the Rowley Administration should continue.
- We began to re-work and re-vitalise our nation’s anti-crime legislation by passing 26 pieces of legislation over the course of five years related to kidnapping, illegal firearms, the FIU, Bail, trafficking in persons, anti-terrorism, electronic monitoring and interception of communications to name a few.
- We were on a mission to upgrade the nation’s legislative framework to address the crime situation.
- This government only passed one piece of anti-crime legislation – the SSA – but up to when I checked it was not proclaimed! Why?
- Operationally, we established the National Operations Centre and the National Security Training Academy.
- We made law enforcement more visible by increasing anti-crime operations through interagency joint patrols, the highway patrol unit, community comfort patrols and introducing 13 surveillance bays on the nation’s highway system.
- We sought to reduce police response time by introducing a rapid response unit and improving and upgrading the nation’s road network.
- We also began to upgrade the infrastructure needed to fight crime by approving the purchase of body scanners, cell phone jammers for the prisons which the government has now put into use.
- We expanded the fleets of the TTDF, TTPS and TTFS by more than 500 vehicles and refurbished more than 11,000 vehicles in the existing fleet. And we built 8 police stations.
- Related to border security we acquired 4 coastal patrol vessels and 2 utility vessels the purchase of 12 Damen vessels, some of which are now in use.
Under my government we made real progress that people could see and feel. However now, the systems we were building and putting in place have fallen into disarray under the new management.
WHAT PNM SAID THEY WOULD DO/WHAT THEY DID
A government that can’t protect its people is a government that does not deserve to be in office.
After one year of the Rowley Administration, I think we are all far worse off.
We have to know where we have been so that we can chart the way forward together as a nation so let us conduct a performance audit of last year’s national security budget statement to see why 10 billion dollars went down into a black hole.
Our review indicates that government has completely abandoned their own crime fighting plans and initiatives in favour of a vai-que-vai approach which is simply not working.
As we will see $10 Billion has fallen into the wasteland of the Rowley Administration where money is spent and results are absent.
- In our last year in office, even though the energy prices were already falling, we generated the second highest ever revenue in the history of our nation?
- The highest ever was in the year 2014 under our stewardship.
- In our five years in office 2010-2015, we generated the highest ever revenue in the history of our nation $62.4 billion in 2014. (Draft Estimates of Revenue 2017 pg v).
- By the time we left office, we had already grown the revenue base by 39 percent higher than the when the PNM was there.
- We grew the total non-tax revenue from $6.5 billion in 2010 to $9.96 billion in 2015 – a growth of 53% and that is despite falling oil and gas prices. (Draft Estimates of Revenue 2017 pg v).
- We recorded the Highest ever GDP in the history of our nation under the Partnership government? 2013 of $170.3 billion.
- When we left office, in the face of two consistent years of contraction as a result of falling oil prices, the GDP was still $10 billion higher than the last year of the PNM
Did you know that the Government I led was able to generate the highest ever Foreign Reserves ($US millions) in the history of our nation?
Enter the red and ready and this has started to fall.
- We were able to add to the HSF and left the HSF with the Highest ever level of saving …before this Government reached in and started raiding it. We never touched the HSF.
- Note that a September 2016 value will have to reflect the US$375million raided by this government, which will take the September 30th 2016 value to approximately US$ 5,402billion AND, we did all of this without the introduction of a single new tax. Without raising a single tax.
In reviewing the financial information presented in the various documents accompanying the budget I found what appears to be anomalies, differences between what he said and what is reflected in the Estimates laid in Parliament.
In page 80 of his Budget Speech the Minister stated: “Total expenditure for FY 2017 has been budgeted at $53.4 billion…”
The Minister is clear, his Government estimates that it will spend a total of $53.4 billion in the 2017 Financial year.
This table titled Abstract of the Estimated Expenditure for the Financial Year October 1st 2016 – September 31st, 2017, presents the disaggregation of Government’s proposed expenditure by Head and subhead: personnel expenditure, goods and services, the development programme etc.
The Government in this table tells us that the grand total of their proposed expenditure for the financial year 2017, is $56.6 billion (NOT the $53.4 billion) the Minister spoke about in his Budget Speech.)
The footnote to the table further tells us that the Development Programme expenditure listed did not include the sum of$2.69 billion which is funded by the Infrastructure Development Fund.
When all of these figures are taken into account, it would appear that for Financial Year 2017 this Government is hoping to spend $56.6 bn + $2.69 bn = $59.29 billion, almost $6 billion more than what was said in his budget speech.
Which figure is right? Which of the figures provided to us it the wrong expenditure figure and which is not?
- This government has raised the public debt to the highest ever in the history of our nation, spending more than we earn.
- They estimate it will be over 60% debt to GDP in 2017. And did you know that in Fiscal 2016 this government borrowed the highest ever in the history of the country?
- Did you know that they borrowed in one year over $14b as well as raiding the HSF for another over $2 billion??
- The net public Sector Debt today is $88.96 billion the highest it has ever been in this Nation’s history.
- This means that the debt burdens every man, woman and child has to shoulder is $65,710.
- In just one year, this Government has increased the debt burden of every citizen by $9,000. And they are planning to borrow even more in 2017!
EXPENDITURE 2010 – 2015: WHAT WE SPENT ON
In his last budget speech, in his mid-year review and again in this budget speech, this Minister has criticized my Government’s expenditure as “waste, corruption and mismanagement”, a phrase his Government’s PR consultants decided they should repeat so as to brand the Government I led and so distort and misrepresent the reality.
According to statistics (the Review of the Economy 2016, page 89 titled Central Government Expenditure and Net Lending) the Peoples Partnership spent a total of $285.3 billion in the five years we were in office. But what did we spend that money on?
We spent $42.3 billion dollars on wages and salaries for public servants and other public sector workers. Is that waste corruption and mismanagement?
- My Government spent $148 billion on transfer and subsidies between 2010 and 2015. That is grants for schools and NGOs, money for Children’s homes, homes for the aged, disability grants, food cards, the children’s Authority. And so on. Is that waste corruption and mismanagement? Shame on You! Do you see why I say you cannot trust what this Government says? More than half of our annual budget is spent on these critical components of the social safety net.
- It should be noted that this Minister has now presided over the slashing of expenditure under this head from $30.7 billion in 2015 to $27.5 billion in 2016 and further to 22.9 billion in fiscal 2017.
In the short space of two years this minister will have reduced expenditure on social support by 25 percent, at a time when he is pushing prices higher, causing job loss and economic contraction.
We spent $37 billion on the purchase of Goods and Services: travelling and subsistence for public officers, utility rates for ministries, repairs and maintenance of buildings, rent, training.
In their last five years before 2010 the PNM spent 25.5 billion, which is why when we came in we found Ministries in run-down buildings, public servants and members of the protective services in buildings deemed unsafe for human habitation, schools on the verge of collapse and hospitals in desperate need of repair.
We wasted money?
It wasn’t the UNC that built Las Alturas?
It was the PNM!
It was the PNM that paid billions for the GTL scrap metal plant.
It was the PNM that spent millions to buy a derelict MV Su, spend more millions to repair it, and it never worked for a day.
It was the PNM that bought not one blimp but two, rather than purchase vessels for the coast guard and air guard. Waste corruption and mismanagement?
Remember the million dollar flags?
That is the PNM legacy!
My government spent $17.6 billion dollars under the PSIP in our five years in Government.
The PNM spent $16.8 in the five years before. We spent 20.77 billion and the PNM spent $20.34 billion from the IDF.
We could show: laptops, hospitals, schools, police and fire stations, highways, drains, dredging of water courses, houses, access roads, a new university campus, state of the art cycling velodrome, aquatic centre, national tennis complex, multipurpose sport and indoor facility.
What can they boast of – Racket rail, NAPA that they rushed to construct and which is still not working, on paintings and now, a new project, construction of a Tobago residence for the Prime Minister allocated $500,000 start-up funding???
Yes. We spent money.
We spent money to develop the intellectual and physical capital of this country.
Because that is how you build a country, that is how you a build nation, that is how you generate industry and jobs, that is how you develop people and that is how you raise the standard of living of your citizens.
That is the job of a government working for you not against you.
ENERGY: VISION AND POLICY
One of the most unheralded legacy item left by the Partnership administration is the vision and policy agenda articulated in propelling our energy future.
We supported our program agenda with political will and energy diplomacy unsurpassed in many years.
- For the five-year period 2011 to 2015, petroleum related FDI was US$ 9 billion compared to US$ 3.3 billion for 2006 to 2010.
- Exploration is not building a box drain, it takes the investor years to plan, negotiate, mobilize and drill.
- The progress we will welcome in 2017 and beyond is a direct result of the Partnership policies.
- They have done nothing in one year.
- In fact all they have dine is embark on joy rides across the world and treat the energy investor community with contempt and disrespect.
- These “new discoveries” that will start producing in 2017 are the BHP Angostura Phase III, the EOG Resources Sercan project, the BP Onshore Compression project and the largest of them all the BP Juniper project
- The records of the Ministry of Energy reveal that all drilling has stopped at Petrotrin. There is no drilling on land by Petrotrin and no drilling in Trinmar. The last time there was no drilling in Trinmar was in 2009 under the PNM. Why has Petrotrin stopped drilling?
- The Prime Minister speaks about increasing oil production – that cannot be achieved without drilling. Without drilling the production will decline.
There are also issues at Petrotrin around the recruitment of the President.
- A report by the Guardian published July 16th 2016 that was based on documents received from Petrotrin indicates that Mr. Fitzroy Harewood (who is now President of Petrotrin) never applied for the position when it was advertised.
- His name also never appeared on the list of persons shortlisted. How then does he become the President of Petrotrin when he never applied for the job?
- This is a serious matter and the Opposition demands an investigation and calls on the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries to clear the air on this matter.
- Should the allegations have basis in fact – we call for Board of Directors to immediately resign.
- We have been told that Petrotrin is saddled with TT$ 20 billion in debt and the heart of this debt is a US$ 850 million bond for which a bullet payment is due in 2019.
- The facts show that it was under the administration of Malcolm Jones and Andrew Jupiter that Petrotrin’s debt went out of control. It was under the administration of Malcolm Jones and Andrew Jupiter that the GTL fiasco and the GOP fiasco happened. This is the same Malcolm Jones that the Petrotrin mysteriously decided to discontinue civil action against.
- This Opposition will not be part and parcel to any clandestine effort to overturn our economic, social and democratic system and transform it into a complete supra-elitist state without consultation and consensus
We also take note of the Minister’s pronouncement on CNG. Every single initiative mentioned in the budget on CNG was initiated by my administration, including:
- the establishment of the NGC CNG Company, the introduction of CNG buses,
- the development and award of CNG service licenses,
- the procurement by the NGC of CNG vehicles,
- the conversion of the diesel Maxi Taxi fleet and the plan to build new CNG stations.
So it is good to see continuity of policy and it’s also good that the PNM has inherited a full plate of projects, plans and initiatives. You are most welcomed Mr. Minister!
I am reminded of the words of Walter Scott who in the epic poem Marmion wrote: “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive.”
As an MP and former Prime Minister I acted on every substantiated allegation of corruption brought before me where there existed reasonable doubt.
It is history that I have removed several Ministers from Office when their conduct was called into question and that I referred several other cases to the relevant authorities for action.
I challenge the PM to directly treat with this matter, publicly and transparently and not to hide behind rhetoric nor allow it to go the way of the Malcolm Jones write off.
The instant case threatens to be bigger than them all, involving billions of dollars and state assets and what appears to be a network of wheeling and dealing that goes on in the boardrooms of high rolling friends and financiers and seems to reach right into the Cabinet.
Let me make it quite clear at the outset that I am not convinced that this apparent fire sale of state assets at this time is necessary despite the Ministers demonstrated fiscal incompetence, and despite running up billions of dollars of debt with nothing to show for it.
I am very concerned about the expenditure pattern of the Minister and his habit of revolving debt by borrowing to pay for consumption expenditure as opposed to revenue generating initiatives. I have dealt with these issues before and my colleagues will continue to deal with them.
timing and manner of sale
I am very concerned about the timing of the sale of shares in NGL and FCHL.
The Minister said with respect to the sale of shares in these two companies that he “will put in place special arrangements for existing shareholders to access the IPO; this is similar to a rights issue.” (BS 2017 p. 89) A “rights issue” occurs when a company offers existing shareholders a right to buy additional new shares in the company.
It is on record that it was the People’s Partnership Government that first expressed its commitment towards good governance when in 2012, we laid in Parliament the Report of a JSC on Legislative Proposals to provide for public procurement.
And I recall that it was this very same Minister of Finance, then in another capacity, who called it, “a farce and a pretense”(Hansard, HOR Sitting of July 04, 2014).
And this same Hon. Minister, in presenting his 2017 Budget states, and I quote, “by the end of March 2017, if not before, all public bodies…will be required to carry out public procurement and the disposal of public property in a manner that is consistent with the public procurement Act.”
I am saying these assets should not be sold until the procurement legislation comes into play.
ignoring the average citizen: nothing for the small man.
- I was struck by the fact that the Minister seeks to sell these highly profitable assets, not to the general population… he has no intention of offering John Public the opportunity to own shares in profitable companies.
- He is seeking to sell the shares of TTNGL and FCHL only to existing shareholders. There is nothing for the average citizen.
- TGU is to be sold to institutional investors and fifty percent of the estates under TecK are to be sold by competitive bid. Again, nothing for the small man.
- To big business he offers high yielding profitable investments.
- What does he offer to average citizens? Government Bonds. Where are the voices of Civil Society Groups demanding access to these shares for their members?
- Why is the Government limiting the sale of these two valuable companies, to existing shareholders only?
- Why are average citizens being denied the opportunity to earn dividend income and own a piece of the national patrimony?
- I can see no good policy considerations to support the PNM’s restricting the secondary offerings of shares in First Citizens and TTNGL to existing shareholders.
- It is far more equitable and consonant with the original allocation policy that is “the widest possible participation” to offer the shares to all the categories set out hereinabove but perhaps with a lower allocation to employees.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO NGL LIMITED
- Very interesting revelations emerge when you search the directors of THOSE companies listed as shareholders and cross reference them.
- I could not believe that such a small circle of people are involved in the ownership of this valuable piece of financial capital.
- In one moment in time, the control of this multibillion dollar enterprise shifted.
- This is no small matter. This involves the transfer of shares worth billions. This involves the need for transparency in the divestment of our national patrimony, and an attempt by the Government to offer these highly valuable shares to a limited few.
- I recommend the Government halt this sale of assets. Deal with the apparent conflicts of interest. Revert to the methodology we used and allow average citizens the opportunity to share in the national patrimony. After all it is they who have financed its acquisition and development in the first place.
END OF THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
Probably the biggest scandal on the horizon is the summary eviction of the Children from the Couva Children’s Hospital.
My administration proudly conceptualised and built in a record three years the premier children hospital in the Caribbean, second to none, which would have boasted of the first ever digital patient record management system in the region.
Please be reminded that:
1. the design was as a paediatric hospital and the patient pathways are paediatric orientated.
2. there is a major Obstectric design built in which allows for “High Risk” pregnancies to be catered for as part of a comprehensive care pathway linking mother and child as per Best Practice.
3. the ICU and HDU design is for paediatrics and it would be inappropriate to have adult admission to this unit due to:
- children’s safety,
- Cross-Infection as a major risk to children,
- Nursing skill mix for Adult vs Children could lead to clinical incidents and increased risk to patients
4. while no doubt a link into a larger hospital is required and is recommended the capacity of the hospital lends towards a single patient load and the design was paediatrics.
5. It’s location with good road access allows for paediatric link pathways into Mount Hope and San Fernando Hospitals.
6. The operating theatres and Radiology are designed and focused on paediatric patients.
While the current regime could not fault us or match us as far as the delivery of goods and services go, they sought to undermine our record by persistently perpetuating lies half-truths and innuendoes, misrepresentations and fabrications in relation to our governance track record.
In passing I took note that the Prime Minister had to employ his spin doctors to get out of the situation he found himself in by making statements about the need for citizens to wean off the government and expect less by way of goods and services.
The Honourable Prime Minister is quoted as saying
“You better begin to get weaned off the Government because the Government’s shoulder cannot carry the weight anymore” (The Trinidad’ Guardian Newspaper, Sunday October 2nd 2016)
- It appears that one year ago in campaigning to get votes it was “let’s do this together” today it’s “do it alone”.
- The Prime Minister has demonstrated a patent lack of awareness of the role and function of government in a developing nation context.
- The government is here to provide goods and service and facilitate social and economic development.
- You do that by applying scare resources to development needs.
- You are using tax payer’s money not your own.
- The role of government is to improve the quality of life of citizens.
- In March 2016 they did the unthinkable, they conspired to set Malcolm Jones free of any and all liabilities arising from the colossal disaster called world gas to liquids (WGTL) which saw over $10 billion of tax payer’s money squandered.
- The Prime Minister called this “a bad deal” and gave a national award to one of its architects.
- True to form the campaign manager of Johnny O’Halloran also got a national award.
- Only in Trinidad; today the debt they sing about is caused not by my administration but by Petrotrin’s debt that unborn generations will have to pay.
- In March the Prime Minister declares that he has no confidence in the state bank First Citizens bank (FCB) in the aftermath of a right hand or rather left hand lieutenant refusal and or failure to declare monies deposited in cash to that bank.
- In July 2016 the Minister of Finance threatened to repeal the Statutory Authorities Service Commission (SASC) Act and abolish the SASC since it failed to fire or suspend two National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) managers on leave.
- The Prime Minister, not wanting to be left out, attacked the Integrity Commission at a conference in March at the Trinidad Hilton where he expressed no confidence in that critical institution. This is unacceptable for the head of government to undermine the credibility of independent state institutions. Maybe it’s because they were not duped by fake emails.
- By September they were attacking the Commission of Enquiry into Las Alturas because they did not like the findings.
- Again unprecedented in our history, the Prime Minister said he predicted the results and called it a witch hunt.
- We have had commissions of enquiry that accused citizens of drug trafficking yet that commission never got the condemnation as the one on Las Alturas received.
- To bring this sordid chapter to its current debacle, the government is on the verge of triggering a constitutional crisis by their incompetent mishandling of security matters in relation to the Commander in Chief who I will never bring into this debate today Madam Speaker.
- Suffice it to say the embattled Minister of National Security took 10 days before he could find his Prime Minister to brief him on a meeting with the highest office of the land. They could not talk by phone or skype. He could not find his leader at the 8thor 9th hole at the golf course. And so they propelled a crisis while acting like the “keystone cops”.
- We also note that very confidential legal advice given to the government by Senior Counsel Martin Daly somehow walks into the newsrooms in Port of Spain.
- Many observers believe that this is a man-made disaster calculated to take action against high office holders for their own reasons.
- Suffice it to remind the national community that it was previous regimes that included the member for Diego Martin West that placed a House Speaker under House arrest, wired an Attorney General and set up a sitting Chief Justice for impeachment proceedings. So beware.
- Having given an overview of our critical observations on this Budget statement, it will be left to my able colleagues on this side to continue to analyse the Budget in greater detail and with surgical precision sector by sector.
- We need to go the way of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And that is why we put the laptops in the bookbags of the children.
- We are on the brink of a technological revolution.
- I still advocate the development of the Blue, Green and Silver Economy.
- My colleagues will probably shred this budget statement to pieces.
- I am almost tempted to say it is an opposition dream had it not been a people’s nightmare.
- Very little has been proposed that will redound to improving the quality of life of citizens of our Republic.
- They have embarked on a ‘tax and blame’ approach which we expect to leak from all speakers opposite.
- But Madam Speaker, British statesman Sir Winston Churchill reflected best on this ill-conceived approach when he said: “I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up.”
- The government must take charge and accept responsibility.
- Prime Minister you cannot wean the people off the government. They may wean themselves from you as one fed up voter wrote on social media yesterday in a post;
“Dear Mr Prime Minister. For far too long the Government has been dependent on money deducted from my salary. My shoulders cannot bear this burden any longer. The Government needs to wean itself off of my salary.”
- What is unbelievable is that the Prime Minister calls for citizens to be less dependent on the state for services and goods yet he happily allocates half of a million dollars to fix the Prime Minister’s residence in Tobago.
- This is the start, with variations that will rise to a few million well. Prime Minister surely there is still room for you in Tobago so that you don’t have to waste tax payer’s money to have another house in Tobago.
- Madam Speaker, after one year in office, they cannot blame the past administration, that strategy expired after 2-3 months.
- The citizens want to know what you are doing to uplift the quality of their lives.
- It is despicable that the government cannot say what they have done in one year but speaks of what the opposition has done over the year.
- The Minister of Finance began at 1.33 pm last Friday, at 1.34 pm he slammed the opposition. It took him all of 60 seconds to blame the former government.
- The people Sir are fed up of this!!!
- I will simply remind the Minister that when I took an oath of office as Prime Minister, his former administration left us with a Clico hole of $22 billion, a WGTL and GOP debt of $12 billion and outstanding payments to contractors and VAT refunds outstanding at $6 billion, not to mention over 100 unsettled wage and salary negotiations.
- We did not cry, we did not blame, we fixed and we built!!! We make a final plea to the government on behalf of the poor, the underprivileged and the poverty stricken to retain the social safety net and ensure that they are protected from the vagaries of the international economic impact and dysfunctional domestic policies.
- The opposition remains available at a moment’s notice to work with the government in a transparent manner to meet the challenges of our time.
- No back room deals and no front room gallerying.
- Remember, “If the problems you have this year are the same problems you had last year, then you are not a leader. You are rather a problem on your own and must be solved”.
- As I always say the voice of the people is the voice of God, and they are already rejecting your budget and fast branding you as problems to be solved and, so, listening to their voice I repeat the same.