Thank you Chairman…
Members and friends of the UNC here in Diego Martin, welcome!
Friends of the People’s Partnership and citizens of Trinidad & Tobago, good evening!
Today, my conversation is about a number of very serious issues.
Thus fat, we know we must take these issues on frontally if we are to protect the future we are building for the people of Trinidad & Tobago.
My conversation this evening will show that we are on the cusp – on the brink – of achieving prosperity for all, with thousands of families will be lifted out of vulnerability, becoming participating stakeholders in development.
Because I truly believe that every citizen must be a partner in the development of Trinidad and Tobago.
And tonight I want to share with you my vision, which says, and I repeat – every single one of you – must partner with your government, and so we open up our partnership to every person in Trinidad and Tobago.
And I will tell you how we will do it, how we will continue to do it – we’ve done it for the past several years, you’ve heard of many of the achievements, of the many things that are happening. Tonight I want to share with you some of the ways for progress here in Diego Martin North East but for the entire Northwest peninsula.
Last week in Guaico, I spoke about the development of the North East. Before, in Fyzabad, I talked about the Southwest.
Tonight, there is much more to tell here in the North West and I must share with you some of our plans for this Northwest peninsula and for all of you in this region.
So, when we got your mandate in 2010, we had a number of priorities which we knew needed urgent attention. And we focused on two tracks – 1. we focused on ensuring we stopped the decline of our economy, and restored confidence and growth for all.
On the other side, we needed to ensure that we immediately implemented an economic reform plan to include all citizens in a new era of prosperity.
When the economy was nose-diving in 2010, the issues that mattered most in our country were the issues Dr Rowley’s party put at risk.
They put your jobs at risk.
They put your children’s education and future at risk.
They put your incomes and your ability to meet your families’ needs at risk.
And you will remember in those days, their refusal to break ranks with criminal gangs when they put your very lives at stake!
THE RIGHT OF COMMUNITIES
Too many of our citizens and communities were left out of the economic mainstream.
Many were vulnerable to politicians like Dr Rowley who only wanted votes.
But we focused on energising our economy, while at the same time we focused on looking after the most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly and our children.
Today, we continue with those same policies that whilst we grow the economy and energize the economy, we must never ever forget those who are most in need.
And that is why I say my Government has been one that has put people at the centre – a people-centred Government.
We know we have to deal with the challenges coming in from our revenue stream due to the decrease in the oil and gas prices, we also understand that we cannot take from those who have the least! We cannot cut your jobs, we will not cut your wages and salaries, those are the promises I gave.
We will not cut the social grants; we will not cut the children’s grants. We will not cut anything that helps those most in need.
And therefore it is very important as we weigh the options before us that those who are calling for “cut, cut, cut”, they must tell us, “cut what?”
I have given you the assurance and the commitment – I will not cut your jobs, I will not cut your wages and salaries, I will not cut the social services.
My Government with all the challenges that we faced – the CLICO bailout and fallout, the HCU, from an economy that was nose-diving in 2010, my government raised old aged pensions not once, but twice! We raised the minimum wage not once, but twice!
And above all as I give you my commitment, as I give you my assurance tonight, you know I am a woman of my word, I keep my word!
PEOPLE AS PARTNERS IN PROGRESS
So we were looking after families, communities as a nation. Now we must take our progress further, and we will! We see people and families coming first.
You know I saw a man ranting and raving, and this comes to mind because we must always put families first, communities first.
And I saw a man ranting and raving, complaining that I am spending too much time in my family home in Philippine. I think they call him Growley – he’s always grumbling, always quarrelling, always fighting and fussing, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
So Growley talking about me spending time at my Philippine home. You see some people are so caught up with the trappings of office – I think he is desperate to get into the big house in St Ann’s. He believes – that’s how they think – he believes I should spend my life in the official residence of the Prime Minister because that is what they think about the trappings office. That building means nothing to me.
They cannot understand that I go to my private home in Philippine because I have good reason to do so. But first let me thank the Minister of Works for building that highway to South so I could get home in a very short space of time. I can come to work in Port of Spain and I can get home in a very short space of time.
I believe family is important and I go home to spend time with my family, my children, my grandchildren, my husband. When my sister stayed with me in POS, Growley – weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth – ran her out of the house. The House is there for official business, my family business I take at my private residence.
And I want to ask you something. Where it is the Minister of Housing is giving out 100 houses every week – every person here and every person listening knows that the one thing people want is a house of their own. We understand it well.
The official residence means nothing to me – I have no deed for that. But you know what I have deed for? What Dr Bissessar has deed for – my private residence in Philippine. We purchased that property 25 years ago and together it took 15 years to build that house brick by brick and if you built your house, wouldn’t you want to spend time in that house with your family?
Tonight I want to announce two policy decisions. The first has to do with all the squatters on State Lands from Carenage to Toco, straight down the East West corridor.
There are over 30,000 squatting on State lands. You have no deed, you have no tenure, you have nothing that you can call your own. Should you give us a second term, tonight I promise you we will regularise all the squatters along the Corridor and elsewhere. I will keep my word.
And I’m not talking about those who want to run tomorrow and start squatting. Let me warn you. We have GPS photographs of all of Trinidad and Tobago and those who have dwellings on State lands in those photographs – you must have been there when those photographs were taken.
All squatters from Carenage right down to Toco, and across Trinidad and Tobago, we will regularize your status. Now don’t think that this is idle election talk, we did it under a previous UNC Government, and I worked with them to pass the Squatter Regularization Act and should you give us another term we will pass another Squatter Regularization Act.
Why would I do it? Because you, like me, you deserve your piece of land and you deserve your house on your piece of land.
It must not be for those who already have to get more – it must be for those who have invested their lifetimes in Trinidad and Tobago they must benefit from the investment they have made.
And that is why I said to you earlier – we must be partners in development. Every citizen must partner with the government, because when you see you get your parcel of land, when you get your status regularized and you get your lease, your deed, then you have an asset.
You can go to the bank to get a loan, you can use that asset as collateral. To get funding, to educate yourselves or your children if you need to. To get funding to build a better house. That deed is like money in the bank for you.
You see, I know what it’s like to not have a piece of land. All my childhood time we moved from house to house, always moving. We didn’t have the benefit then of a piece of land, or a house of our own. I know what that is like.
But you see, for you to partner with us you have to work hard too. We cannot just give handouts, giveaways.
So you can use your piece of land as collateral, you can set up a small business, become entrepreneurs.
Don’t leave it only for the big people…and we don’t mind the big people we will help them too to develop and to grow. But we need to help the ordinary people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Because if you are thoroughly invested, then you will be interested in growing and developing our nation state. But if you have no root you have to move from pillar to post – you are rootless and more vulnerable to all the challenges that face you, your children, our youth in this country.
The second policy – we will work through the Ministry of Housing and the HDC that every person occupying an HDC house for over 30 years, should you want it, it’s not free – we will give it to you for $100!
Because you see, you have been occupying those houses all this time, all along the corridor, right here in Diego Martin built by the Government many many years ago – over 30 years, and you didn’t have a piece of paper to say “this is mine.”
You would get eviction notices – they send you eviction paper to get out – they have no idea where you would go, but when you get your piece of paper now, you can say this is your place, this is your home you can build it, develop it, take care of it. But when it’s not yours you have no interest in upholding it, in keeping it.
And they will say Kamla come here with election promises to give away, but I tell you I know what it is like. I lived that horror of moving from pillar to post and not knowing where we were going next, I knew it.
Those are the two main issues, policy decisions I wanted to share with you.
And I ask you then that should we get that second term you must be willing to hold your hand up with me as partners in the development of Trinidad and Tobago – partners hand in hand. We must work hand in hand. If we are to develop Trinidad and Tobago we must make sure that those most in need are take care of. And that’s why we have as our mantra we say “Prosperity for All”.
And I want to share with you some good news before we close off tonight. You see, our usual detractors, the usual suspects, Growley and company – they criticise the Government on management of the economy.
But the PNM’s propensity for waste and mismanagement is legendary. It was the late ANR Robinson who said that the revenue from the oil boom went through this country like a dose of salts. Today when the revenue is less, far less, we have delivered and developed far more than any other government in the history of our country. And that is what is called prudent economic management: that you are able to use less money that you have for the development of all of Trinidad and Tobago.
When we came into office we had to stabilize the economy. The CLICO fiasco had burned a hole in the treasury because they had misdiagnosed the problem with CLICO. They treated that CLICO problem as a mere liquidity problem when in fact there was an insolvency crisis.
I say this to explain as there are the usual detractors who will seek to distort the facts. So they pumped millions of dollars to keep CLICO afloat and they did not have a coherent bailout strategy. I say that today because of our management of the economy, because of the Ministers of Finance and those working with them, we have been able to pay off the CLICO and HCU depositors. We did not undertake a fire sale, but there was skilled management.
Today some of the assets are now slowly increasing in value. This problem and their mishandling of it cost you, the people of Trinidad and Tobago over 20 billion dollars to fix, and the police are presently investigating the matter under the guidance of the DPP.
When we came into office we had to review the mega projects of the PNM – the rapid rail, the OPVs, the GTL plant and Alutrint for the aluminium smelter.
You will recall that Mr Growley publicly announced that we had lost the OPV arbitration – so it is not the first time that he tells untruths! If you check his record there is a recurring pattern of behaviour where he tells untruths and cannot face the music when he is found out. Will not face the music but will run. It is like the child who cried wolf and every time he cried wolf, when the truth time came nobody would believe him. He has lost all credibility.
Like chicken licken he was crying all over the country that we had lost the OPV arbitration, that we had been ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars – he even went so far as to allege that we had secretly hidden the source of these funds in a clever item in the Budget of the Ministry of National Security.
Lo and behold his lies were exposed as Government emerged victorious, in fact the other party, weapons manufacturing giant BAE had to pay to Trinidad and Tobago 1.4 billion dollars.
And they talk about legal fees – AG Garvin Nicholas will clarify those matters but I want you to remember that it is because of legal fees we paid to our lawyers and the former Attorney General was in fact a witness in the OPV arbitration, that’s where we were able to recover for you 1.4 billion dollars.
Growley had predicted as well that we would lose the World GTL arbitration – that was the Gas to Liquids project – failed project that the PNM had invested in at Petrotrin.
He went about again, chicken licken “we are going to lose that arbitration”. That failed project cost you 2.7 billion dollars and the plant must now be sold only as scrap iron.
Let me remind you we won that arbitration against GTL as the claim against our government was 1.8 billion dollars. But their claim was dismissed with legal costs – we won that claim too.
And now today the good news is this – another failed project of the PNM – the UAM smelter project. You will recall that the PNM was trying to foist this smelter plant on the people of La Brea. They tried to do that at the mind-boggling cost, the exorbitant price tag of 3.4 billion dollars. The residents of La Brea and elswhere they marched, they protested because of health concerns and lack of consultations. The High Court quashed the CEC – the environmental certificate granted by EMA for what was an illegal project. So when we came into office we pulled the plug on this smelter project.
Again chicken licken, Growley objected. On January 27 2014 he indicated that Sural – that was the company then involved – were going to sue the Government to recover over 644 million dollars, and once again he said we were going to lose that Sural case too.
It is a matter of public record the Sural did in fact sue this Government for over TT 750 million dollars. They pressured us to settle, but I was convinced and I was advised by the legal officers that we should not settle this matter, that we had a good case and we would win the case, and so we went forward.
Today I was given a copy of the judgment and guess what? We win! We win! We won again. The arbitrators dismissed Sural’s claim against us, they ordered them to pay our legal costs amounting to about 17 million dollars.
This is a major legal victory for the people and Government of Trinidad and Tobago. If we had lost, it would have made a significant dent in our treasury as we would have had to pay out about $750 million. But God is good. We do not have to pay Sural one red cent.
In the same way we did not have to pay BAE for the OPV project – one red cent. We did not have to pay for the GTL case – one red cent.
And tonight I really want to compliment the former Attorney General for the part he played in this case, in this arbitration. Because the witnesses for the Government who gave evidence in this matter were former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Mr Leroy Mayers, Ms Colleen Murray and Mr Adrian Bernard and an expert witness Mr David Stern, Chartered Accountants.
You know who were the witnesses for that company that was suing us? Would you believe that they are citizens of Trinidad and Tobago? Fought, tried to fight the Government, the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago?
The witnesses against us were Professor Ken Julien, Dr Alfredo Rivera, Mr Rendor* Butler and another expert that they got, an expert witness.
Understand this – Mr Ken Julien was the head of the Natural Gas Task Force. He was Chairman of the National Energy Corporation. He was the lead person in making the then Government’s decision, he was instrumental in doing due diligence on Sural.
Yes you heard me right, the man who did the due diligence, who was in all the discussions when they were setting up this deal, he was instrumental in performing due diligence on Sural. Yet Mr Julien was giving evidence against Trinidad and Tobago in support of Sural. I want to remind you also that Mr Ken Julien was the former chairman of UTT and of eTeck – they have million dollar cases pending on them now and we will await the outcome of those.
In leading up to its decision, the arbitration tribunal rejected outright and dismissed the evidence of Mr Ken Julien and instead took the evidence of the Government to be the correct evidence.
Let us remember that that was a Joint Venture. The Government entered into a stakeholders agreement July 2007 with Sural. A Joint Venture for a partnership company Alutrint was formed. Alutrint was created to manage the project development and ownership of the plant.
From 2007 and onwards Sural had not contributed a single red cent – not one red cent to the project. Therefore you the taxpayers were meeting the whole of Alutrint’s expenditure. So it was a partnership Sural and the Government in equal share to contribute to the project. But Sural since 2007 never put one red cent into the project, then turned around and sued us for 750 million dollars.
This is what happened also in the failed GTL project. And you see they kept attacking us, me in particular, for cancelling the OPVs, for cancelling the Sural project. I want to quote some findings of the distinguished arbitral comprising Lord Collins who was president of the arbitration, he is a former judge of the United Kingdom Supreme Court and Mr Charles Bravo* who was a judge of the Iran-US claims tribunal at the Hague and Mr Aleem Malick* QC as I quote the judgment–
“The arbitral tribunal does not consider that the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago’s cancellation of the project was a pecuniary breach of the shareholders’ agreement as alleged by Sural. The reality was that the contractual project was dead by the end of 2007 by reason of Sural’s refusal to pay the equity call, and its decision to disengage from the project and to seek a new agreement which never happened. In the arbitral tribunal’s view, it would not be right to hold the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was in breach for cancelling the project which was effectively dead by the end of 2007.”
We cancelled it when we came into office. They kept it alive by pumping only your money into the project. And so that project was dead since 2007 but not for them. Why did they keep it afloat? Why did they do so by hiding the fact that the Joint Venture had gone sour and so bust? They were propping up Sural for no good reason and so as I thank all those who contributed in making a success of that case, including as I said, former AG Anand Ramlogan, I want to say we have to watch the selection of business partners they had.
They talk about UNC financiers. You ever hear anything about a PNM financier? They have none, if you believe them. Everything that happens in this country they scream, cry and again, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth – UNC financier, UNC financier.
I want to tell you today – I have NO financiers! Not one single financier. None. None. And that is why Dr Suruj Rambachan has been mandated with others in the Executive of the party, that we will conduct a raffle.. The first prize will be a car, second prize furniture – a full set of bedroom furniture. Third prize – kitchen. And guess what, you can win that car because the cost of the ticket is only 10 dollars.
So it means we have a lot of work to do, we have plenty tickets to sell because we will need the funding and of course we will do other fundraising activities as we proceed into Government.
Let me just close up on this matter. I was saying we thank all those who contributed the success of this arbitration against Sural.
I intend to get to the bottom of this failed multi-million dollar PNM deal. Having regard to the scandalous state of affairs on this Sural matter, I have instructed Attorney General Garvin Nicholas to examine this matter very closely to see if Sural had any undisclosed beneficiaries. Because why, if the project was dead from 2007, would the then Government continue to pump money into the project? And so we have to see and get to the bottom of this multi-million dollar failed PNM deal to see if any fraud was perpetrated on the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
So I close now and I say the future we must build will happen because of several things:
- The jobs we have created;
- The incomes we have increased;
- The infrastructure we have transformed, and will continue to transform
- The asset ownership with respect to your lands, HDC homes, will now be enjoyed across the board by thousands of families.
This is how a strong nation and people are built, to rise to challenges anywhere in the modern world.
This is how we work together to achieve a future of prosperity for all!
And so we will continue as we have started. As we go forward for the next five years, we will continue to build on what we have already achieved, in the containment of crime and the improvement of human security, and we will make dedicated efforts to do better.
We will launch an all-out assault on poverty, pulling people up for inclusion in economic progress. And we will strengthen human development. Focus on improving health care, building hospitals and building a competitive economy for jobs.
Going forward we will concentrate on four new areas. We will intensify the diversification action so that it continues at a faster rate. We will continue expanding physical infrastructure and broadband. We will continue the strengthening of good governance and we will be internationalizing Trinidad and Tobago’s energy platform with greater engagement and collaboration with our neighbours in the region.
In 2015 and beyond, citizens must not only be the focus of votes, citizens must not only be the focus of development, but you must be partners with the Government and that is what we will do.
Good night and God Bless.
THE HONOURABLE KAMLA PERSAD-BISSESSAR SC, MP
PRIME MINISTER OF TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
POLITICAL LEADER OF THE UNITED NATIONAL CONGRESS
LEADER OF THE PEOPLE’S PARTNERSHIP
MONDAY NIGHT FORUM
DIEGO MARTIN NORTH SECONDARY SCHOOL
CONSTITUENCY OF DIEGO MARTIN NORTH EAST
11 MAY 2015
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