BUDGET 2020- READY TO FLUSH!

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BY SHANE A. MOHAMMED

It’s been a little more than a week since Finance Minis­ter Colm Imbert delivered his 2019/2020 Budget. There has been varying reactions, both positive and negative, to what was set out in Govern­ment’s financial outlook for the next year. From the outset, I would say that the Budget was another reflection of gover­nance by error and government by mistake. It is an important lesson for all of us as citizens of this Republic but not critically it is a lesson for us as a respon­sible electorate.

Nothing since 2015 to date that was presented on the PNM’s 2015 election campaign has been brought to fruition. We have been dealing with a transactional gov­ernment at the very least and a Cabinet that was from the very beginning of their term narrated a story that our country’s finances were at rock bottom and our re­sources were extremely depleted.
It’s a narrative that had to be kept in order to preserve the pro­paganda that allowed their victo­ry in 2015. Imbert would like the population to believe that he has turned around the economy but we must first ask was the econo­my really on the brink of virtual collapse in 2015 as has been said. One must remember that the Cab­inet is a place of confidentiality and Ministers are bound by col­lective ministerial responsibility.
Therefore, no technocrat can come out and contradict the Gov­ernment and we must also re­member that in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Govern­ment maintains control on state apparatus.
With that said, a few weeks ago, Kamla Persad Bissessar was able to read from published docu­ments the money that her Govern­ment left in the treasury and if one does not believe her then there is always Winston Dookeran, who remains a highly respected statesman and internationally ac­claimed economist.
If you have further doubts then ask Dr Bhoe Tewarie, Kevin Ramnarine, Larry Howai and Vas­ant Bharath. They were all part of the People’s Partnership Cabinet and held portfolios that directly touched and concerned our coun­try’s economy, growth and invest­ment as well as development and entrepreneurship. Then there are the independent economists like Dr Indeera Sagewan, Dr Vaalmiki Arjoon and Marla Dukharan who have all lamented over the last 4 years about the deficit in the Government’s ability to invigo­rate direct foreign investment, the free flow of foreign exchange and diversification.

For how long will we continue with CEPEP and URP?

The 2019/2020 Budget from a political perspective was a pre-election budget. Imbert provided the country with very little to look forward to except a few measly handouts that is geared towards holding on to a very dissatisfied PNM base. For how long will we continue with CEPEP and URP when we all know that it is cen­tered to boost the party in power, its financiers and supporters. And while there is the appear­ance of transparency it is known that party faithful is given first preference to jobs and contracts. My concern is this; in a country that aims so highly towards first-world status why have we not made URP and CEPEP perma­nent employment opportunities that are not managed by a Board but rather an authority that firstly provides skills training and per­manent job opportunity that are tied to the construction industry and preservation of the environ­ment?
Suddenly there are particular geographic areas within Trinidad and moreso Tobago that have finally been identified by this administration. Roxborough ap­pears to be an emerging growth pole under the PNM since they are positioned to receive a gas station, police station, hospital, administrative complex and fire station all in the coming year!!
Wow! Lucky for Roxborough, unlucky for Couva and even more unlucky for Tabaquite! Undoubt­edly the Roxborough initiatives are efforts to hold on to the To­bago East seat! Where was the Government’s vison for Roxbor­ough for the past 4 years? In fact, where was the PNM’s vision for Roxborough in the twenty years it governed the THA?
Has the Government decided on who will receive the contracts for such massive projects and will Tobagonians receive job oppor­tunities during and after the con­struction of these projects? AIR­PORT! AIRPORT!! AIRPORT!!! Tobago West!!! But how does Government plan on comfortably and fairly compensating those who are to be relocated for this expansion project? What about the issue of land regularization for Tobagonians on a whole? Has Government forgotten or ignored that this remains a burning ques­tion on the minds of Tobagonians?
Light Bulbs, I would like to enunciate to Colm Imbert just where he should store those light bulbs because within his Govern­ment it is clear that many of his colleagues are operating in total darkness. What is the rationale behind 400,000 energy saving lightbulbs when most of the coun­try is already using same?
What will be the wattage of these lightbulbs? How will they be distributed? Is it that we will be utilising the lightbulbs like a sou-sou mechanism where we send some to a village and Margaret uses her handful in January- Ma­vis takes it in February- Phoolma­tee takes the hand in March and so on? What absolute and utter nonsense!!! Let me ask about minimum wage. How does this minimum wage affect the small and medium business owner?
Will those businesses receive their Vat refunds on time as an in­centive to maintaining their work­force in light of the minimum wage increase? If the answer to that question is no or left unan­swered then Lightbulb Imbert has now forced the hands of business­es to make hard decision and in­crease the unemployment basket.

He lightbulbs did not shine on these ideas

So, the PNM has decided to take the land for the landless pro­gramme and add a new dimen­sion to it. They will provide low cost housing for those in need of a home BUT the HDC shall dic­tate to you via established design options of what you can build. Further, it will be a home with­out any frills! What does no-frills mean Minister Imbert? In the past former PNM Governments have built homes like cowsheds now it appears that this admin­istration will dictate to potential homeowners the fowl-coops that they shall call a home. Such a plan is regressive, myopic and just damn selfish! Much of what the Minister has said was vague. It was politically designed to possess a lot of ambiguity which only fuels further doubt, distrust and concern as to what is to come.
As I close this article, there are many other gaps I can speak about but I wish to address the issue of 8000 OJTs and an in­crease of 10% in salary. What happens when the OJT has com­pleted this glorified apprentice­ship? Has the Government designed a framework to transition the OJT into mainstream employ­ment in accordance with their qualifications and training? How does an OJT move beyond that category into one that allows for progress and promotion? I guess the lightbulbs did not shine on these ideas.
I am not confident about this budget. The Government has made promises of macro-proj­ects with the aim of holding on to the reins of power in 2020. They have not outlined a fiscal pack­age that tells us how the econo­my will grow, where the funding for such projects will come from nor do they provide the popula­tion with the expectation that we can look forward to prosperity in the near future. What the Govern­ment has done is put together a group of ideas without doing math nor economics.
We are still left with unan­swered questions about Oil and Gas production and our status on the international stage.
We have heard nothing about alternative energy sources and opportunities nor have we been left confident that this Govern­ment can take us into the future with prosperity. We are now at the mercy of this Government since it appears that their politi­cal ideology is creeping towards Socialism and associating with models of that kind.
Let us all wake up before it is too late.