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.