BUDGET AUTOCRACY! Rules out conversation with citizens and contributors in the House

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OPINION

The annual presentation of the national budget has come to be nothing more than a joke being played on the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

Under this Rowley adminis­tration, citizens are beginning to wonder about the value of the reading of the budget when no meaningful accountability and no logical debate is allowed to take place; and where the Government uses its constitutional majority to muffle the contributions in the House.
Many are now wondering the purpose of even presenting the budget since the people are not allowed to benefit from the criti­cisms and the responses that usu­ally take place when Government lays this Bill before the Parlia­ment for approval.
This is not the first time that the nation has been robbed of under­standing how the Ministries func­tioned over the past year and how constituencies benefitted; and thus it raises the question of cor­ruption since it is not clear how the 203 billion dollars of taxpay­ers’ money were spent over the past four years.
This is not just an issue of tra­dition which the Prime Minister is expected to follow, rather it is a matter of accountability of the resources allocated to the servant (government) by the master (we the people).

But the behaviour of this Row­ley Administration demonstrates that the Government does not see itself as servants of the people, does not see itself as answerable to the people and thus any prom­ise of transparency or account­ability made by this Government should be viewed as nothing more than a façade and a con job to fool us into believing that it can deliver good governance.

Health crisis

One example is that of our health sector, which is total cha­os, with one of its main agencies, the Nursing Council in limbo. At present, the administration of nursing is at a standstill. There is no recourse for reporting on errant nurses and hiring of new nurses cannot take place; registration has practically ceased and identifica­tion/registration numbers are not being issued; Nursing Council exams are not taking place. The Minister of Health gives no expla­nation to the nation. He does not even seem to care!
This is just one situation that currently exists within our health sector, a situation that we as citi­zens would have loved to hear the Minister address in the Budget debate. But instead of the budget dealing with the real problems facing us within the health sector we are being duped with pie in the sky promises of the building of new hospitals in Sangre Grande and Point Fortin and God knows where else!
Our intelligence is being sullied by talk about the decommission­ing of the St. Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital while the Prime Minis­ter is making his rounds on radio talking about the difficulties to do so since “there are various world­views” as it relates to the treat­ment of mental health.
He could have stood up in Parliament and address issues of this nature when it was his turn to speak but rather than open up the forum for meaningful debate to take place, the debate was shut­down within two days leaving a sense of emptiness among citi­zens.

An insult

What this administration is of­fering is an insult to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and if this is the way it intends to conduct its business then we have to deter­mine whether we want to accept Dr. Rowley’s disrespect to us.
It was refreshing to read about the scolding that a sixth former, Stefan Lander inflicted on Min­isters Allyson West and Robert Le Hunte when they visited St Mary’s College to use it as an al­ternative platform to present their budget propaganda, instead of go­ing to Parliament to initiate hon­est debate.
According to the Express of October 17, 2019, under the cap­tion “Pupil scolds ministers over handling of youth issues”, Ca­mille Hunte reported on the of­fensive launched against the Gov­ernment Ministers for bringing together a group of young people to deliver content that was clearly irrelevant to their needs.

Out of sync gov’t

Herein lies the problem with this Government; it is out of sync with the people and out of touch with the needs of its constituents. It has lost the common touch and has become too arrogant. So even in seeking to develop conversa­tions, its content does not even benefit the people to whom and with whom it chooses to speak.
The young men and women at St. Mary’s College wanted to know about job opportunities and job creation mechanisms. They wanted to know about a future in which they have to live and even wanted to be a part of the change that the Government keeps talk­ing about.
But the rhetoric of West and Le Hunte was a total disconnect and failed to benefit or even interest the young men and women to the extent that when student Lander spoke his peers erupted in ap­plause.
We have young people who are interested in the country you are supposed to hold in trust for them Dr Keith Rowley. They would have listened patiently to your promises to put them first and to seek their interest. But the chasm that has developed between that promise you made at your inau­gural speech in 2015 and your performance four years later, has our youth very concerned.
Our youth are fed with the makeshift CEPEP programme and clearly, for them it is shameful that in the twenty-first century our Government cannot evolve with a more permanent solution that di­vorces the most vulnerable in our society from jobs that make them mendicants.
And it was embarrassing for West to have to confess that the initial programme could not even be properly implemented by Gov­ernment and clearly over the next year precious little will be done.
If as a Government, this Row­ley administration cannot redi­rect a simple project like CEPEP which the youthful minds of this country see as an aberration to our growth and their future, many are asking why should we keep this Government in office.
Why should we keep a Govern­ment in place when their major focus seems only to be the distri­bution of free LED light bulbs at a return of 100 million a year over five years as savings. Who is this Government fooling?
We needed to hear our leaders debate over the possible multi­plier effect of the increase of 15% being offered to CEPEP and URP workers; and the potential vola­tile landscape that this will cre­ate for the Government as unions will start at this benchmark when approached with a collective bar­gaining agenda to improve the returns of labour performed by their members. We wanted to hear whether Government con­sidered such a phenomenon and how it proposed to manage such a
threat.

No budget debate

We wanted a strong debate re­lating to the shortage of foreign exchange and how the market forces at work would impact on prices of imported goods; we wanted a debate on what plans would be in place to ensure that enough forex is secured to import pharmaceuticals and other critical items needed. We wanted to hear what plans there are for the repay­ment of the massive loans taken over these past years and for the financial burden being placed on the head of every man, woman and child.
The absence of a meaningful debate has deprived this country of any clear direction and there­fore we do not know where our country is heading over the next year except back to the polls.
Dr. Rowley missed the greatest opportunity afforded to him as he prepares to launch into an elec­tion year at a time his stewardship is challenged and at a time when matters of national importance seem to be on the back burner of PNM politics.
Our girls are dying. Grab and burn seem to be the order of the day. Others are disappearing with no hope that they will ever be found.
Businesses are folding up while others are being heavily taxed by “gangsta” style rule to do busi­ness in communities. But there is no discussions as to a way for­ward to snatch this country out of the hands of the lawless.
I weep for our young people who must live long after we have died. And I weep because this ad­ministration has set up an unholy precedent that births leaders who possess that kind of despotic na­ture.
Fate and this administration have joined forces to present a bleak future for our youth.
One can only hope that come 2020 the General Election results would provide a greater light than the LEDs the Rowley ad­ministration is trying to sell us so that before it is too late, a legacy upon which our youth could stand could be forged and we could all proudly say that God has truly blessed our nation.