Every year with bated breath, the nation awaits the reading of the national budget with a high level of expectancy.
But this year there was a heightened sense of anxiety predicated on two basic reasons: the first being that 2020 is an election year and secondly, for the past four years, the Government has established a pattern of austerity in its budgets that simply did not take into consideration the little man.
There was much trepidation as many waited wondering whether the price of fuel again will rise and thus impact on the low standard of living which the country currently experiences.
There was a great fear because, in the last four budgets, the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert did not address in any meaningful way the plight of the dispossessed, and the social programmes from which the poor were starved for resources and especially the ones living in deprived communities who suffered immensely.
Many were hopeful, thinking that with an election just around the corner, the Minister of Finance would shower the nation with goodies and the ones who sat expectantly were the victims of recent flooding; the ones who lost virtually everything and they were hoping that this year a change in the allocation of the State’s resources would have benefitted them.
So after four years in Government, the 2019 budget is the one that attracted the most attention from the national community because everyone wanted to see whether the Government would continue with its pattern of austerity and the punishment of the poor or whether it will show a measure of empathy and deliver a budget that appears favourable to all.
Over the past four years, 203 billion dollars have been budgeted by the Rowley administration
People are mindful that over the past four years 203 billion dollars have been budgeted by the Rowley administration and during that time the people have seen precious little done in their communities.
In the reading of the 2019 – 20 Appropriation Bill we learned that the actual expenditure for 2018 – 2019 was 50.5 billion dollars but please tell us how did the country benefit from this expenditure, what did the Government do, apart from firing Wilfred Espinet that added value to our people? The question is asked because after spending TTD 50.5 billion the people do not feel any better.
In the reading of the budget, it may have been missed by some but Sunshine Today took note of the fact that the inflationary gains proclaimed in 2018 were wiped off over the last year and are now at 1.9%, the Headline Inflation rate in 2017. This is a disturbing trend because given the pattern over the past year we seem set to increase our Headline Inflation over the next financial year.
It is simple things like these why the nation stood still on Monday, October 7, 2019, hoping to understand how all our money was spent and how the Government now proposes to invest our resources over the next year so that our country will benefit from the sweat of its people.
So, the budget has come, and apart from the technocrats who enjoy having their voices heard on national radio and television; the ones who are paid handsomely for their critique, no one else has chosen to comment publicly on a budget that has failed to meet the expectations of our people.
Water after 63 years of Independence is still not available for all. The infrastructure to deliver potable water is porous. And the Minister of Public Utilities is recorded as saying 50% of water is lost via leaks and it costs the nation up to $10,500 TTD to fix one leak and yet nothing was mentioned in the budget to address this drain on our economy and the delivery of this precious commodity for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Instead, a Government that boasted of its readiness four years ago chose to focus on the removal of taxes and duties on LED bulbs and it is annoying when it is accused of being pro-business and anti-poor people.
I wonder if the Government believes that an LED bulb is of more importance to the poor man than water flowing through his taps?
When one takes into consideration the amount of money that we are going to lose, according to the Minister of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte because of water leaks, one can only wonder whether the theme for the 2019 budget “Stability, Strength and Growth” is relevant to us and whether it is attainable.
The con in the budget is the increase of the minimum wage
But the con in the budget is the increase of the minimum wage from $15.00 to $17.50 per hour and while less than 10% of the population will benefit from this increase, the truth is that this will result in less disposable income for all and would result in unemployment for a number of people.
What does the Minister of Finance think is going to happen?
Just examine the behaviour of this Government especially since it was voted into power in 2015 as it relates to the payment of its debts and let us ask the Ministry of Works & Transport and the Ministry of National Security alone of their current indebtedness to service providers and we would realise that the reality is that Government does not pay its debts.
When attempts were being made to pass the horrendous Security Bill, at one meeting of the stakeholders, the conversation was dominated by Government’s indebtedness to this sector which at the time could barely pay its workers the $15.00 an hour minimum wage.
The Government has not changed its pattern of payment. Millions of dollars are still owed by Government and its agencies to this industry and a further burden has been placed upon them to raise the Minimum Wage to $17.50 per hour. Yet there is no mention of Government liquidating its current debt as a buffer to assist the industry at the point of transition on December 1, 2019.
So, the security industry will now have to renegotiate with its clients for higher rates. They are going to lose business because there is going to be a reduction in their manpower. And the question to be asked is whether this is going to be good for our country at this time?
At the Supermarkets where this minimum wage will also affect workers, the increase will be passed on to the consumer decreasing the disposable income of all and not just only those who benefitted from the increase of the minimum wage, driving Headline inflation even higher. And again the question that must now be asked is whether this is good for our country at this time?
At a time when foreign exchange is difficult to access Government has raised the value of personal goods that can be imported by 66% at a time when other leaders would have been focusing on buying local initiatives. Now, how smart is this?
There is no thrust in the development of a recycling plant
Then the Government seeks to establish an environment-friendly atmosphere by placing a ban on Styrofoam and single-use plastics, all affecting the foodservice industry which is good. But in the Government’s drive to clean up the environment there is no thrust in the development of a recycling plant to demonstrate to this country that the government really cares. So what really is the plan for the environment?
Who stands to benefit from the removal of Styrofoam and plastics and into whose pockets is the Government now seeking to place additional funds?
My greatest concern though is that the government has promised CEPEP and URP workers a wage increase of 15% and the basis for this is that they are productive workers. How is their productivity measured? And if CEPEP and URP workers can get a 15% increase, what will teachers and public servants get and when? They have already begun to rumble. Or is it that they are not productive as Dr Rowley had recently hinted of public servants?
In the run-up to the 2015 General Election, the PNM, on the campaign trail, promised the people that, if elected, they will reduce Vat from 15% to 12 1/2% which it did. It did not, however, tell the people that it would have made more non-vatable items now vatable thereby forcing citizens to pay more for basic foodstuff. Similarly is it that now that the CEPEP and URP workers are going to receive a 15% increase, does it mean that their labour force will also be reduced by 15%? And the promised increase will only be an illusion? And that fewer workers will receive increased pay salaries? Based on PNM’s past experience alone, these are very likely.
And that explains why in spite of a 15% increase in salaries to CEPEP and URP workers the budget allocation for them can be $22 million less.
For the 2019 – 2020 budget more than 30 major capital projects have been announced – all to be done in 2020 – and that is why the country sees this as an election budget.
Citizens believe that these major projects are really to provide funding for the General and other elections.
As one sifts through the budget, there is really nothing for the poor man or the small businessman in the areas of tourism, agriculture and sport just to name a few. Nothing for youth in our country.
This is a terrible budget, a big business budget, one that will drive inflation, increase the unemployment rate and result in a brain drain to our economy.
This Rowley Administration has failed once again to provide the country with leadership and direction that would lift this country of ours. Thank God that 2020 is just around the corner.