Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as she kicks off the 2021/2022 Budget debate in the Lower House on Friday. Photo: T&T Parliament
By Sue-Ann Wayow
THE People’s National Movement (PNM) Government has the highest net public debt in the sum of $125 billion in the history of Trinidad and Tobago as well as highest debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio at 84%.
This was stated by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who kicked off the Budget debate on Friday in Parliament making comparisons to when her People’s Partnership government was in office from 2010 to 2015.
Persad-Bissessar said with the announcement of the 2022 Budget on Monday, Government has officially declared war on the middle and working class and most vulnerable of Trinidad and Tobago.
Her presentation was titled, “Rescuing, Rebuilding and Restoring Trinidad and Tobago: A Government at War with its own citizens—A Time to take back our country from tyrants.”
Persad-Bissessar said for a seventh time, the budget presented by the administration led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley lacked hope, vision and a plan for the future labelling the Budget read by Finance Minister Colm Imbert as a “PNM hustle” dragging the country into further debt.
She also said government made another disaster with their Covid-19 pandemic management systems and policies including the most recent TT Safe Zones.
Referring to Imbert, she said, “In the past six years, this Finance Minister has acted like a reckless teenager with a credit card.
“This irresponsible government has run five consecutive years of massive budget deficits since September 2015 totalling $61.7 billion cumulatively.”
She continued, “This government has been so reckless that the most recent estimates reveal that the country’s net public debt stands at $125 billion, (Central Bank of TT) which is the highest it has ever been in our recorded history. Our Debt to GDP ratio is over 84%. (Central Bank figures are up to March and does not include borrowings thereafter).”
She said, “According to the Government’s own figures the country was producing $16 billion less in goods and services in 2019 than it was producing when I left office in 2015. This was the worst contraction in more than three decades. And this was before Covid. By 2020 the decline in GDP from 2015 worsened by $27.7 billion.”
Persad – Bissessar said when her government left office in 2015, GDP per capita was over $126,000 but was now $104,000.
Oil and gas production were also at its lowest in decades under the current administration, the MP for Siparia said.
She also lamented that international rating companies have been discrediting Trinidad and Tobago and taking a jab at moneylender Drugs Sou Sou (DSS) said, “Trinidad and Tobago credit ratings are so bad not even DSS would want to lend this government money.”
“Covid is not driving us to bankruptcy, it is the PNM,” Persad-Bissessar declared.
She said, “By December 2015, S&P announced an immediate drop in the country’s credit rating to negative. That downward spiral has continued over the last six years to this day. Thanks to this government, S&P now rates us BBB- negative, -just one notch above junk status.”
The government was also the most anti-business.
She said that investors were taking their capital out of Trinidad and Tobago and moving to other countries including Guyana, therefore reducing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
“Under this Government, our total net FDI from 2016 to 2020 is minus TT $11.7 billion. This is an almost $12 billion wide pothole in our road to recovery,” Persad-Bissessar said.
She also claimed that the current administration was the only one to withdraw from the Heritage and Stabalisation Fund, a fund that was designed by the Basdeo Panday administration in 2000 under the name Interim Revenue Stabalisation Fund.
The Opposition Leader said her government deposited $17.5 billion and the Dr Rowley-led government withdrew $16.3 billion.
She added, “They did not put one red cent or one back cent in the Heritage and Stabalisation Fund.”
There continued to be an increased number of citizens losing jobs with 112,000 jobs lost from 2015 to 2020 and government lacked the necessary data to devise feasible plans to facilitate jobs with one in every five workers being jobless under the PNM she said.
Erosion of independent institutions
Persad-Bissessar also said that there continued to be a “sustained assault on the independent institutions,” mainly the Central Bank, Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority, the Police Service Commission (PolSC) and the Integrity Commission.
The public demanded answers pertaining to existing issues surrounding these institutions, she said.
She said one of the main reasons why she raised that issue was because when matters came up against the state, taxpayers dollars will be spent on legal fees and other expenditures.
The PolSC was a perfect example of a failed institution now that all four members have recently resigned, Persad-Bissessar said.
She said the PolSC situation showed that the country was now in a state of national insecurity and all the legal fees spent could have been invested into better resources for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
“There can be no economic development if there is no rule of law,” Persad-Bissessar said.
She also announced that she received a response from Attorney General for England and Wales Suella Braveran pertaining to alleged incidents involving a public official and a British citizen.
Property Tax and Utilities
Persad-Bissessar in her contribution, read from a previous contribution made in 2009 by Dr Rowley who was then the Minister of Housing opposing the implementation of the property tax.
Dr Rowley was now being hypocritical by putting measures in place to demand the property tax especially with rising rental and purchase cost of properties according to Persad-Bissessar.
The announcement of increased utility rates was also not met well.
“The bottom line of all of this is that despite the harsh economic climate, the tremendous suffering, the high poverty rates and the high unemployment statistics government will impose higher rates on water and electricity and is moving full speed ahead to do so,” Persad-Bissessar said.
And she again called on Imbert to revert to the original Procurement Act.
There was also blatant geographical discrimination in the allocation of projects and resources, the Opposition Leader said.
Admitting to having some hope when Imbert listed the number of projects to begin or completed in 2022 for to improve water supply, Persad-Bissessar only one was located in an Opposition constituency.
The agriculture sector, Persad-Bissessar said was the most critical in the supply of food to the nation and little was being done to preserve the sector, create incentives for farmers, prevent flooding that was an annual occurrence and enforce the praedial larceny law.
Land tenure continued to be one of the most pressing challenges faced by the farmers yet nothing has been done to alleviate these problems although $20 million has been allocated in this budget for the development of lands at Caroni and Orange Grove.
“No money has been allocated under this ministry for the development of agricultural lands in other parts of the country. The Minister’s access road repair programme to cover 80 km of road has excluded the entire southern and central part of the country, which are the major agricultural areas,” she said.
She also lamented that many school buildings especially in Opposition constituencies that were near completion have been left to rot and become home to rodents and other creatures. Children continued to struggle with the online learning process using either their parents’ cellphone or depending on photocopied material to do their lessons. This was a condemnation of whole generation, she said.
The Opposition’s plans
And the Opposition Leader in wrapping up her presentation listed her plans for a better economy which are based on five principles: people-centred development, pro-business, resilience, local content and sustainability.
“The new UNC’s Masterplan lays out a comprehensive suite of policy initiatives and programmes to steer the economy towards a more sustainable development path,” Persad-Bissessar said.