Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the country is now awakened to the economic realities it faces.
He made this comment yesterday before hinting that Finance Minister Colm Imbert could announce the date for the 2017/2018 Budget today in the House of Representatives. The House sits at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre.
With Imbert looking on as he addressed the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Rowley said there was an established practice whereby finance ministers announce budget dates. Last week, Imbert said he would make a statement about the Budget this week.
Asked to describe the country’s current economic position, Rowley replied, “ Not very good.”
He recalled that TT enjoyed a period of good revenues from 2003 to 2015, much of which came from its export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Rowley said negotiations with Atlantic for a new gas supply contract for its train one are ongoing at this time. The contract expires next year.
While TT was able to save much of those revenues and use it for critical activities, Rowley said some people were partying “very merrily” while gas supply contracts with several producers were not renewed. He said it was nonsense now for certain people to be calling for certain things to be provided, when TT no longer had the means to do so. Rowley did not comment on speculation the 2017/2018 Budget would be a $35 billion fiscal package. However, he recalled the budget increased steadily from $47 billion in 2010 under the PNM to $63 billion in 2015 under the People’s Partnership.
Rowley was confident the moratorium on public sector retrenchment with the labour movement would work but admitted that Government could not force the private sector to take a similar action.
He hoped, however, the private sector would not resort to retrenchment as a first option in times of economic difficulty.
The Prime Minister was also confident that the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) would be revamped. He was heartened that labour was not pressing for wage increases but was instead looking for different ways to help workers.
Rowley said he was surprised that certain “energy voices” in the country had nothing to say about Government’s efforts to obtain gas from Venezuela’s Dragon Field.
He reiterated this agreement was with the Venezuelan government and was not contingent on its composition.