Amid a fire-storm of criticism and condemnation of the 2018 budget, Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis yesterday defended Finance Minister Colm Imbert saying the country should not blame him personally for the budget measures because they were decided upon by the entire Cabinet.
“The policy prescriptions the Minister of Finance put in place are not his personal prescriptions, they are policy prescriptions that have been decided by the Cabinet. We are in a difficult time, we are in challenging times and it could have been a harsher budget, it could have been much harsher. It is nothing personal,” Robinson-Regis said.
She added, “So please do not put it on the minister, it is the government that took it, it is not a personal decision. I am sure if the minister in his personal capacity could have done differently, he would have.”
Robinson-Regis was responding to questions during a post-budget forum by the Greater Tunapuna Chamber of Industry and Commerce at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya. The question was whether Imbert ran the risk of becoming a political liability to government because of the measures announced in the budget.
In addition, Imbert was sharply criticised on Tuesday by Gillian Wall, co-founder of the group Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT) at a post-budget discussion hosted by the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Wall accused Imbert of arrogance in his statement to the gathering that he had not come to, “listen to sterile debate or academic discussion.”
Imbert also courted controversy and public ridicule last November during the IMF High Level Caribbean Forum at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, when he said he had increased the price of fuel three times in a short space of time, “And they haven’t rioted yet.”
Former minister in the ministry of finance Mariano Browne, also a speaker at the Chamber’s forum yesterday, said that, “Any minister of finance in these circumstances, is a liability precisely because the decisions that he has to make are not the kind the public wants to hear. Which is one of the reasons why we elect politicians in the first place.
“We don’t believe them but we elect them and we want them to tell us what to do...but don’t tell us the truth. And that’s the difficulty. So we’ve been told the truth but we haven’t really been called to order and calling us to order is going to get us vex and that’s part of the bogeyman in the room,” Browne said.
He added this was why it has become one of government’s major policy objectives not to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because the IMF has become the bogeyman. However, he said that the IMF is not the bogeyman because the people of Trinidad and Tobago had to make the decision for themselves, “otherwise it won’t stick.”
Browne said the country is in a difficult situation and bad news is personalised. “People shoot the messenger.” However, he added, “I don’t think that the minister has done himself any favours by how he has handled the situation but it is a difficult situation.” He said that Imbert was not “empathetic” in bringing bad news to the population, “but that is his methodology.”