Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he was glad he was not Finance Minister Colm Imbert on whose shoulders fell the burden of drafting what so far has turned out to be a highly unpopular budget.
“I’m glad I’m not the Minister of Finance,” Rowley quipped, prompting chuckles among the audience at the TT Manufacturing Association’s annual dinner and awards on Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain. He later congratulated Imbert for doing, “A hell of a job” in Parliament on Monday.
“I give few instructions to the Minister of Finance because I don’t want to take much of the blame. But I’m going to say that a Minister of Finance in TT today, in pulling all these strands together and delivering the budget that was delivered on Monday, must have done one hell of a job.”
Rowley said the public reaction to the budget meant that its main aim of spreading the burden of adjustments (taxes) to all sectors of society, from the poor to the rich, was being met.
“Because I have not heard anyone say, ‘I’m not affected and I’m not involved’.That tells me the objective is being reached. We are all in this together and the burden has to be shared across the board.” Rowley said that reality means the country now has the best chance of reaching its goals.
He warned that anyone hoarding foreign currency, to try to make a “quick killing” in the event of a devaluation of the TT dollar will have to wait a lot longer. “I think there are some shenanigans going on. Some are holding on, thinking there will be a devaluation. You may have to wait a lot longer.”
Rowley implored people who have foreign exchange lodged abroad to bring it back to help out the local economy. He said the energy sector will give TT the breathing space to build its non-energy sector. “The challenge is to build an economy that can stand sustainably outside of the energy sector but not ignoring the energy sector that will be the lifeblood of the economy for some time.”
Echoing an earlier speaker’s call to vigorously export to Latin America, Rowley urged business people to not allow the Spanish language to be an insurmountable barrier to them seeking new export markets. Earlier Arthur Lok Jack received a lifetime achievement award.
In his address, Lok Jack urged local businesses to get out of their comfort zone and, “Pound the pavement”, by seeking fresh export markets in the hemisphere. He said TT’s population is 1.3 million, Caricom is six million, Caricom plus Central America plus the Dominican Republic is 30 million, while adding Colombia with whom TT has a free trade treaty, brings the total of potential consumers for TT goods to 80 million people.