Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday sought to clear the air on his “sterile debate” remark made at the TT Chamber’s post-budget forum on Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain.
In a statement, Imbert said he took note of “serious misrepresentations” in the media regarding his contribution and wished to set the record straight. Imbert said he was among three featured speakers invited by the Chamber to address the gathering.
Imbert claimed in his release that economist Marla Dukharan, one of the other invited speakers, spent most of her contribution demanding an immediate devaluation of the TT dollar, huge cutbacks in Government spending and increases in utility rates, as the panacea that would solve the country’s economic problems.
“However, in addition to the demands, completely out of the blue, she chose to describe the 2018 Budget Statement as a madman’s rant, like the calypso of the same name by David Rudder. That comment, for whatever reason it was made, was in very poor taste and completely inappropriate for that forum,” Imbert said in the release.
I COULD HAVE CHASTISED HER
Imbert added that when he got to the podium, he responded to Dukharan’s “unfortunate description” of the Budget Statement and her demand for a devaluation by stating he had not come to engage in sterile debate of this nature with her. Imbert said he could easily have chastised Dukharan for being “discourteous and out of place”, but chose not to.
“The Minister was at no time referring to the audience when he made his comments and that was clear to the majority present,” Imbert said in his release. Imbert said he later engaged in a lively discussion with the businesspeople.
“Later that evening, CNC3 (television news) ran an edited version of the proceedings on television. Ms Dukharan’s impolite description of the Budget Statement as a ‘madman’s rant’ was not reported nor was it made clear that the Minister’s comments were in response to her disrespectful remarks.
“Instead, CNC3 cut and spliced the tape and made it appear that the minister’s comment about sterile debate was directed at the audience,” Imbert added. He said it was unfortunate this misrepresentation had occurred, “since it dilutes and takes away from the real discussion which is how we as a country deal with the serious financial challenges. It is hoped that now that this issue has been properly clarified, the commentary can return to the real issues at hand,” Imbert said.
Dukharan yesterday called the devolution of the post-Budget debate in the country, “unfortunate.” She said, “I think it is very unfortunate that as a nation we have lost sight of what really matters in the context of the budget and we are engaging in all kinds of unconstructive conversations as opposed to focusing on the issue. And I have no time for this discussion. I am not going to give it any oxygen, sorry.”
For his part, TT Chamber president Gabriel Faria said the reaction to events that transpired at the post-budget forum was unfortunate. “Everyone who attended the event thought that the contributions by the panel were excellent. Many people walked away with a much better understanding of the rationale behind the budget. It’s unfortunate the discussion is now revolving around one sole comment that really had nothing to do with the event,” Faria said.
Imbert, Dukharan and EY Caribbean Tax Partner Wade George were the panelists at the forum. Imbert, in his release, claimed Newsday selectively reported and omitted Dukharan’s Madman’s Rant comment. “This misrepresentation on the part of CNC3 and omission on the part of the Newsday was then propagated across the mass media and critiqued by various commentators, who clearly had no idea what had really transpired,” Imbert said.
Newsday reporter Carla Bridglal who covered the post-budget forum on Tuesxday, said yesterday that Dukharan’s reference to Madman’s Rant was not directed at Imbert but instead used in the broad context of several songs that could best refer to the budget. Dukharan, Bridglal said, also mentioned ‘Full Extreme’ by the Ultimate Rejects, Ravi B’s ‘Budget’ and Imbert’s own reference (in the budget presentation) to Leroy ‘Black Stalin’ Calliste’s, ‘We Can Make It If We Try.’
Imbert’s suggestion that Dukharan’s Madman’s Rant reference was, ‘out of the blue’ was incorrect, Bridglal said. Dukharan spent a part of her presentation commending Imbert on some of the measures he outlined in the budget. Dukharan also never called for an “immediate devaluation” of the dollar but that since the country is in a state of low inflation and Imbert insisted, in his budget speech, the reason he did not want to devalue the dollar was to avoid rapid inflation, she could not understand why he would keep an over valued dollar.’