The way ahead for Trinidad and Tobago during these turbulent economic times is still littered with unpredictable roadblocks and uncertainties and in “stormy times” like these, the ship of State needs a steady hand says Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
“The PNM is that steady hand and I am your captain.”
Come what may, he said, “the PNM are there to treat with all events, the good, the bad and the UNC.”
Addressing party delegates on a range of issues, including Government’s focus on five priority areas in a ten-point plan at the 47th Convention of the People’s National Movement at the Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah, Rowley said that now more than ever there was need for discipline and sacrifice in rebuilding the country’s economy after the reckless spending policies of the UNC after the cabal and associates “who today cannot even be trusted by the founder of their party.”
Speaking of the ten-point plan during “this period of austerity and revenue shrinkage”, Rowley said, they include reduced expenditure over time in a steady and systematic way, preserve as many jobs in the public sector, and encourage job creation in the private sector, and maintain expenditure on development programme to create jobs while developing physical and economic infrastructure.The others include reestablish growth in the economy, improve tax revenue collection, reduce subsidies, diversify the economy, reduce the consumption of foreign exchange, eliminate waste and corruption, watch the public debt, and “do all of these at the same time.”
Within the plan which is being implemented within a financial management approach are the priorities which he listed in the order of health care delivery at number one, followed by education, national security, social services and public debt.
Giving a pictute of the state of the economy which is still heavily dependent on the oil and gas sector, he said, profits in taxes from oil companies have declined from $25 billion in 2008 to “an unbelievable” $472 million in 2017, while royalties among other taxes dropped from $15 billion in 2010 to $2.1 billion in 2017.
While revenue decreased, he said, transfers and subsidies increased from $17 billion in 2007 to $27.8 billion in 2016.
“That is the assignment handed to us in September 2017,” he said, and as such wisdom dictated that the budget be reduced from $62 billion in 2015 to a $50 billion budget this fiscal year. In spite of loss of revenues, he said, “official foreign reserves still stand at US$8.5 billion representing ten months of import cover. Unbelievable but true.”
While Government was forced to withdraw from the Heritage and Stablisation Fund, he said, its net asset value at August 2017 was US$5.7 billion. This is better than the net asset value of US$5.6 billion where it stood at September 2015.
“This is because the fund is continuing to earn very well and is being managed very well,” he said.
On retrenchment, he said, there were positive indicators that it was slowing down. Notices of retrenchment received for January 2017 to September 2017 was 1,134 compared with 2, 384 for the same period in 2016. For the for the period, September 2015 to September 2017, he said, 4,829 notices of retrenchment were received.
Against this background, too, he said, there is “a progressive decline” in unemployment. Government continues to monitor the unemployment situation, he said, it will continue to support maintenance of low end programmes like the Unemployment Relief Programme, CEPEP and OJT. Other areas, he focused on were housing, an investment framework, the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority and the need for the collection of property taxes. TT is the only country in the world, he said, where there are no property taxes even though it is the law.