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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Over to you, MPs

The continuation of the budget debate today is an opportunity for both the Government and the Opposition to inspire confidence in policy-making by demonstrating they can work together in a non-partisan way when it comes to tackling our challenging economic situation.

The Government must not get distracted by tablecloths. It must set out to convince us of its plans with the requisite degree of detail. It must justify measures scientifically by citing past experience and expert projections of expected reach and financial impact.

During Monday’s budget presentation, Finance Minister Colm Imbert stated, “As a Government, we cannot pursue this transformation on our own. We are open to new ideas and solutions.” Now is the time to walk the talk. Let the utterly juvenile antics over the fashion choices of Princes Town MP Barry Padarath desist forthwith.

The Government must not only focus on defending its policies, it must demonstrate judicious conduct. It must show that it can listen and take on the concerns and suggestions made by citizens, even citizens who are armchair academics.

There is a lot to unpack in the 2018 budget and we hope individual ministers will take this opportunity to set out their plans for the year ahead. The debate must resist the familiar pitfall of placing too much emphasis on the past.

While it is important that we understand how we have come to be where we are today, what citizens, business people and investors need to know more pressingly is what is going to happen moving forward. It is safe to say that after three years, the honeymoon is over.

At the same time, the Opposition cannot get off lightly. It cannot simply gallery to the public. It will have to demonstrate that it is a government-in-waiting and has a viable alternative plan to that presented by the Government. And it cannot afford to lightly ignore any attacks on its credibility given past historical performance, particularly with regard to the PP Government’s level of spending.

Our wish for the budget debate is that it, for the first time in our country’s history, matches the degree of imagination, creativity and vitality that so clearly resides among our people. The year is 2017, it is time to be gone with the old same old, same old approach to Budget debates. These are desperate times calling for desperate measures.

The Government and Opposition must come together to work constructively to rectify the deep-seated economic problems that are currently destroying the quality of life of all members of our society: from the poor man struggling to find work and feed himself to the rich woman living in a country where CEOs are murdered and none are held accountable.

What the PNM and UNC MPs must today understand is this: for the first time in generations it is not readily apparent where our future revenue will come from. Oil and gas reserves notwithstanding, the world’s geopolitical climate has literally changed. There is a clear move away from fossil fuels. The longer we persist in attaching ourselves to this dead horse, the worse our ailment will become.

How can we demonstrate the truth in the words of Black Stalin? “We could make it if we try,” said Imbert on Monday.

To do this we need to acknowledge, as both sides have failed to acknowledge, that economic reform cannot be achieved in one year’s time. In fact, the problems we face today have been in existence for decades under successive PNM and UNC administrations. It is only a non-partisan approach, broaching the political divide, that can restore confidence and hope for current and future generations.

Over to you, MPs.

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