The 2018 budget which has traumatised a wide cross-section of society and which has betrayed the trust of the people, is a bankrupt, brutal and biased one, long on rhetoric but short on substance, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday. ” She said the budget will further pauperise the nation.
Speaking while hundreds marched in protest of higher taxes and increased fuel prices outside the Parliament Tower, Persad-Bissessar said Finance Minister obfuscated, distorted and fudged the numbers presented and uttered some blatant untruths. She called on government to heed the cries of every single sector in TT, “From the top to the bottom, from businessman to fisherman, from single mother to the high end CEO.”
She called on government to bring back the baby grant. Noting the groundswell of public anger and disenchantment with the budget, Persad-Bissessar said, “We are convinced they are clinging to the ledge by their finger nails. They are as stable as jello.”
ROWLEY GUILTY AS SIN
On behalf of protesting gaming industry workers, she called on Imbert to meet with them in good faith to continue discussions with respect to the Gaming Bill at the Joint Select Committee which Parliament was engaged in before he implements any “draconian” taxation proposed.
On Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s attempt to escape responsibility for the budget’s content, by saying he was happy he is not the Minister of Finance, Persad-Bissessar said, that very position makes him “As guilty as sin”, since he carries the full responsibly for policy and governance.
Noting the government continues to blame her administration and everyone else for its incompetence and mismanagement of the economy, she said: “This blame game must end. You blame the police for crime. You blame parents for delinquency. You blame public officers for corruption. You blame residents for flooding and...you blame Kamla for everything.”
Among his first acts, she said, Rowley hired a lobbyist known to him for millions of dollars without process, then declared that corruption is his biggest challenge. Imbert, she said, created history with this budget as it is the first in living memory to have alienated every single sector of the national community.
The budget, she said, “Demonstrates a brutal betrayal of the people littered as it is with rehashed and broken promises”, and which is, “Biased in favour of the super elite.”
While Government has been groaning about her administration spending money, she said, over the past two years they cut funding to critical areas like tertiary education and health care and choose instead to focus on vanity projects like million-dollar paintings and cars, soca on the seas.
“They have wasted $3.5 million for the chair of CL Financial on sexual harassment charges; Roamsingh Shampha’s $59,000 bill; Smith’s $92,000 romp in Tobago; Massy Communications’ $225 million; lobbyist’s $18 million; Petrotrin strike cost $4 million; Ernst and Young, $20 million for audits; PwC, $10.5 million for audits; Brian Lara Stadium, $100 million; soca on the seas, $3 million; paintings, $3 million;
House in Tobago, $20 million; jazz festival, $12 million; golf course in South Trinidad, $.25 million; $3 million for CDA golf course; CEPEP legal fees to sue Moonilal, $.5 million; $2.5 million for a fete match to open the Lara Cricket Academy; $100 million on fake oil,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“Does this sound like a government without money? You cannot fool all the people all the time.”
It is distressing, she said, to see all the good work undertaken by her administration crushed by this PNM administration which is bankrupt of ideas.
On the notion that all will bear the burden of adjustment, she said, “It is common knowledge that taxes on corporations, private hospitals, the banks, the so-called wealthy businesses will be passed on to the common man. At the end of the day, the patient who can’t get treatment at the public hospital will pay more at the private institution. The poor bank customer or account holders will absorb the bank charges. And the working class will pay for taxes or increases on tyres, diesel and inspection fees. All this so the Rowley led government can find $3 million to upgrade a golf course. This is obscenity personified!”
On distorting and fudging numbers in order to lay blame at her government, Persad-Bissessar said, increase in expenditure started under the PNM which represented the largest increase in expenditure in TT’s history, moving from a budget of $15 billion in 2002 to $45 billion in 2009.
This represented a $30 billion or 300 percent increase over the period. Under her administration, she said, expenditure increased from $45 billion to $62 billion, an increase of $17 billion or 36 percent.
Government at the moment, she said, is unable to reduce expenditure from the $50 billion level even though they said there is need to cut their cloth to suit their coat.
“My government reduced expenditure to $57 billion in 2015 from the previous year’s $62 billion when the price of oil collapsed notwithstanding that it was an election year,” she said.
The deficit was also $2.7 billion in 2015 and has since increased even when the Minister is saying he needs to reduce expenditure. During her tenure in office, she said, the country experienced the largest increase in output and employment in history.