Finance Minister Colm Imbert says that a couple weeks ago he only had enough money in the Government’s current account to run the country for five minutes.
He was speaking on Friday night at the People’s National Movement (PNM) post-budget public meeting held at Piggott’s Corner, Belmont.
He said he saw a letter from Central Bank Governor Dr Alvin Hilaire around mid-September about the overdraft on the Government’s current account at the Central Bank. He said the previous administration took the country from $6 billion in credit at the Central Bank to $9 billion in the negative, burning up $15 billion in cash. “So we been running this country for the last 24 months with the overdraft up to the limit.”
Imbert said Government was often told they had to stop written cheques and issuing releases.
He said in the letter from the Central Bank Governor, he was informed the overdraft was at 99.7 per cent of the limit which meant there was a couple million left in the current account. Imbert said it costs $4 billion to run the country for a month and about $30 million a day and when the Governor wrote him three weeks ago, he had enough money in the current account to run the country for about five minutes. He said with a good team and cash from commercial banks they were able to run the country.
“So we had a very difficult thing. But we made it through. And we are going to make it through 2018 and…2019 and…2020. We going to make it.”
He said after the previous administration “buss” the overdraft they then took out $16 billion from National Gas Company (NGC) dividends and changed the rules from the 50 per cent limit in any one year to 100 per cent in 2015.
“The Leader of the Opposition come (on Friday in Parliament) to try and deal with that. She said that’s not true. They didn’t take out 16 they only took out 11. Well even if it was 11, you know that is a lie, that is still plenty.” Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her presentation in Parliament on Friday said her government took $12.7 billion in dividends.
Imbert at the meeting said the Opposition Leader did not know they had information from a Joint Select Committee chaired by Opposition Senator Wade Mark proving that $16 billion had been withdrawn and this was presented in the Lower House by PNM MP Stuart Young.
“They couldn’t say a word because is Wade Mark say so.”
Imbert said Government brought the budget from $63 billion (2015/2016) to $50 billion and described the $13 billion as representing the waste, mismanagement and corruption from the previous administration. He said, however, that even with the new taxes and “an army” to go after everyone who is evading payments the best Government can raise is $40 billion, a shortfall of $10 billion.