Saying that storm clouds continue to gather over the nation, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday said that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s address to the nation last night, was all about him making excuses for his Government’s poor performance over the past two years.
Persad-Bissessar issued her own ‘address’, via a statement early yesterday, hours before Rowley spoke a little after 7 pm. Her release was entitled, ‘State of our Nation.’ In it, she hit a “clueless Government” that tried to paint a rosy picture of the economy but gave no plan for diversification and growth. She said that after 28 months of failure, Rowley’s address was, “to make excuses for his ineffective leadership and his Government’s non-performance.”
“We hope that in his Address to the Nation, the Prime Minister will account for the $115 billion spent since taking office.” Despite billions spent, Persad-Bissessar said, citizens continue to live in fear, the sick cannot get medication, children cannot access books and technology and thousands are without jobs.
ARE YOU BETTER OFF?
Asking citizens if they were better off today than in 2015, Persad-Bissessar said the Rowley Government has absolutely failed to deliver on any of its promises and finds itself embroiled in several self-inflicted controversies. These include the fake oil scandal, the floundering ferry issue and a crude attempt to censor freedom of expression.
“What the country has witnessed in the past 28 months is a dramatic decline in the quality of life of citizens with escalating crime, high unemployment, increased cost of living and an ailing health care and education system,” Persad-Bissessar said. She added that economically, the Government’s only measures are to increase taxes on citizens and borrow to meet recurrent expenditure.
Saying Government has wasted two years “hopelessly trying to stabilize the economy”, Persad-Bissessar said with their track record they will likely waste a third year unless they change course. “Their economic policy-making is characterized by impotence, incompetence and insensitivity.” Their policies caused the collapse of small and medium-sized enterprises, as only large conglomerates with access to saved capital and loans could survive in this economic environment.
Their failed economic policies including excessive taxation, continue to take a toll on the people of this country and have led to the decimation of all gains made between 2010 to 2015 under the People’s Partnership Government, when record revenues, GDP growth and job creation were achieved through prudent management, she said.
STORM CLOUDS HOVERING
Persad-Bissessar feared Government could lead the country to further downgrades by credit rating agencies, further declines of the TT dollar, a surge in unemployment, capital flight and hoarding and a tightening of lending by financial institutions.
“These factors, together with new taxes since fourth quarter 2015, the unavailability of foreign exchange, failure of the Government to pay debts and rising crime have the potential to create a perfect storm in 2018. As we begin 2018, the storm clouds are gathering. Should Government not rethink its plans and priorities, it will take Trinidad and Tobago into a perfect storm.” Persad-Bissessar offered suggestions to fix the economy, by a government with the right vision and will.
“The first critical step is to restore confidence and rebuild trust. The Government must come up with a credible medium-term economic plan, communicate the milestones of that plan, and act decisively in implementing the plan.”
She also urged Government to stop imposing a plethora of taxes on citizens.
“This is not generating revenue on the scale needed to drive growth in our economy. Instead, it is having the opposite effect: increasing the cost of doing business in the country.” She urged the Government to rescind tax hikes on businesses which together with the foreign exchange shortage will decimate the SME sector.
INVEST MORE IN EDUCATION
“The Government must also cease and desist from trying to secretly depreciate the TT dollar.” Persad-Bissessar said the Government must focus more on developing human capital.
“We call on them to rescind cuts to the education sector, re-invest in tertiary education and retrain the workforce to upgrade to the digital age, or TT will be left behind. The South Campus of the University of the West Indies should be completed and turned into an integrated facility for the introduction of certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees including those for the protective services and judicial offices.
“Existing trade agreements should be implemented and improved, and new trade agreements pursued with South and Central American countries, as well as West African countries,” she said. She urged protection of local manufacturers from unfair trade practices and illegal competition, such as by boosting the TT Bureau of Standards to prevent importation of substandard goods into TT.
Full pursuit of the digital economy to usher in the fourth industrial revolution, was also suggested. She said her party has a plan to advance TT. “We have a vision of a stronger, more prosperous Trinidad and Tobago, and a plan to return our country to growth, make our homes and streets safer, improve access to health care and education and create more jobs by rebuilding our economy with a drive powered by the innovation and creativity of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”