THE Prime Minister must apologise to the people of Tobago for mockingly saying “Ferry, ferry, ferry!” in his national address on Sunday night as these remarks were insensitive to the plight of Tobagonians over the sea-bridge disruption, said Congress of the People (COP) leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan.
Accusing Dr Rowley of a lack of compassion, she said, “To say, ‘Ferry, ferry, ferry’ suggests he has no understanding of its impact on Tobagonians, and on Trinidadians needing to go to Tobago." She scoffed that Rowley address had been “big on graphics, but small on details.”
Seepersad-Bachan said the address seemed to be a public relations exercise to tout the billions of dollars to be spent on mega-projects, but which money she feared could be wasted if the projects are rushed in time for the upcoming 2020 general election.
She supported the idea of developing the San Fernando Waterfront, saying that as former San Fernando West MP she had held many consultations on it and then passed on her report for whoever succeeded her (Faris Al-Rawi, Attorney General.) However she marvelled at Dr Rowley’s suggestion of an allocation of an initial $1 billion for the waterfront upgrade, saying the project, when finished, should be a revenue-generator and so be able to attract private investors.
Likewise, Seepersad-Bachan questioned the Government’s funding of other projects. Saying it seemed Dr Rowley’s call for $1 billion to be spent to build a pipeline to Venezuela’s Dragon gas field would be footed by taxpayers rather than by the National Gas Company being an equity partner, she said, “Why are the taxpayers funding this?” She wondered if oil firm Shell would also be contributing to costs. Seepersad-Bachan also asked how much TT would sell that gas for (to downstream producers), and whether this price would justify the pipeline construction cost paid by the taxpayer.
Questioning the Sandals resort, she said, “Where are the details to show this is a commercially viable project? You shut Petrotrin because they don’t pay taxes, but how many tax breaks are you giving to Sandals? Where are the job opportunities coming from?” Seepersad-Bachan urged that Parliament or one of its committees be allowed to debate the pros and cons of Sandals.
She questioned the PM’s broadcast itself. “The Prime Minister spoke about squandermania by the past government, but what did the PM’s presentation cost to be broadcast for one hour on all stations?”
Seepersad-Bachan asked if such expenditure had been officially budgeted for.
“It looks like the start of political campaigning.”
Asking if this was an abuse of state resources for political ends, she said, “We have to draw a line between government and party. An address to the nation is usually when you have some critical issue to deal with that the nation needs to be alerted to urgently. That was no address to the nation.”
Seepersad-Bachan, a former energy minister, challenged Rowley’s comparison of oil production in Nigeria and TT where he had lamented that the former had earned US$3.6 billion in taxes from US$6.8 billion in oil sales, compared to just US$31 million raked in by TT for a similar value of oil sold.
She said that while Nigeria is largely commencing the exploitation of crude oil, most fields in TT were either matured fields of low output (in shallow areas) such as the “fully-exploited Columbus Basin” or were further afield and therefore much more costly to exploit. These far-flung fields included those that were in shallow seas but at a “deep horizon,” that is, far under the earth, or were those in deep waters out to sea. “The cost of exploration goes up considerably,” Seepersad-Bachan said of the far-flung fields.
She said tax breaks must be given to firms exploring in TT, because the oil was largely in small pools that were often stranded. Further, oil deep in the earth was at a higher pressure than normal and was therefore more dangerous to drill and sometimes needed specially-designed technology, recalling a case where this exact thing had happened to BP in TT deep waters.