AT FOUR hours, the 2022-2023 budget presentation was a lot like your average pastry pie today – flaky on the outside, completely hollow on the inside.
Of course, this administration doesn't see it that way.
“This is probably the lowest fiscal deficit that the country has had for about 12 years,” trilled Colm Imbert at a post-budget forum.
Not quite a silver lining, all things considered; more like a lead lining in a coffin containing an economy long dead and showing no signs of stirring to resurrection.
To be fair, Imbert's statement is markedly sedate compared to previous celebratory (albeit patently false) budgetary declarations of turning the economy around.
Following his marathon presentation, the faces of his Cabinet colleagues telegraphed a frisson of pride – a sense of accomplishment. After all, they don't have to live with the impacts of the Government's policy decisions. With undeserved perks and allowances, they're largely immune to the worst effects of this administration's lack of imagination, ideas and strategy for economic recovery.
As far as they're concerned, the Government is doing a smashing job of steadying the ship amid a squall of global change and uncertainty.
It must seem that way from the deck of the vessel. It's far less so for all of us serfdom sloshing around in the rat-infested hold of the rotten HMS TT.
For his part, the Prime Minister made some peculiar remarks showing his administration's glaring detachment from the unending suffering of ordinary citizens.
“When you travel, consider your fuel bill if you get in that traffic at a particular hour for no good reason and crawling to Port of Spain from Sangre Grande. You burnt up fuel. And if you had chosen to go at a different time, you wouldn’t have had to burn up.
"But nobody, nobody thinks about the cost of fuel when they plan a trip in Trinidad and Tobago.”
“For no good reason.” What does that mean? Are we all masochists revelling in the torments of gridlock?
First of all, the only people on this island who don't think about the cost of fuel are likely MPs, who get a generous monthly transport allowance.
Moreover, the PM's utterance seemed to suggest the driving public is practically choosing to commute in traffic. Yes, that's why folks are getting up at 3 am to prepare for the day ahead. Maybe they lack enterprise.
Hear what, as soon as you get home in the evening from work, take a cowboy, kiss the children, drop them off at the orphanage and head straight back to the office to avoid the morning rush traffic!
Most reasonable people accept that a perpetual fuel subsidy is unsustainable. At issue is the timing of these drastic adjustments.
There are also other factors to consider. Had the Government invested years ago in properly decentralised public services, many thousands wouldn't have to make the pilgrimage into urban centres for basic transactions.
Furthermore, high fuel costs would be easier to bear if more government services were available online.
It's easier to just yank the subsidies and blame the public for not planning better to avoid traffic – traffic which, by the way, occurs now at almost every time of day. This is a natural adaptation to a wholly unreliable public transportation system.
Additionally, a culture of remote work would drastically cut down on traffic and fuel consumption.
When asked about the Government's remote-work policy, the PM suggested this is an impossibility for TT. You can't get people to work when they're in the office (yet they get paid, come hell or pandemic).
Eagle-eyed snipers online, though, pointed out that a remote-work policy featured prominently in a PNM election manifesto. Joke's on you for thinking the PM reads his party manifesto.
Not short on insults, the budget tossed the pigeons a tax concession. The bracket of people who are exempt from paying income tax has moved from $7,000 a month or less to $7,500 or less. Imbert imagines this beneficence will put more disposable income in the hands of consumers to “boost retail trade.”
That adjustment will amount to little more than shrapnel in people's back pockets. Also, prices are so crazy there's no chance of that “concession” offering any relief to the average householder at the cash register.
This budget, like its predecessors, is bulging with measures to further harden hardship. No clear strategy for building economic recovery and resiliency can be sighted.
I can see clearly now, Madam Speaker, there is no plan.