IT’S SAFE to say the Government’s latest budget presented us with much of the same: the cutting of the fuel subsidy continues an old policy, the refusal to budge on public-sector wages simply maintains the course set for months now, and forging ahead with property tax was a foregone conclusion given the history of that initiative.
Clearly the Government feels this lack of change is a virtue. The Prime Minister has urged the population to “stay the course.”
But if the Government has presented us with much of the same, so too has Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her response, delivered last Friday in Parliament.
In fact, Mrs Persad-Bissessar took things a notch higher by proposing to revive many old initiatives.
At a time when the world is turning away from hydrocarbons, she proposed to “restart a reformed Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery.” She promised a sugar cane industry at Brechin Castle. There will be industrial parks. Ports are to be revitalised. The Children’s Life Fund will come back.
“Tenacity and stability” was the Government’s theme, while “Bring back the ole time days” might have been the Opposition’s.
To be fair to both, there are initiatives which both have mentioned in passing which are new. And there will obviously be merits and demerits to many old policies (few, for example, might quarrel with the Children’s Life Fund returning, or the need for more agriculture).
But listening to the budget debate it is hard not to get the feeling that most MPs seem to be far too beholden to old ideas and old ways of addressing a dramatically changed world.
Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland’s awkward invocation of holy scripture was not the only backward-looking aspect of his contribution. His call for people to go back to using coal pots was truly baffling. Telling a story about hearing someone complain about not being able to buy cooking gas, the MP said he still roasted breadfruit using a coal pot.
Mr Scotland did not add to the pot the fact that while the Government is cutting the fuel subsidy for motor vehicles, it is still subsiding cooking gas at the same level, with Finance Minister Colm Imbert pointing out in the budget that the cost of an LPG cylinder will stay at $21 for domestic customers.
Nor did the MP seem to have any thoughts about coal itself as a source of pollution.
Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo ridiculed Mr Scotland’s promise to cycle to Parliament to reduce fuel costs and facetiously called on all government MPs to do so.
But the irony is that more green practices like cycling are precisely what the State needs to facilitate now.
We need a palpable sense of a new mindset and the urgency of change, not dinosaurs dressed up as MPs.