OPPOSITION Senator Jearlean John accused the Government of failing to tackle certain fundamental issues troubling this society, such as a pervasive alienation of thousands of rootless youngsters who were vulnerable to becoming victims or perpetrators of violent crime.
She said unlike past co-operation between former PNM head the late Patrick Manning and UNC head Basdeo Panday, she told the Senate during Thursday's budget debate the Opposition "cannot support Government's plans."
John said the US Government had issued a travel advisory on Trinidad and Tobago, as everyone knew crime was out of control."If crime remains out of control, capital will not come to these shores."She lamented that violent crime was just going on and on, as she lamented the "sheer brutality" of the recent murder of a 15-year-old boy whose body was found stuffed down a latrine.
"What could he have done to be killed?" she asked sadly. John urged, "We have to get to the fundamentals. What's causing people to behave the way they are behaving?"She saw the Government as offering nothing to get at the root of crime committed by young people. Talent, enthusiasm and flair existed all over TT, she said, but not opportunities. She recalled UK opposition leader Keir Starmer recently saying an early intervention could set a life in another direction if only someone stepped in.
Asking what the Government was initiating, she lamented 21-year-olds believed there was nothing to live for and "there was glory dying with a gun in their hand."Scoffing at the motto "One shot, one kill," coined by former police commissioner Gary Griffith, John advised, "We cannot shoot our way out of crime."
Saying the country needed proper statistics such as those to be provided by the long-talked-about National Statistical Institute, she said, "How do we know how many young men are out there running wild? Do they want to do agriculture?"
Complaining of gang-land borderlines, she lamented that residents of lower and upper Duncan Street cannot mingle. Urging an anti-crime plan, John quipped, "We have dollars, but what we need is sense." John criticised the budget, saying price hikes had hit Tobago worse than Trinidad. One person had told her of a bill rising by 40 per cent recently from $440 to $620.
"When the price of fuel goes up by $1 in Port of Spain, it goes up by $5 in Charlotteville.".She said the Government's $1,000 fuel grant was not a gift, and people were really under pressure. If global oil prices rise amid the Government's $1 billion cap on the gasoline subsidy, what will happen, she asked, saying people were not doing well.
John complained of recent remarks by certain government members as being arrogant, looking down on people, and as just talking whatever came to their mouth. She said, "The budget is not a cohesive plan you could wrap yourself around," adding that economist Dr Terrence Farrell had said it was just "pieces of initiatives."John urged improvements to the ease of doing business, including at agencies such as the Registrar General's Office, Board of Inland Revenue and the Town and Country Planning Division. "What I'm being told is that it's a nightmare to register a business."
John lamented that without getting official approvals, SMEs can't get bank credit, so many SMEs have had to close down owing to a resultant poor cash flow. She said SMEs may need to hire a financial professional, which is very costly.
The process was very onerous for them to list on the TT Stock Exchange, John noted. Seeking help for SMEs, she asked, "Can the Government help more with grants and training?"Saying people were willing to work, John said, "We mustn't count out our population or bet against them."She said the business levy and green fund – at six and three per cent respectively – were a financial burden on low-margin businesses like supermarkets and gas stations. These taxes had caused some businesses to close, John said.
John lamented the lengthy delays that SMEs face at Customs and Excise.
"For small businesses, time is money. They need money to turn over. It could be the difference in their child eating, or them paying a bill."Goods should not be stuck at the border for so long, she said, when they only needed to be subjected to a search for drugs and guns. She said the Government was preaching diversification but has done nothing to help SMEs to have a shot.
She noted VAT refund promises. Tax breaks to those earning $7,500 were welcome, but John said raising the minimum wage from $17.50 to $20 per hour would give an extra $400 per month to low earners.
John warned that raising the NIB retirement age from 60 to 65 would disenfranchise young graduates seeking jobs. She said the budget subscribed to the rich getting richer."It's very, very difficult for people to make it."
John warned that a 15 per cent deduction being required by reinsurers in Germany would likely be passed on to banks and energy companies in TT."This budget should have been jobs, jobs, jobs. But people are saying it is forward never, backward ever with this Government."