THE local government election bell is yet to be rung, but the United National Congress (UNC) is getting set to take control.
At the Rio Claro meeting of the party on Monday night, Mayaro MP Rushton Paray rolled out plans to embark on a journey to restore the economy to stability and elevate living standards.
Comparing the state of the country during the tenure of Kamla Persad-Bissessar People’s Partnership administration to the present situation under the People’s National Movement (PNM) government, Paray said there will be laser focus on transforming TT into a modern, competitive and technologically driven society.
He outlined the UNC's record of accomplishment from 2010 to 2015, comparing it to what he said was the poor track record of the PNM, which had failed in every sector, for people to make their choices.
Between 2010 and 2015, he said, crime had reached its lowest level, bolstered by the establishment of the National Operations Centre, Counter Human Trafficking Unit, Rapid Response Unit and other agencies that delivered tangible results.
Today, under the PNM, he charged, “National security has reached an unprecedented state of crisis.”
Pointing to inflation, which he said had been a mere three per cent, the lowest in two decades, a surge in food production, providing gainful employment to more farmers, and reduction of the food import bill, the reverse is now evident, he said.
“The cost of food has skyrocketed by up to 100 per cent since 2016. Local food production has declined, resulting in a staggering $6 billion annual food importation bill.
“Fuel prices have multiplied fivefold. Pharmaceutical costs have surged, making essential medications increasingly unaffordable.
“The wealth gap has widened, with a privileged few amassing riches while the working masses grow poorer. “
Amidst this, he said public-sector workers have been forced to accept a four per cent wage increase, leaving them unable to provide adequately for their families.
“Shockingly, one in three nationals now lives below the poverty line, struggling to meet their monthly expenses.
“Unemployment rates have reached their highest levels since the 1980s, and the government manipulates official figures to hide the true extent of the crisis.
Under the PP, he said, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) flourished, with over 24,000 businesses creating 200,000 jobs and contributing 35 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product for the period.
This once-vibrant sector, he said, had again been severely affected, leading to widespread unemployment, limited career opportunities and diminished competitiveness in the marketplace under the PNM.
While foreign direct investment soared for global and domestic investors, with US$2.5 billion in 2012 and an average of US$1.5 billion annually, “TT became a beacon of opportunity for global and domestic investors.
“Our country reached new heights in the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business metrics, attracting businesses, and fostering economic growth, transformation and development.
"Now foreign investors no longer see TT as an attractive destination and existing investors are fleeing.
Paray boasted of the UNC's diversification plans, the setting up of the Children’s Life Fund, which saved the lives of 120 of the most vulnerable citizens, an increase in health care facilities, a minimum-wage increase from $9 to $12.50, higher pensions and NIS benefits, expended food assistance programmes and additional services for the elderly and infirm.
He spoke of the construction of thousands of homes, regularisation of land ownership and home improvement subsidies, along with other initiatives his party offered.
More households enjoyed the privilege of 24/7 pipe-borne water supply, but ambitious plans to further improve water delivery were curtailed when his government lost office.
“Today, our healthcare system, social services, water delivery and education system are all in a state of sharp decline, depriving our citizens of essential support and opportunities.”
While education received unprecedented attention, evident from the exam results, construction and refurbishment of schools, including the new Debe university campus, distribution of 70,000 laptops, plus a revamped curriculum, he painted a completely opposite picture of today’s reality.
“In the face of this dire situation, it is crucial to acknowledge that the PNM government currently operates with a national budget of $61.4 billion. The question we must ask is: where is this money going, if it fails to improve the quality of our citizens' lives?
“Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Trinidadians and Tobagonians, the time has come for the UNC to reclaim national office.”