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Rowley slams budget as another Govt misstep
“The absolute worst budget statement ever presented in Parliament!” That was how Opposition leader Keith Rowley described new Finance Minister Larry Howai’s first budget, hitting the former banker some stiff verbal blows in the House of Representatives 2013 budget debate yesterday.
Deeming Howai’s package “another major misstep,” Rowley said: “This is the third time we have been privileged to watch the Government present random numbers and praise itself in the process.
“We gave them every chance to get it right. They failed. They have too much confidence in trickery and deception. The Government has lost the trust of the people. This budget has written their epitaph. It reads: good riddance! Howai, sitting opposite Rowley, took the two-hour attack stoically.
Rowley, who also waded into Former Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, said Howai had not properly grasped the assignment of preparing and reporting on a budget. “The budget statement as presented by the minister is remarkable in that it makes no pretence at reporting on or analysing the projections and targets as set and attempted by the budgetary arrangements of the previous year, 2012.
“This should put the national population on notice that this minister is about to engage in shenanigans.” He criticised Howai’s view of the economy and his admission to the Chamber of Industry and Commerce that he did not have the numbers of the 2012 performance.
“In the Trinidad and Tobago dictionary, we have a word for this, which everyone can understand. It is called ratchifee,” Rowley added. “The budget, which has been presented as a prescription for growth, is woefully off target and without any discernible engine. Except for a minor tinker here and there, the budget is a brave serving of yesterday’s meal, with all the culinary appeal of leftovers of the Dookeran era.”
He said Howai had promised to bring austerity measures, then flip-flopped after the PNM’s march to bring the largest budget. “It’s called panic budgeting. That is why the thing is so short on details and without connectivity.” he said. Saying Howai had a “nerve,” he said the finance minister had cut the allocation for the Opposition’s office and the Parliament Television Channel.
The Opposition asked for $4.5 million and received $2.8 million, while the Parliament Channel, which needed $2.5 million, received $500,000. “The minister obviously intends to minimise or silence the Parliament Channel. The minister’s idea of austerity is curtailing allocations to perceived enemies, as described by the prime minister,” Rowley said.
Asking if Howai could be taken seriously, he said also, “The minister’s confidence in the public-private partnership contract model as a stimulant for economic growth is quite alarming, given some of the latest information emerging from around the world on these contracting models.”
Rowley hit the presentation on the Clico and HCU matters, and slammed Howai’s “Guyana food basket” plan, saying it was based on the failed Caribbean Food Corporation. On the plan to cut the food import bill by 50 per cent over the next 36 months, he said, “Until he can tell us exactly what crops and other items we will produce in such quantity, locally and what imported items they are guaranteed to replace, this crazy target is not even pie in the sky.”
Calling for answers from Howai on whether VAT removal is temporary, Rowley said, ”Surely this could not be the same VAT that attended the pre-budget rally at Mid-Centre Mall. This has to be a vat of rum or a vat that will disappear after your next meal. “Was this an act of desperation to regain favour in the light of the population’s reaction to the Government’s surreptitious proclamation of Section 34 and the aftermath?” he asked.
He said Howai came with an old plan on fuel and his “nervous, piecemeal” tinkering might set off further significant increases in the price of gasoline. Rowley said although Howai didn’t provide the requisite funding for THA projects, “The minister’s growth pole idea for Tobago is DOA—dead on arrival.”
He said on assuming office after the next election, a new PNM Government would implement the rapid-rail project of the Manning administration with assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank. He outlined energy strategies which he said will be an important part of the platform the PNM will construct in the coming months.
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