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Rowley: Babycare grant to ‘make poor poorer’

Published: 
Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Government’s babycare grant is “false generosity” that will make the poor poorer, Opposition PNM Leader Dr Keith Rowley has declared. Delivering his reply to the 2014-2015 budget in Parliament yesterday, Rowley was critical of the idea, among other areas of government management.

In a two-hour delivery on the theme “The Missing Years,” in which he compared the PP’s economic management with the previous PNM administration’s, Rowley also attacked Finance Minister Larry Howai numerous times. Rowley said the budget was “nothing more than an extensive spending list—testimony to gross negligence in the management of T&T’s economic affairs.

“The proposed budget is an election gimmick constructed and presented in the hope that the Government could give as much as possible in the expectation that this would wipe out the unpleasant memories that we have been living through for the last four years.

“We expected the Government to come with an election budget and they didn’t disappoint. We expected them to go into overdrive on expenditure and they surely surpassed that. We expected them to be short on revenue ideas and they lived up to all of our very low expectations of them.” He said the PNM was not committed to a “gimme-gimme” society and was not a “gimmick-to-win-an-election” party.

“The free-for-all that was manifested in the budget speech that was presented on Monday demonstrates this inherent capacity to be only concerned with the next election. There is a talking point that the PP will create a ‘Baby Fund’ with $500 to help expectant mothers in need. “At first blush this vaps seems to be a generous gesture, but as we examine it more closely we discover the deeply retrograde and irresponsible social engineering that such a programme generates.”

Taking issue with the Prime Minister’s initial statement on it, Rowley said, “Such a statement suggests that in making this announcement the PP did not think through the implications of its ideas. It is merely something they expect to do without having any sense of how such a proposal can affect the people it purports to serve. Such considerations are not important to the PP. It’s just give away, spend, thief and the devil take the hindmost.

“We in the PNM suggest the devil is always in the details. It is the small aspects in these projects and schemes, often overlooked, which cause enormous problems in the future. 

“What at first appears to be the epitome of caring and benevolence—a baby fund—turns out to be false generosity, a way of acting and thinking that makes the poor poorer and the dispossessed the object of helplessness and dehumanisation. Such false generosity simply leaves these unfortunate people in a perpetual state of grovelling, crying out, as Oliver Twist did, ‘Please sir, can I have some more.’” 

Rowley accused Howai of not coming clean on T&T’s financial position, of “secretly funding Life Sport with $400 million” which organised crime was using, and not speaking about it in the budget, of trying to hoodwink Parliament on Tobago’s allocation and on the FCB/IPO issue. He also accused Howai of “sleight of hand” on non-tax revenue.

Howai obtained two minutes speaking time afterwards to deny Rowley’s claims on Tobago. A correction was also circulated to Rowley’s claim that 17 Caroni Green employees were terminated. The statement said the company returned employees who were temporarily assigned to it to their Caroni (1975) Ltd employers in August. 

Rowley said Caroni Green was an expensive experiment which failed. He said a senior executive had been at the centre of a $12 million claim filed against his substantive employer, Caroni (1975) Ltd, of which his Caroni Green employer had no knowledge. “Were it not for the suspicion of a High Court judge, that senior executive may have been the beneficiary of a default judgment against the taxpayers of this country for $12 million,” Rowley said.

He said the Caroni (1975) Ltd board, in dismissing the acting CEO, as it intended to, in October 2013 and reporting the High Court claim as a fraud against the company, “took the unprecedented decision to transfer him to Caroni Green.”

He cited a letter dated October 28, 2013, from the chairman of Caroni (1975) Ltd to the acting CEO in which the chairman advised the acting CEO of his transfer to Caroni Green as manager, with all his terms and conditions of employment, including a $40,000 monthly compensation package. 

He said in February 2013, Cabinet approved a one-off financial grant of $4 million to Caroni (1975) Ltd to “effect the required land preparation works on 1,800 acres of lands carded for cultivation in Phases 1 and 2 of the Caroni Green initiative.” But by May 2014, it had incurred expenditure of more than $11 million, without having met Cabinet’s  objectives, he claimed.

He said the Government’s failure to implement some form of property tax continued to be of concern and “millions of dollars are allowed to flow down the drain.” He said there had been no discussion of any new revenue-raising measures to offset increasing expenditure over the medium term.

Rowley said the Government should state the valuation of the Clico Methanol Holdings Ltd shares and the expected windfall from the Clico matter concluded on Thursday. Rowley knocked fees paid by the Attorney General’s office to lawyers, including $130 million in the 2015 budget. He claimed fees for the five-year term totalled $600 million and some lawyers were hired by state enterprises to do specific work.

Rowley said the AG had sued him Thursday. “And you lose...” said PP’s Roodal Moonilal. “Lose?” Rowley sputtered in reply. He said after condemning several PNM initiatives, the PP was now embracing them. “In this budget of shame they say we have no shame. All that’s happened at the end of their tenure is that we’ve had our development derailed, valuable time has been lost in the process. In our developmental history 2010–2015, this period will be known as the missing years,” Rowley said.

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