The economy has gone from being on life support to totally dead under the People’s National Movement.
This was how Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar summed up Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s presentation on the Mid-Year Budget Review yesterday in Parliament, adding he did not put forward any policy or plans in place for the country’s real development.
“They were all regurgitated. They were the same ole...same ole,” Persad-Bissessar said in response to Imbert’s 44- minute presentation, which she said was based on figures but lacked substance.
“We expected a plan but all we got was deflection and distraction.”
The Siparia MP scoffed at some of the statistics Imbert used to demonstrate growth in the economy. She said the population could not carry (numbers) to the supermarkets.
“You cannot eat statistics and you cannot carry it to the grocery. The UNC is about people-centred development,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar said the six-game changers - which included the Tobago Sandals project and the Dragon Gas deal with Venezuela - which Imbert had put forward in his 2019 budget last October to stimulate the economy had collapsed, while citizens have been suffering to make ends meet, people felt unsafe in their own homes due to rising crime and poor health care was the order of the day.
She teased the Government, telling them their game changers plan had turned to “games” for the population and come 2020 the United National Congress will assume office again.
“Our economy has collapsed under this incompetent Government. So what we see here today, moving closer to the elections, they have been ignoring the needs of citizens while rewarding friends, families and financiers.”
Persad-Bissessar first trained her guns on Imbert, saying he failed to mention anything about BPTT’s inability to meet the natural gas needs of Train One in 2020 and 2021, which the company announced last Friday.
If Train One is mothballed, Persad-Bissessar said this would result in significant shortfalls in gas production and revenues for the country.
“The Government owes some kind of explanation to the country as to what could happen or what should happen with respect to Train One. This has serious and profound consequences and major implication for every single sector of our nation.”
She said the Government had no contingency plans in place to deal with this issue, as it had treated the energy sector with contempt.
“As a result, the energy sector is now on life support facing a very uncertain future. I know that we own shares in Atlantic LNG Train One and therefore should this be mothballed it is going to affect the dividends we could have got from these,” she said.
“Does the Government have a plan to keep Train One going? We expected the Minister of Finance to lay out a clear plan or speak to the required adjustments for this new development, which only came to light on Friday. No mention whatsoever of this (Train One), which is a major issue now in our energy and gas sectors.”
Persad-Bissessar said she wondered if Imbert had heeded the warning of economists for Government to reduce its reliance on the energy industry.
“Will we need to borrow more next year if Train One is not producing revenue? Will that financing be more expensive due to Government’s reduced revenues? Will the Government raise taxes again to make up for loss revenue? Is the Government planning to dip further in the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund to make up for the potential shortfall?”
The reality, Persad-Bissessar said, is that the is in a deep crisis, people have been hurting and businesses borrowing to keep afloat, as life under the Dr Keith Rowley administration has been extremely difficult.
“Take a look at who is getting the mega contracts from this Government?”
Persad-Bissessar admitted that since demitting office in 2015, the UNC had learned from its mistakes, adding they have a transformation master plan which they would roll out as local government elections draw closer.
This plan, she said, hinges on diversifying the economy, creating 50,000 jobs, major projects and boosting the agriculture sector among others.
Persad-Bissessar said the shutting down of Petrotrin’s refinery also requires a forensic investigation, as this constitutes a criminal act against workers and communities.
“Last year, I told you that the economy was sick and on life support. Today, the economy is dead because of the actions or inactions of this Government. Today, the Government is involved in a futile exercise to try to resuscitate the dead economy with all the massive borrowings, debts to GDP ratio. This supplementation is like an installation of a pacemaker after the heart has stopped beating,” she said.