Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday says the 2009/10 national budget offers no hope for the people of T&T. Panday said so during his three-hour budget response in the House of Representatives yesterday.
It was the first time he responded to a budget in three years because in the first instance his Couva North seat was declared vacant because of a court ruling and on the second occasion he was suspended because of his failure to heed a ruling by Speaker Barendra Sinanan about the use of a laptop computer during the particular sitting. Panday warned that after the $44.3 billion budget was approved the Central Bank would reveal the true state of the national economy. "The data which the Central Bank will produce conveniently after this Budget debate is finished will show that T&T is in fact, undeniably in a recession." He said the country's economy was in trouble because of the reckless spending and mismanagement of the economy by the Patrick Manning administration over the past several years. "The only plan the government has is to spend, spend and spend," Panday added. He said the budget "offered nothing to spark a resurgence in any sector of the economy." He said the Opposition UNC had no confidence in the Minister of Finance's projection of positive growth in 2010.
"We see nothing to engender public confidence and to stimulate consumer spending. We see nothing here to stem the fall in business confidence." He said the Finance Minister was engaging in a course of action that would burn a huge hole in the country's foreign reserves in fiscal 2010. He then warned of "a very real possibility of a serious problem." Panday also warned of an imminent devaluation. "The Government's reckless expenditure pattern is pushing this country towards a possible devaluation in the short term.". To this PM Manning responded telling Panday: "That was very irresponsible." Panday said Tesheira should make a firm statement on that matter during the debate. He noted that the Review of the Economy, which was presented with other budget documents was not presented this year. He said that was contempt of Parliament. During his response, Panday was heard coughing on several occasions, prompting Prime Minister Patrick Manning to advise him to "stay out of the dew at nights", to which Panday responded: "If we had a good health system here I would not be like this." Panday was very critical of Tesheira saying the budget was only about "spending, spending and spending." Panday said citizens still slept on the floor in public hospitals, the education system was irrelevant to the nation's needs, the agriculture sector remained undeveloped, the manufacturing sector was on the decline, the minimum wage is unacceptably low.
"The only thing growing in this country is crime," Panday said. He accused the Government of engaging in public relations gimmickry and failing to keep promises to citizens. Panday made a direct call to Prime Minister Patrick Manning to remove World record holder and former West Indies cricket captain, Brian Lara from the stadium being constructed in Tarouba, south Trinidad. "Mr PM for the sake of Brian Lara, remove his name from that," he added to sustained desk-thumping. Panday said the Government was unable to say last week when the project would be completed and at what cost. "And you call that prudent management. I wonder what our zealous Minister of Finance has done to ensure transparency, accountability and value for money on that project," Panday added.
Dealing with the significant increase in penalties for road traffic offences to reduce the carnage on the nation's roads, Panday said it would not work. He suggested instead that police officers be equipped with speed guns. "If the Minister was really serious about addressing the carnage on the roads she would have implemented the Breathalyser. These fines are pure and simple desperate attempts to prop up government expenditure." He said the Government was seeking to "fill a void caused by squander mania." Dealing with tints on vehicles, Panday said employees of the Licensing Division were being put at a disadvantage in the execution of their duties as a special piece of equipment is required to prove that a tint was illegal. He said the property tax was "infamous and notorious." He said the initiative to increase existing property taxes was "a desperate attempt to raise funds to satisfy the government's spending craze." He said the Property Tax was a "regressive" measure and suggested that the measure should be withdrawn.