MP Chaguanas East Constituency
Behind the veneer of 'consultation' the Keith Rowley administration is guilty of 'democratic despotism'. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous text Democracy in America, describes it best: "the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society...it softens them, bends them and directs them; rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."
Interestingly, the Keith Rowley administration has introduced a litany of cutbacks to education and training and the sub-sector of tertiary education and skills training since assuming office in September 2015. These include the:
�2 Closure of a vibrant and impactful Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training
�2 Cuts to the Gate programme from over $700 million in 2015 to $500 million by 2018
�2 Cuts in the number of scholarships from 447 in 2014 to 389 in 2017
�2 Cuts to the stipends to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students
�2 Reintroduction of 12.5 per cent VAT on books and computers (previously zero-rated)
�2 Discontinuation of the laptop programme at the secondary school level
In fiscal 2017, education and training was allocated TT$7.2 billion or 13.5 per cent of the national budget as compared to TT$10.1 billion or 15.7 per cent of the national budget in fiscal 2015. The PNM has significantly cut expenditure on education and training in real and relative terms since assuming office. Is education and training no longer a priority for the PNM?
UWI–Cuts to the university system have been deep and dire. Funding to the Direct University Services to UWI has been cut by TT$22.8 million (from TT$675 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$652.2 million in fiscal 2017) which will negatively impact on salaries, repairs and maintenance and utilities among other key areas of operating expenses. Lecturers are now being coerced into heavier workloads and nine-month contracts in some instances–an industrial environment that the unions ought to be very concerned about. Funding for scholarship winners pursuing medicine has been cut by TT$15.3 million (from TT$45.3 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$30 million in fiscal 2017). Funding to non-scholarship winners at UWI (50 per cent paid through subsidies at Mt Hope and 50 per cent paid through the GATE programme) has been cut by TT$19.5 million (from TT$39.5 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$20 million in fiscal 2017).
UTT–UTT was decimated by a TT$107.7 million cut (from TT$332.7 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$225 million in fiscal 2017). Cabinet by Minute No 1219 dated May 06, 2004, agreed, inter alia, to establish UTT to discover and develop entrepreneurs, commercialise research, and development and spawn companies for wealth generation. How will UTT cope with a 32 per cent cut in its budget between fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017? Is this a ploy for the PNM to send home staff under the ruse of downsizing or is this an admission that the PNM-led UTT has failed to deliver on its mandate?
TVET–All publicly funded TVET providers have suffered a dark fate under the PNM. While many countries around the world recognise TVET as a strategy for tackling youth unemployment, the PNM views TVET as collateral damage. During the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, countries such as Germany and Austria were least affected by youth unemployment because of well-embedded vocational and apprenticeship systems. The 2016 Review of the Economy reported that just over 50 per cent of the unemployed people in T&T during the January to March 2016 period comprised young people between the ages of 15 to 29 years.
MuST–The Multi-sector Skills Training (MuST) Programme (TT$28 million), Helping Youth Prepare for Employment (HYPE) Programme (TT$21.8 million), MIC Craft Programme (TT$12.7 million), MIC National Skills Development Programme (TT$10.6 million), MIC Pleasantville Technology Centre (TT$5.9 million), MIC Government Vocational Centre (TT$3.6 million), MIC Penal Technology Centre (TT$1.3 million) and MIC Workforce Assessment Centre (TT$1.3 million) have been cumulatively cut by TT$85 million (from TT$172 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$87 million in fiscal 2017 across all of these programmes and centres). Our young people, especially those at risk, will be adversely affected.
Ytepp–The Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (Ytepp) Programme which was established through an international partnership with the World Bank in 1988 to curb youth unemployment has been cut by $49.6 million (from TT$94.6 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$45 million in fiscal 2017). Cycles 41 and 44 of Ytepp have been deferred until further notice because of funding constraints. Student intake has plummeted because of 'restructuring exercises'. Staff are not able to access severance benefits. Ytepp has been forced to relocate offices from leased premises to the Woodford Lodge site constructed by the People's Partnership government. Ytepp is in crisis mode.
NESC–The National Energy Skills Centre, which has produced thousands of technicians over the years to support the energy sector, has been cut by TT$27.5 million (from TT$47.5 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$20 million in fiscal 2017). The Military-Led Programme of Apprenticeship and Re-orientation Training (MY-PART) also managed by the NESC has been cut by TT$4.8 million (from TT$12.8 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$8 million in fiscal 2017). Servol has been cut cumulatively by TT$8.1 million (from TT$27.1 million in fiscal 2016 to TT$19 million in fiscal 2017). How could the PNM contemplate cutting critical social programmes such as My-Part and Servol when crime and deviant behaviour continue to spiral out of control in T&T?
The actions of the PNM are those of an unschooled government. The Keith Rowley administration budgeted a TT$3 billion deficit in October 2015. By September 2016, the budget deficit rose to TT$7.3 billion–a TT$4.3 billion miscalculation. Let us pray that the PNM's projected budget deficit of TT$6 billion for fiscal 2017 (as severe as it is already) is not erroneous yet again–as the future generations will have to bear the burden of their political incompetence.