The Opposition believes T&T citizens and Venezuelans both stand to “feel the crunch” following international experts’ views on lack of economic growth and possible devaluation of the dollar as well as following an ad hoc Venezuelan amnesty plan by Government.
This view was confirmed by UNC MPs Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Rodney Charles, who spoke on Sunday at Office of the Opposition Leader, Charles Street, Port-of-Spain, respectively about the economic issues and the amnesty. They frowned heavily on Government’s approach regarding each.
“Everybody - everybody will suffer,” Tewarie replied on the effects of both situations.
“And signs of Venezuelans are most prevalent in South,” Charles added.
“One in every 10 people are Venezuelans. Many youths are seeking jobs. You see many women in bars and young men outside bars now... those funny places like Villa Capri, etc. You see women at Moneygram sending money home,” the MP said.
Tewarie said Venezuelans have also been working at car washes and manufacturing businesses in his constituency. He, however, voiced strong concerns about T&T’s economic situation following recent reports from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Fitch Solutions - all of which panned T&T’s economy and dollar.
Tewarie added, “The World Bank says T&T’s economy was not doing well and prospects going forward aren’t promising. The IMF recorded growth for 2018 as 0.3 and projected no growth for 2019. This is in stark contrast to the Finance Minister’s claims of higher growth rates. This means the economy is doing much worse than thought despite significant boost in natural gas production. The assessments make it clear there’s little or no connectivity between the natural gas economy and the non-energy sector.
“Most disconcerting of all is Fitch Solutions’ outlook that devaluation is inevitable, it cannot be staved off by continuing Central Bank interventions and that over-valuation of T&T’s dollar is a disincentive to investment, its affecting business confidence, and has created a black market,” he said.
“Central Bank’s June 2018 and January 2019 reports make it clear Central Bank’s Governor is doing his diplomatic best to avoid embarrassing the Minister who’s consistently made exaggerated claims of economic progress which are contradicted by facts, numbers and citizens’ experience,” Tewarie added.
Tewarie noted the T&T dollar’s black market value is $7-$8.
“The Minister’s statement that there’ll be no devaluation in 2019, gives no confidence. Rather, it creates tensions, fuels speculation and will probably accelerate hoarding and capital flight,” he added.
“End result of all this is citizens and businesses feel rudderless, direction-less and unmanaged. Insecure and in search of hope. Youths are badly affected, many in their 20s have graduated and are unable to find a job. There’s silent but persistent brain drain of the young and talented,” he said.
Given the IMF’s report of economic stagnation, and if T&T’s economy can only absorb 20,000 low end workers, Charles said any properly planned amnesty should recognise T&T’s dilemma.
“How, for instance, will the 5,000 workers dismissed from Petrotrin, feel?” he asked.
He noted Germany with 80 million citizens collapsed under the strain of one million Syrian refugees. He said T&T citizens were already taxed by the health sector, yet it will also have to cater for unknown additional Venezuelans.
Noting the Police Commissioner’s concerns about the plan, T&T’s murder rate and reports of some Venezuelan involvement in crime, Charles asked, “What are the details of plans to weed out criminals among those seeking amnesty?”
“Have teachers been informed how to deal with Venezuelan children’s language issues? What citizenship rights will be afforded to babies born locally? What’s in place to deal with Venezuelans who ‘bolt’ to T&T to ‘catch ‘ the amnesty? What are Government’s plans beyond one year? And why can’t Caricom citizens receive a similar amnesty,” he asked.
Opposition awaits mid-year review—Tewarie
Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s upcoming mid-year review must tell the public his views on the World Bank and IMF’s negative reports on T&T.
Tewarie said he was very interested to see if Imbert would deal with the international assessments on the economy in next month’s mid-year Budget review.
“I don’t know if he’ll quarrel with them, contradict their numbers or deem them wrong. I’m awaiting his position.”
“But as far as the world’s concerned, I think the World Bank’s report will be taken as factual assessment, the IMF report will be taken similarly and the Fitch report will be seen as informed, intelligent report on the state of T&T’s economy. This particularly would be of value for potential investors and regarding instruments of investment offered internationally,” he said.
He said if nothing changes economically, T&T would have four to five months import cover only. But Tewarie said devaluation wasn’t a panacea. He said certain policy decisions were needed to put T&T back on track.”
Tewarie said the UNC’s Manifesto Committees are preparing agendas and clear plans, “to arrest the decline, begin the recovery process, stimulate the economy by public and public/private investment in infrastructure, friendly policies to stimulate local, foreign and local/ foreign partnerships for investment and diversification.”
“We’re also focused on the economy, less energy dependence, renewable industries and a renewable economy and a fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence-driven innovation economy in every industry from agriculture to communication and technology, and everything in between.”