“Mash brakes” and reverse those gas price increases!
That’s the demand from Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who also yesterday called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to withdraw the 2023 Budget.
Persad-Bissessar spoke about the issues in Parliament yesterday in her response to the 2023 Budget.
Speaking on her theme, Persad-Bissessar said, “This Budget is a wicked act of brutality against the poor and working class. Prime Minister, poor people have feelings too! Withdraw this Budget and call an election now!”
During her three-hour and 45-minute address, Persad-Bissessar said, “Very few were spared this Budget’s wrath. Farmers, trade unions, maxi taxi operators, petrol dealers, senior citizens, passengers of the inter-island ferry service and the travelling public, mothers, have all flooded the newspapers daily with pleas of anguish and grave concerns over Keith Rowley’s hateful 2023 Budget.
“Prime Minister, why does your Government brutalise the poor; poor people have feelings too! This Budget statement is a vicious frontal attack on the poor and working class. It reeks of classism! Its wicked policies are designed to benefit the PNM upper class at the expense of the poor and working class,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar said when energy prices skyrocketed, citizens expected, at least, a softening of severely constrictive policies.
“Instead, Government’s reaction was to introduce and raise even more taxes, remove even more subsidies, raise fuel prices even higher and offer unions less than minimum wage increases.”
Persad-Bissessar said fuel prices were raised again with no concern for ordinary citizens: Premium, Super and kerosene increased by one dollar and diesel by fifty cents per litre.
“The greatest ‘nuisance tax’ in the Budget is what is the fifth fuel price increase since this Government came to office. They’ve raised the price of gas so many times that driving has gone out of reach for many citizens.
“Apart from the extra cost to drivers, there are already announcements of price increases by taxi drivers due to the cost of fuel for their operation.
“The recent reports of food price increases will be updated, as some distributors are already stating that their accountants have informed them that the 13 per cent increase in diesel will result in an increase of 1 per cent to 3 per cent on total costs.”
She added, “Because of this, there will be the expectation of varying price increases over the coming weeks for all food items.”
Persad-Bissessar calculated that the impact of a further one to three per cent price increase for food “means that for a family that pays between $1,000 to $2,000 per month in groceries, they can expect an increase in cost ranging from $10 to $20 on the lower end and $30 to $60 on the upper end.”
She said the fuel price increase also hurts T&T’s fisherfolk.
“These unnecessary fuel price hikes will bring immense pain to citizens. The cost to fill up your tank for a 40-litre sedan (for example a Tiida) using Super this year alone rose from $199 to now $279. An increase of $80 for each fill-up.
“Diesel for 60 litres from $204 to $265. An increase of $61 for each fill-up. The monthly bill for the average person who fills their tank once per week will rise from $795 to $1,115 for Super. An increase of $320 monthly, this year alone.”
She added, “For diesel, it will increase from $818 per month to $1,058 per month. An increase of $240 every month. For drivers using Super gasoline in 2015, their monthly bill would have been $432, now they’re being asked to pay one hundred and twenty per cent more or $683 more every month.
“Diesel drivers in 2015 would have paid $360 per month. Now they’re being asked to pay $698 more than in 2015. This is a criminal measure. The Government must reverse this measure with immediate effect.”
$1,000 grant won’t help
Persad-Bissessar said the Minister of Finance “attempted to mamaguy” the population with a 1,000-dollar fuel grant, “but that starts in January when the fuel price went up from this week!”
“So, the Minister is saying he’s giving $240 million to the citizenry, but he’s taking back $ 1.2 billion from the same citizenry in return. I suppose you can fill your tank three times if you can jump through all the hoops to get this grant. I wish them good luck.”
She said the Government presided over several hikes in fuel prices, which caused increased prices in every single good or service with a transportation cost.
“I looked at the components of a typical basket of goods used in many homes. I compared the prices of these products in September 2015 and September 2022. I found some food items had increased by as much as 90 per cent over the last seven years!”
The Opposition Leader said the increase in the personal income tax allowance “reeks of being an election ploy. It amounts to $4.10 per day. That cannot even buy a doubles, far less bake and shark.”
She added, “The Finance Minister demonstrated how out of touch he was by stating this $4.10 would help offset the increase in fuel prices. This is ludicrous since fuel prices affect the cost of virtually every product or service citizens must purchase.”
Imbert out of
touch with citizenry
Persad-Bissessar questioned Minister of Finance Colm Imbert’s claim that “inflation was kept at bay during the pre-COVID years.”
“How out of touch must this Minister be...but the entire Cabinet seems out of touch with reality when one member who makes about $60,000, racks up thousands in roaming bills, and drinks almond milk, could so glibly speak about ‘sacrifice’.
“Another member takes to Facebook to complain about being cut out of a picture in a newspaper. And the Prime Minister talks about misbehaving. Wake up and smell the coffee!! Come down from there and face reality!” she charged.
She said just as Imbert’s colleague has chastised citizens for not making sacrifices, “she now realises she was never in charge of anything and now cannot deal with it.”
Persad-Bissessar called out Government MPs Pennelope Beckles and Keith Scotland on whether they would vote for the Budget.
Kamla on RIC document: 2,500
to go at WASA
There is a plan to send home 2,500 Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) workers, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday.
During her response to the Budget, she said, “A few days ago, I received a document entitled ‘WASA’s strategic plan’. This plan is the policy document formulated by the Government to be sent to the Regulated Industries Commission to make a case for the increases in water rates.
“What is contained in that document is not surprising at all, but it is something that the Government has denied over and over again. On page 53 of that strategic plan is the Government’s commitment to the RIC to send home, fire, put on the bread line, sack, axe, however you want to put it - 2,500 employees of WASA.
“That is the bottom line in that document, as the aim of WASA is to reduce headcount and personnel costs. This would lead to more unemployment and more hardships.”
Persad-Bissessar also said the 2023 Budget doesn’t mention the previously announced initiative for a cash utility card to assist the most vulnerable to offset the cost of utilities.
Persad-Bissessar, who criticised the handling of national security in the country, said the Prime Minister’s biggest mistake was to “cause” former Police Commissioner Gary Griffith not to be reappointed to the position. She said she didn’t hold any brief for Griffith but had worked with him.
Persad-Bissessar also alluded to a person who has evidence on paper that their phone was being intercepted and “spied on” and plans to go to court to expose what’s happening at “the Strategic Services Agency and with TTPS agents.”
She also appealed against the implementation of property tax.
“You’ve raised gas, the cost of living is over the top and food prices are soaring; you now ask persons to dip deeper into their pockets to give you (property tax). There will be a corresponding increase in the cost of renting with this tax. Prime Minister, people are struggling to make ends meet; stop this tax now! Now is not the time to implement the property tax.”
On Government’s failure to settle outstanding public sector wage/salary negotiations, she added, “What they have done is instead offered the over 100,000 workers a trail of breadcrumbs falling from the master’s table, which the unions and associations have rightfully rejected.”
Persad-Bissessar also said the increased air and sea fares to Tobago, “goes against the tourism agenda in Tobago because a large segment of travellers to Tobago are domestic tourists from Trinidad.”
“The increased fares will not encourage persons in Trinidad to staycation in Tobago. Maybe this difficulty to travel between islands is what the Prime Minister meant when he stated that he will never forgive Tobago if they do not vote PNM.”