United National Congress (UNC) chairman David Lee is asking why the Government is rushing to amend the Central Bank Act over the weekend to allow the release of new polymer $100 bills on the market and the removal of the old cotton-based blue note.
Lee, in a text exchange with Guardian Media after the announcement yesterday, said Government was trying to “deflect” from the UNC victory at the Local Government polls on Monday. He said the Government used standing order 64(1) B, which dispensed with giving the Opposition notice, to debate this bill.
“Why the rush?” Lee asked.
“This is another high-handed approach by this Government to change the licks they got at the polls on Monday,” he said.
Lee accused the Government of trying to create panic in the country “by asking people to bring in all old $100 bills within two weeks.”
“So let us say you are out of the country and you don’t return until next year, what is your situation? You would lose the value of money that might be in your possession,” he said.
Lee said that it was obvious that that Government was in “panic mode.”
“Why the rush to pass this bill this weekend?” Lee asked again.
He called on the business community to come out against the rush.
“Why two weeks?” Lee said, referring to the Government’s plan to amend the Central Bank Act to reduce the introduction time from three months to 14 days.
Lee said he believed the changeover of the notes will reduce criminal funding.
When the notes are introduced, anyone with the cotton-based blue notes would have to go to the banks or the Central Bank and have that note exchanged for the new polymer bill. They will also have to explain their wealth or show a source of funds at that time.
“It is not illegal to have cash,” Lee said.
“We are three weeks before Xmas (Christmas). What’s the rush,” Lee said.
While Young, at a post Cabinet press briefing said that the blue note would be out of circulation and replaced by the new polymer money, the Central Bank, in its release said that both denominations would co-circulate “until further notice.”
According to Lee, the Leader of Government Business texted the Opposition to update them on the coming amendment to the Central Bank Act.
In that text, it too noted that it was the Central Bank which would determine when the blue $100 notes would become invalid.
“Why not do this in January? It is trying to change the narrative. The people not buying into the PNM lies,” Lee said.
Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Gabriel Faria also questioned the need to implement the new bill during the hectic end of year time.
“It may have been better to schedule it at a less hectic time of the year but the authorities may have been told by some experts that this time is more conducive to collect the old currency based on the amount of cash in circulation,” he said.
“My own perspective is that based on the previous changes which were done we do not anticipate any problems as we expect there will be a period of transition and there is some plan in place,” Faria said.
“I am aware that there has been a number of security breaches with the current $100 bill and believe this was addressed with the introduction of the polymer $50 bill,” he said.
“I therefore expect this is why they are introducing a polymer $100 bill,” he said.
Head of the San Juan Business Chamber Vivek Charran said he understood what the Government was trying to accomplish.
“I think the 14 day period may be a bit short, “ he said.
“While it is that they have this drive that would make the large stashes unlawful because they are no longer legal tender, the reality is that the lines are blurred for different industries, “ Charran said.
He said in the construction industry, workers like joiner, carpenters and masons can earn significant sums for their work.
“Some earn in excess of $20,000, $40,000 in a short space of time. Large contractors hire sub-contractors and are given $50,000 to run a job. What’s going to happen in that 14-day period?” he said?
He said that labourers are paid cash as are hardware.
He said this will also impact the small trade professions who do not have registered businesses.
“Just by virtue of their profession, some do not have registered businesses, the bank can now say they have a problem with proving that the person is actually a joiner or so, “he said.