Response to the 2006 – 2007 Budget by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar (M.P. Siparia)
9th October 2006
This Budget drives us further down the road of disaster.
In the driver’s seat is the monarch of the kingdom of the PNM who has made his government the most authoritarian, callous and inept government of all.
He continues to unleash brutish assault upon assault on our institutions, on innocent citizens protesting for their rightful due, on our youth, on our poor including the working poor, our dispossessed, our senior citizens, our women and our children.
And now when our population is screaming in pain over crime, poverty, high food prices, crises in the health and education sectors, problems with infrastructure, traffic congestion and the loss of business competitiveness, this budget does nothing to directly ease the pain.
This government has become numb to the needs of the people. They have become deaf to the cries of the citizens. They have become blind to the crises facing our country. They have become mute to the abuse of the positions they hold in trust for the people.
It is clear that this government has lost its way.
From the outset the Honourable Prime Minister predicated his budget on a false premise.
He announced that this budget will build on the foundations laid by his previous budgets.
But the fact that he repeated so many of the unfulfilled promises he made in previous budgets tells us that there is indeed no foundation on which to build. I remind him that a house built on sand will not stand.
The budget speech amounted to nothing more than a waffling attempt at justifying ineptitude, plus warmed-over servings of the usual platter of promises; but as a framework for the way forward, it failed miserably to address any of the major issues facing Trinidad and Tobago today.
Even when his budget speech pretended to touch on critical issues, the Honorable Prime Minister demonstrated a spectacular misunderstanding of the root-causes of these matters, and consequently proposed a number of thoroughly inappropriate remedies.
That he has decided to continue stubbornly along his misguided policy direction, based on a clear misunderstanding of macro and micro economic concepts and issues, convinces me that this government is lost, blindly feeling its way along, “vooping” at the nation’s problems but determined to do all in it’s power to convince itself and others that the nation is not in crisis.
But the population of 2006 is wiser than government thinks. They have seen the failures of this government’s past budgets. They have suffered impoverishment and trauma at the hands of this government. They have noted that the critical issues facing them are not the same as the critical areas of concern for this government.
Before I list some of the critical issues facing us, it is instructive to recall that the Prime Minister and his colleagues have named this budget “Vision 2020: moving onward”. They have a passion for catchy sounding phrases which bear no resemblance to the policies programmed. Last year’s budget was titled “Addressing basic needs”, and the ones before that “Ensuring our future survival” and “Charting the Course to 2020: Empowering People.”
To date they have not addressed our basic needs, empowered our people, ensured anybody’s survival except the Government Ministers, and it is obvious that we will not be moving onwards after this vacuous budget.
Having already wasted over 140 billion dollars over the past five years and failing to accomplish what they promised, the PM comes now to this Parliament with another smoke and mirrors trick, another attempt to hoodwink this population with an erratic quick-fix here, a plaster there and ludicrous prognoses for relatively simple ailments, once again attending to the symptoms and not the source of the malady.
After receiving more money than any previous government and after having spent substantially more than any other, this government has saddled our country with serious problems.
This government has triggered and fueled debilitating inflation by its reckless spending on monuments they construe as indicators of development.
Crime has reached unprecedented levels, as has police incapacity for detecting and solving crime.
Poverty has increased.
Public health care and education is collapsing.
Infrastructural development is simply not on the cards, except for this government who thinks that by piling more roads on top of the road, making it higher instead of stronger, it has achieved.
Flooding worsens with every next raindrop.
Agriculture now contributing 1/2 of 1 percent of the GDP has been effectively abandoned.
Our environment is being seriously threatened.
Our justice system is severely overburdened.
Our institutions are being compromised and violated.
There is reduced confidence in the government on the part of the business sector, which is also reeling under the crime wave.
The quality of life of our citizens has deteriorated.
Today after five years of this government our nation is witnessing:
* Heavily skewed economic growth , without development,
* increased government expenditure on “social” programmes but the persistent poverty of a large part of our population,
* massive construction projects and labour and material shortages
* huge expenditure on technical advice and support to fight crime but more criminal activity
* unprecedented government expenditure but lower standard of living
* unprecedented government revenue but poor infrastructure
* reduced taxation levels but lower real incomes
* net migration of human capital
What has been the government’s response to these problems?
In classic fashion they have chosen to ignore these crises, like ostriches sticking their heads in the sand and thinking that the world cannot see them because they cannot see the world.
The sheer puerility of such an approach manifests as a fundamental weakness within the structural framework of government policy and most sharply reflects in the economy.
Let us consider the macro-economic performance indicators quoted by the Prime Minister.
The ECONOMIC INDICATORS
The Minister of Finance noisily trumpeted the traditional economic indicators, which imply that the country is enjoying steady and consistent growth.
It is our view that growth without development is not sustainable and there is no evidence of the latter on any front or in any sphere under this government.
It is our view that what is being publicized by the government as positive economic growth indicators are really not of this government’s doing but the result of high international energy prices and buoyancy in the energy markets but they are being manipulated to give the public a sense that they are a direct consequence of conscientious and carefully contemplated government policy.
It is our view that this administration has made no attempt to ensure that the tangible benefits of mega revenues being enjoyed by this government filter down to average citizens in the form of enhancement of their quality of life. And the economy is not just the energy sector contrary to the obvious bias of the Minister of Finance, who should also be made aware that growth in one sector does not equate with the agreed definition of economic growth.
We believe this Government’s focus is hopelessly misguided and will continue to lead to a misdiagnosis of the ills of the economy, and consequently, inappropriate policy formulation and implementation to regularize the troughs and potholes.
In the strict economic sense Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the value of goods and services produced in a country.
Dividing GDP by the population provides us with a reading of GDP per capita which the Prime Minister advised was US$13,978.
It should be noted, that if the price of oil goes to 200 dollars per barrel, automatically the GDP will increase, as would GDP per capita.
This would not mean that there has been growth of any sort, except that there would be more revenue coming into the country.
Moreover, even a 100 percent increase in the GDP does not translate into a similar or any improvement in the standard of living of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
Further, GDP per capita does not describe the distribution of the GDP. It does not show who benefits and it has nothing to do with sustainability.
So it does not reveal that government ministers earn upward of $50,000 per month whilst more than sixty thousand old age pensioners get $1150 and now $1250 per month.
It does not equate with data from the CSO indicates that per capita household income is in fact as low as $1,176.02 !! So that the average household income is nowhere near the GDP per capita figure quoted by the Prime Minister
Analysis of GDP shows the extremely disturbing trend of a polarization of growth with the Petroleum Industry accounting for almost half (42.9%) of GDP in 2005 as opposed to 28.3 percent in 2001.
As a consequence, the contribution of EVERY other sector to Gross Domestic Product has been simultaneously reduced by this government. This is extremely dangerous since it amounts to putting most of our eggs in one basket and therefore leaves us most vulnerable to shocks in output or market prices.
GDP growth then is itself an unreliable indicator in our circumstance and certainly should not be proffered as evidence of overall development.
The emphasis of the UNC during its time in government continues to be the emphasis of the UNC in Opposition:
* the preservation of a stable macro economy,
* low inflation,
* steady and balanced growth,
* a diversified economic base,
* an increase in the skill level of the population,
* a reduction in the level of poverty and
* a steady improvement of the well being and welfare of all our citizens.
The UNC is concerned about Growth AND Development, because without development, growth is not sustainable, and it is the real development indicators that truly determine the sustainability of the economic growth, not the manipulation of statistics purely to bring fleeting comfort to listeners.
So we can ask for example, given the GDP the Minister boasts about,
Can our people afford housing?
Can they afford to buy food?
Do they have secure jobs?
Can they access reliable public health care?
Can they trust the justice system?
Are they safe?
The answer to every one of these questions is “NO”. But these are some of the things people care about. They reflect development. Growth must sustain development. But under the PNM, this is not the case.
Other than direct government policy, there is a less direct result of government’s operations over the last five years which has had serious deleterious effect on our population
In a strict economic sense, inflation is a measure of the overall increase in prices over a defined period. Good government policy seeks to maintain stable prices, or at worst, contain inflation to low single-digit rates.
Local and international experts have been warning this government since 2004 about its reckless spending and the deleterious effect it would have – and continues to have – on the rate of inflation.
The government has consistently ignored such advice, with Minister Enill going on the defensive at every opportunity to trot out a succession of feeble attempts aimed at reassuring the population that the government has a handle on the situation.
Here is what he has been saying, as published in the August 4th edition of The Express, under the headline “Gov’t: Inflation no problem.”
“Basically, what people are saying is that we are doing the correct things. Maybe they believe that we should be scaling it differently.
However we are looking at a number of things, one is how to condition the population so that they understand the issue and that is why it is going at the present rate.”
Now, you have to decode PNM double-speak and spin.
There are several lines in that short statement that need interpretation.
For instance: “What people are saying is we are doing the correct things.” Outside of PNM general council meetings, precisely who are the informed people saying that?
And hear this: “We are looking at a number of things, one is how to condition the population so that they understand the issue.” Elegant language to say they are now going to think up a paragraph or two to brainwash people into believing all is good and well and going according to plan.
Allow me to compare and contrast that outrageous statement on another level.
The Central Bank, the country’s top economists, the IMF, the trade unions, every agency that studies such issues has been warning that the government needs to halt reckless spending because it is the root-cause of our high inflation.
Yet, the goodly Minister has the temerity to tell the people that they are saying he and his cronies are “doing the right thing.”
It is this kind of elitist approach that irritates the people, Mr. Speaker, because they are experiencing the difficulties on a daily basis and at the point of sale.
They actually go to the supermarket in person, not send hired help with a credit-card to shop for the boss, so they know when prices of items take a sudden leap upward.
Minister Enill has, meanwhile, mastered an absolutely pious demeanour, in order to make his utterances believable but, perhaps, he has looked in the mirror far too often during the process, so he has begun to believe himself too, even as inflation rates continue to rise under this government’s mismanagement of the economy.
Clearly, the economics of this budget like the one before it is fundamentally flawed. And it gets worst.
Government is continuing on an expansionary fiscal policy at a time when the economy is operating at more than full capacity. The extra demand of government in its 6 billion plus capital programme is now accompanied by an expansion of private sector demand as evidenced by the growth of bank credit over the last fiscal year.
The ensuing inflation has resulted in the buildup of pressure which like hypertension, the silent killer, destroys other critical organs in the body economic.
In particular the interest rate has already surrendered, the exchange rate is under pressure, the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector is threatened and we now face a contraction and non oil death of the non oil economy as evidenced by the alarming and widening non oil fiscal deficit.
The macro economy which took 15 years to stabilize after the chaotic years of PNM wastage and mismanagement, based on initially high oil prices is today threatened after only two years of this government’s wild feting with the oil and gas revenues.
The Prime Minister boasts of the size of the external account, but I want to remind him that under the UNC, the exchange rate was the most stable it has ever been.
Few individuals were concerned about exchange rate stability then, and there was no queuing for foreign exchange as exists at commercial banks today.
There was consumer confidence, business confidence in both the economic system, the government and the exchange rate.
This certainly is different from what exists under this government today.
Macro economic stability is being threatened, as excess demand placed on all sectors of the economy will have the predictable result of intensifying the inflation rate.
The inconsistency of the budget is that the Prime Minister has targeted an inflation rate of seven percent for the fiscal 2006/7, down from the actual nine percent for the current year.
However the fiscal programme outlined in the Budget does not reflect this outcome, pointing instead towards even higher inflation rates in 2006/7.
This underscores the fundamental lack of understanding of basic economics which permeates this government.
Worst, is that in order to reach and stabilise inflation at 7 percent, and given the government’s fiscal stance, the Central Bank would be required to battle both existing inflation and the additional government induced inflation. The visual effect is of the Central Bank emptying a barrel of inflation with a small cup whilst the government is filling the barrel with a large hose!
I want to extend my sympathies to the already overworked Governor of the Central Bank who will now have to intensify his intervention in the economic system.
We can predict a further pressuring of the Central Bank’s Repo rate which has already been raised a record number of times in the last year as the Central Bank tried to temper runaway inflation.
A decidedly aggressive monetary policy intervention is now required to counteract the inflationary fiscal programme of the Government.
This will prompt higher interest rates, an issue the Prime Minister studiously and deliberately ignored in his presentation.
The Prime Lending rate is already at 12 percent.
I want to ask the Minister of Finance today, where will it go now?
What figure does the government expect Prime to reach given the policies he has promised to continue in his presentation last Wednesday?
Is he concerned about the effect that substantially higher interest rates will have on the business community?
It is very likely that during the course of fiscal 2007 that the Prime lending rate can reach as high as 15% if government is going to achieve any success in controlling inflation.
However, it should be noted that despite the concerted efforts of the Central Bank in fiscal 2005 and 2006, inflationary expectations have expanded into the wage sector.
Unions are going to be looking not at the 7% projected by the government which is absolutely unrealistic, but at double digits inflation (upwards of ten percent).
Simply put, Mr. Speaker, the government’s fiscal impetus is greater than the monetary response which is why we have an inflationary spiral.
I want to warn the national population of this fiscal irresponsibility of the Minister of Finance.
Government has created a monster called runaway inflation and every attempt to control it from here on in will result in the creation of even more monsters.
There is only one solution.
We must depend on the fiscal, government needs to utilize wise fiscal policy to manage the inflation rate.
But there is no consideration for that in this budget.
The government’s fiscal stance Mr. Speaker is also causing a hemorrhaging of the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
The Central Bank governor remarked upon this is his last published economic survey.
Why does this happen?
Due to inflation, people have begun to lose confidence in the TT dollar and have started to flee to other currencies.
They will use the TT dollar to increase purchases of foreign currency substituting the weaker for the stronger currency.
They will invest more in foreign denominated mutual funds, they may increase purchases of the foreign exchange being sold by the Central Bank (as it seeks to absorb liquidity) and hoard the foreign currency.
This demonstrates a fundamental economic flaw: a booming economy and capital flight.
For the first time in almost 25 years our inflation rate is so high yet this budget proposed no measures to deal with inflation.
As is true of inflation, the measurement of our unemployment figures is an equally skewed process.
According to the Prime Minister the URP has a base of 50,000 people whom the Central Statistical Office will consider as “employed.”
The same principle holds for another 7,000 involved in the CEPEP, 360 in MILAT, 240 in MYPART, 500 in a community service programme, with thousands more in HYPE, YTEPP, MUST and the myriad other “make work” programmes.
Come to think of it, there must be another group exclusively working on these silly titles so, perhaps, we should count them too.
Central Bank figures suggest that 11,600 new jobs were created in the construction sector, but this too is temporary employment, and is not sustainable.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to remind Mr. Manning who, on becoming Prime Minister seems to have experienced some serious variations of earlier postures with attendant memory loss and priority modifications, of the position he articulated on this same issue not so long ago.
I quote: “Our businessmen listen to the fairy tales of the Minister, but they know that they cannot get foreign exchange at the banks. They have a true picture of how many job positions they have filled. They know the difference between the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and real job creation.” (HOR Manning Budget Response 2000)
Those were his words. In this context, to try to convince the national population that unemployment has gone down because of URP and similar type work is yet another example of PNM double-speak and, is frankly, quite dishonest.
Employed persons earn wages. Those who receive government transfers are in receipt of welfare payments. Since welfare payments are NOT wages, those who receive them cannot be counted as being employed.
It is as simple as that. In this regard too, government has lost its way.
By deliberately confusing the issue, Government is seeking to imply that employment levels are at an all-time high.
However, these programmes constitute a substantial drain on the State’s coffers, and without commensurate effect.
Were oil prices to dip, government would have extreme difficulty in securing funding for continuity of these projects. This has happened before.
I remind them, those who do not pay attention to history are likely to repeat its well-documented mistakes.What we have here is not full employment. It is disguised unemployment. It is statistical conmanship .
Mr. Speaker, the United National Congress (UNC) remains proud of our landmark achievements in the area of employment and labour policy. Our approach to the employment and labour challenge is one driven by the values of compassion, social justice and equality.
The UNC believes that there can be no justice unless a government has compassion. In this regard the oppression meted out to the suffering in our nation is directly connected to an approach by the PNM government that lacks compassion for the poor, the suffering, the working people and those in conditions of insecurity. This is the only nation on earth blessed with enormous wealth yet cursed by immeasurable suffering.
The previous UNC government worked to ensure that the suffering of the people would be addressed. You will recall we introduced, for the first time in our history, a minimum wage. The UNC government introduced path-breaking maternity wage legislation to protect pregnant workers, in so doing conforming to the international labour organization’s standards.
It is instructive that the PNM government since 2001 has failed to give effect to any new labour standard geared towards protecting the working people. It is not surprising therefore that they have speared no effort in violating the principles of collective bargaining in the public sector and undermining the right to freedom of association of workers in the health sector.
Mr. Speaker, the Manning administration has been a regular recipient of sharp condemnation by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for their failure to implement equal opportunity legislation and institutions to protect workers. They believe that they can continue with their brutal oppression of workers, but with the advent of the globalization of justice, today the international community keeps a hawk’s eye on delinquent governments such as the PNM.
The ILO observed in 2005, and I quote
“Recalling that it had welcomed the adoption of the Act (Equal Opportunities Act 2000) which for the first time provided legislative protection from discrimination in employment and occupation (THIS IS THE UNC’S LAW!), the Committee hopes that the Government will make every effort to draw up new anti-discrimination legislation applying the Convention. Please indicate any measures taken in this regard”.
To this day the PNM has ignored this recommendation by the international community.
The PNM government has caused this country unending shame and disgrace for their failure to implement equality legislation as reflected by observations of the ILO in 2005 and yet again in 2006. This government had failed to take steps to promote collective bargaining and freedom of association.
Mr. Speaker, you will recall that it was the UNC in government and opposition that had to drag the PNM, kicking and screaming, to pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). To this day the key institutions of this fundamental body of protective law have not been established. The deaths of over 25 workers in industrial accidents over the two years have done little to jolt the PNM into action.
The UNC government of 1995-2001 created over 85,000 well-paid, permanent jobs. By our policies we inspired job creation in the private sector. We moved the unemployment figure from almost 19% in 1995 to 10 % by 2001. We did not use URP, CEPEP and MUST to further disempower and humiliate the jobless into a dependency syndrome. Mr. Speaker, it is on this matter that the Opposition wishes to express the highest level of condemnation of the Manning administration. the PNM has introduced a backward and archaic labour strategy of shoving the low skilled into a dependency syndrome and therefore presiding over the inter-generational transfer of poverty and dependency. They should take a bow! Very few governments have destroyed their own supporters in this way.
Mr. Speaker, while we look on in awe at the PNM’s mismanagement and incompetence, we cannot standby helpless. The UNC proposes a wider and more developmental labour strategy to rescue the working people. It is the next UNC government that will have to clean up the mess of this incompetent and corrupt PNM government.
The wider national community and even the PNM knows that when the UNC says we will fully give effect to the entire OSHA legislation – they know we will. To protect all workers we propose a Basic Floor of Rights Bill to extend the same fundamental protection to all workers in every workplace and employment site.
A reformed labour absorption and training programme will deliver real and marketable skills to the unskilled and low paid workers. Unlike the PNM that measures success by how much workers are enlisted in URP and CEPEP, we measure by how much graduate to well paid permanent jobs!
It is a scandal that after five years and over $ 3 billion in expenditure on labour programs, we still have a labour shortage in the key industrial sectors. This is incompetence!
A training initiative will connect work programs with exposure to the skills in demand. We will develop training in collaboration with the private sector to match employment needs with labour supply. We will match surplus labour to the developmental needs of our country. After a drizzle we flood, yet hordes of young people are holding up a tarpaulin along the highways.
Mr. Speaker, as a party rooted in the values of the trade union movement, the UNC believes that the time has come to replace the Industrial Relations Act of 1972 with a body of modern labour law, which will reflect the changing employment relationships in the public and private sector.
We also believe that deeper legislative reform is needed to make the Recognition and Certification Board more efficient and responsive to the social partners. As it is at present, the Recognition Board is not recognizing workers.
A fundamental difference between the UNC and the PNM’s approach is that the PNM believes in public sector absorption of labour akin to the discredited approaches in totalitarian societies.
The UNC believes in freeing the private sector to create jobs, while the state provides the policy environment to protect all workers and ensure decent work.
We believe in the liberation of workers, they believe in the dependency syndrome. This is why they have taken even our bright and successful young workers and symbolically encamped them into make work and temporary jobs.
In five years they have failed to develop a single new industrial site. We spoke of a technology park, a motor city and agri-industrial villages.
They are content to wait for oil and gas based development, which is essentially driven by external investment decisions.
Even when private sector has created jobs for the citizens, Pastor Manning has beemed that these people should go back to the breadline.
In the same way that the destroyed Caroni workers and their families without ensuring first that these workers had other options and opportunities to earn a livelihood, they have now committed to the breadline our 20,000 small farmers, they have now committed to the breadline the workers in the casino industry without making sure that these persons had alternative jobs.
They continue to keep CEPEP and URP workers working under terms and conditions that are in breach of their rights as workers so that they have none of the benefits of other workers.
A UNC employment strategy will create real employers and risk takers (not CEPEP contractors), who will create the jobs of the future with the skills demanded of the new industrial and technological age.
This Government has ignored the needs of the people and designed a series of self-generated medicine-show remedies, exclusive of input from those whom such policies affect directly.
The government has ignored the basic human and social needs of the nation. The budget for fiscal 2007, the Minister of Finance and his colleagues all appear to have missed the fact that after five years of government the citizens of this country are still without the very basic needs of humanity.
The first basic human need is for security of life and limb.
The paramount concern of the population is not the performance of the economic system, it the very basic concerns of safety of life, limb and property.
If you are murdered you can’t enjoy any of the goodies government may offer.
So, the first duty of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens. Yet government has lost its way in this regard.
“Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself ; it invites anarchy.” Louis D. Brandeis, part of his dissent in the case “Olmstead v. United States”, 277 U.S. 438, 485 (1928)
Those words were uttered in 1928, but are painfully true today under this government.
There is no need for me to repeat the numerous instances where government has been found guilty in the courts for breaking the law. They have been well reported in the media.
In 2000, Mr. Manning in his response to the Budget from on this side said
“The absence of a cohesive long-term plan has resulted in the current runaway crime wave that has remained unchallenged. Mr. Speaker, they never had any plan. They have no plan now and will have no plan in the future.” (Manning: Budget response HOR 2000)
He was in Opposition then Mr. Speaker and you would have thought that when he got into government he would have tackled this most bothersome issue. And he did.
In the first budget as new Prime Minister proclaimed
“Mr. Speaker, the increase in crime in Trinidad and Tobago, and indeed around the world, is a matter of serious concern, not only for the Government, but for the society at large. ” (Manning HOR Budget statement 2002)
He went on and on in that Budget Speech highlighting the myriad and plentiful initiatives the government was going to implement to rid the country of crime.
“It is for this reason that throughout this budget we have included policy measures and initiatives that seek to deal with these underlying problems and, in that way, tackle crime at its very root.”
All talk and no action. If speeches could stop crime Mr. Speaker, we would be the safest country in the world.
Instead, the number of murders went up from 120 in 2000 under the UNC to 169 in 2002 when he was Prime Minister
One year later in 2003, he was back in this House, and again attempted to talk the criminals into submission.
” Safe streets, homes, places of recreation, and workplaces; provide us with the environment to nurture our creative potential.
Mr. Speaker, the level of security enjoyed by citizens is the most critical problem facing Trinidad and Tobago today. The population is being terrorized as the criminals have declared virtual war on this society.
The Government must and shall respond. Accordingly, we now declare war on the criminal elements and shall do whatever is necessary, within the law, to return this nation to that state where our people can conduct their lives in the full safety and security to which they are entitled”(Manning, HOR Budget Speech 2002/3)
That was General Manning, four years ago! What has happened since then? Once more, he talked the talk but could not or would not walk the walk.
The criminals know that, and number of murders increased by 36% to 229.
The question you need to ask yourself is why Mr. Speaker. The national population already has its own conclusions, as do I.
In 2005, the Prime Minister in apparent recognition of his failure to deal with the problem of crime indicated that the budget for fiscal 2005/06 was a “reaffirmation” amongst other things, his government’s position to :
“…implement a policy framework that: creates an integrated security infrastructure which ensures that issues of crime, public safety and security are addressed on a sustained basis;
The escalation of violent crime and anti-social behaviour constitute the most fundamental threat to the economic and social development of our country and the well being of our people.”
Once more the same commitments to deal with crime were repeated ad nauseaum. The result? The number of murders jumped again, this time by a whopping 49 percent to 387, in excess of one a day and way higher than it has ever been before.
But the situation is also true for other violent crime. In 2001, there were 499 reported wounding and shootings.
By 2005, that figure had skyrocketed by 61 percent to a massive 801. The midyear trends indicate that this figure will be maintained into 2006.
It certainly appears that every time the Prime Minister proposes a new commitment to deal with crime, the murder rate goes up.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the budget speech of the Finance Minister last Wednesday was devoid of any serious policy or programme to realistically address the problem of crime in Trinidad and Tobago.
Certainly, one of the greatest embarrassments to this government must be the Minister of National Security, and no PR campaign can change that.
Last year in this very House, The Minister proclaimed that if he thought that crime would reduce if he resigned, he would do so. Today I want to tell him that enough is enough. His being Minister has not resulted in crime reduction, and Yes! He should resign purely on the grounds of incompetence and lack of performance.
But is it incompetence Mr. Speaker? or is it the absence of a desire to deal with crime?
You see Mr. Speaker, revelations over the last year has thrown light on things. The old people used to say “what was in the dark does come to light one day.”
A certain religious leader when pushed into a corner by his former friends including persons sitting in the highest offices on the Government benches, spilt the beans about the close working relationship between the hierarchy of the People’s National Movement and his organization.
We recall the public statements by PM Manning that he was going to give land to the Jamaat al Muslimeen, obviously to fulfill the promise made to the religious leader. We recall too the public hue and cry which prevented the concession.
Having realised that the country was not going to sit idly by whilst he rewarded the coup leaders, the government then began to look at other options for bad boys to do their dirty work.
Ever wonder why they insist that they would meet the “community leaders” rather than the community elders?
Honest citizens protesting for better roads are greeted with police battalions but known criminals are wined and dined on the same day at the country’s finest hotel.
The nation deserves to know why?
Mr. Speaker, let me address the Prime Minister’s cri de coeur,
“Who is to blame for the current crime menace?”
Simplistically, he concludes that, “We all must shoulder some of the blame”.
He is indeed the new Rip Van Winkle. He now finds the crime landscape beyond comprehension and control, forgetful of course that, five years ago, he gave a bold start to the spiral by recognizing gang personnel as Community Leaders whose muscle he used sedulously to win the last election.
After letting the dogs of war loose on an unsuspecting citizenry, he now enquires innocently, ‘who is to blame’? Let me clear it up for the Hon. Prime Minister. HE is to blame! This government is to blame!
The law abiding section of the citizenry cannot do any more than they are doing as long as the government remains in the camp of the criminals.
There does not appear to be an honest desire on the part of the Government to rid the country of the scourge of crime. The result is that the country will continue to pay with its blood for his folly.
There is no surprise then that crime has reached the epic proportions that it has. The government is not powerless, it simply lacks the will.
Mr. Speaker, I am certain that you would recall the statements in 2002 that the government knows who the criminals were. You would remember the “Mr. Big” the Prime Minister referred to, keeping the name to his chest even as our people were maimed and traumatized for life.
But you see there was method to the madness. The government began by blaming the Opposition UNC for the crime wave.
You recall the big hullabaloo about the importance of the Police Reform Bills. We supported those Bills and passed them in the House and in the Senate. But would you believe that those Bills have not been put into effect by this government up to today? Why?
It is a matter of priorities.
This government has never been serious about dealing with the issue of crime. For them it has been a political prop, a distraction from their profligate spending on themselves and their friends.
This year, for the umpteeth time, the PM has come again, promising the same promises, venting the same anger in the same tone and in many of the same words.
This year however, he appears to have conceded as there is a literal absence of any attempt to deal with crime. There is only damage control as he has chosen to blame everybody else.
He thinks that the nationals of Trinidad and Tobago are fools. One morning he woke up and decided aha! New idea…. Million dollar “Eye in the sky” would be the solution to the robberies on the Brian Lara promenade. Crime continued unabated!
Recently, the Chairman of the National Security Council, our very own Minister of Finance decided aha! Let us front the idea of Israeli armed choppers…that was shot down unceremoniously (forgive the pun).
Then he thought aha! Blimp – the next best thing – around the same price but we’ll only tell the population AFTER we set up the deal. The result is that we were saddled with a multimillion dollar piece of equipment that was neither suited for the purpose for which it was bought nor did it ever worked.
Having not learnt his lesson, he thought aha! He went and bought another multi-million blimp!
Suddenly he hits another gem aha! Bring in Scotland Yard world famous crime stoppers. Weeks afterwards we find out that they were not Scotland yardies after all.
An average of a million dollars in salary plus accommodation etc. for each of these messiahs, pay them better than they ever paid local enforcement officers, provide them with all the equipment that they should have given to the police service here in the first place and…….nothing.
It may sound funny; but whilst the PM plays games with our money people are losing their lives.
One of our policemen was shot and killed in the line of duty. “Collateral damage” the Minister said.
Another was shot and killed in Central because the police station had no bullet proof vest for him to wear, and no firearm to defend himself and others.
Ordinary citizens were being massacred at the ungodly rate of more than one per day – innocent mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers mercilessly wiped out.
What would it take to make them sit up and get serious about dealing with crime. I wonder what is required for them to actually do something? And it is not because of a shortage of funds! The Minister of National Security has spent over 10.5 billion dollars in the last five years to achieve this state of crisis. Again, there is nothing to show for all that money.
Every day a life is snuffed out and they sit idly by.
Crime continues to be the number one concern for Trinbagonians, and the PM offers nothing in the budget.
Our citizens continue to live in fear. Private security services are booming as people take extra precautions to protect themselves. Even the PM has beefed up his security detail. But not everyone can afford this luxury.
The murder, the rapes, the robberies continue unabated.
Mr. Speaker I want to share a frightening discovery with you and the nation.
British criminologist and Oxford University professor Roger Hood recently in a presentation on the crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago expressed great alarm at the results of his research.
He found that the chance of a murderer of getting caught is miniscule (about 20 percent for this year). The likelihood of them being convicted is even smaller (about 5 percent) and of those caught and convicted 90 percent of them will be released after appeal.
To take the analysis even further, what this means is that on average, for every one thousand murders that take place in this country, only one conviction is ever upheld after appeals.
999 murderers out of 1000 get away.
This little country has a murder of 30 per hundred thousand. Higher than Haiti and Guyana combined! (11.5 and 15.7 per 100,000 respectively)
It is 19 times the rate of England, 1,900% higher!
1,600 percent higher than the murder rate in Canada!
To complete the analysis, of the more than 1,340 murders committed to date under the PNM, the analysis suggests that only 1 person would be convicted and made to serve his sentence after appeals – 1,339 of these murders would walk free.
It is axiomatic that the entire system of the administration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago is operating in an unsatisfactory basis. The basic infrastructure : courts, police stations, jail, personnel, equipment all are in desperate need of refurbishment!
Morale in the police service is at an all time low. Public confidence in the police service is also at a low.
In a survey conducted by the UWI/ANSA McAl Psychological Research Centre last month, more than half of the respondents indicated a serious fear of being victimized by an officer of the police services.
I am certain that after the events of Barrackpore, Chatham and Fyzabad, that number will increase substantially.
Perhaps significantly, some 70 percent of UNC supporters surveyed felt that they would be victimized as opposed to 49 percent of those who claimed to be PNM supporters.
Significantly too, a massive 84 percent of persons surveyed believed that not enough was being done to investigate shootings by police officers. In other words very few people believed that justice was possible in a case where the police were the aggressors.
Similarly, 84 percent of the persons asked responded that they did not support the government’s purchase of the Blimp. Needless to say that sentiment had been carried by many commentators, but in typical, the public will was ignored and the blimp bought by the government.
Mr. Speaker, the prison service is also in crisis. Prison officers have taken legal action alleging that the Prison Commissioner is compromising their authority and is in fact supportive of the prisoners! Reports last week of the discovery of several pieces of homemade knives in the prison appear to confirm the officers fears.
Mr. Speaker, perhaps for the first time in this country, there are two Ministers of National Security and a separate Minister who is in charge of the National Security Council.
There are several National Security advisers including former PNM Ministers. This country is paying more today than ever before for the administration of the national security Ministry and getting substantially less than it ever has.
I ask you Mr. Speaker : should you be asked to pay more for less? Would you?
Mr. Speaker, the government has demonstrated that it cannot or, for whatever reason, will not deal with the issue of Crime. I think this country has been asked to tolerate enough. We have offered on more than one occasion to work with the government in dealing with the issue. Always they has postured but never conceded.
Enough is enough. We are serious. This matter is too crucial an issue for me to allow him to let his petty political agenda get in the way of stopping this brutal wave of violence against our citizens.
The Opposition demands that the government provide a seat on the National Security Council for a person nominated by the Opposition to participate and work with the parties involved, in an effort to rid this county of the scourge of crime.
An Opposition representative will force the PM to stop playing games or justify inaction. I expect them to talk about national secrets, but we are representatives too, and thus far none of his national or strategic secrets have resulted in a reduction in criminal activity.
I believe that we can make a difference if the government is serious. After all the population wants the state to protect them, and that is their due.
QUALITY OF LIFE: POVERTY
Mr. Speaker one of the most painful manifestations of this government’s failure to provide for the basic human needs of our citizens is its record in regard to its social policy implementation and its treatment of the poor.
Despite the numerous social programmes with the fancy acronyms, the social policy framework is characterized by a network of unstructured, uncoordinated and duplicative programmes, with associated waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption. Poverty concerns rarely appear in a prominent or real way in national planning efforts. Instead, anti-poverty programmes are frequently a set of small-scale targeted interventions, usually involving social services or the provisioning of credit to poor people, despite the fact that macroeconomic policies if, of course, they are handled properly have just as much or even more impact on poverty reduction as do targeted small scale interventions.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the populations of the Asian miracle economies had experienced rising levels not only of income, but also of education and social welfare.
These economies had experienced what Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has called ‘growth-mediated security’, or rising social welfare as a by-product of increasing affluence, rather than ‘support led security’ based on wide-ranging public support in domains such as employment provision, income redistribution, health care, education, and social assistance (Dreze and Sen 1989).
This government has done the reverse. They have been pursuing “support led security” to little avail.
Today it appears that despite increased state intervention, increased expenditure certainly, we have deteriorated into a situation whereby the aged and the increasing poor have become dependent on an ever failing state for their quality of life.
What is the true level of poverty in this country? There are many figures bandied about, most of them depending on the research done in the early 1990s.
I decided to use the government’s own figures and was amazed to learn that after five years of PNM government, with the highest ever revenues and expenditure in this country and a collage of programmes, the government confesses that at least quarter of a million of our citizens still live in poverty.
The arithmetic is theirs, not mine.
Multiply 60,000 smartcards (YES! The Prime Minister used the words smart card in budget 2006 – which he has rechristened TT debit card so he could use the name smart card again) for the very needy by an average of four persons per household and you come up just shy of 250,000 persons living below the poverty line.
And I have not added old-age pensioners who depend on the NIS pensions and who, because that system has failed to keep step with reality, have been pushed into poverty by government induced inflation.
In last years Budget Speech the PM stated:
“The proposed cash transfer through a Smart Card, which will target about 60,000 families. The Smart Card will allow for the purchase of food on a defined list of items of $300 for families of three of fewer persons; $400 for families of four to five persons and $500 for families with six or more persons. This is on a monthly basis.”
This cash transfer was to deal with the most needy of families, people unable to make ends meet and who were essentially borderline or actually destitute.
Allow me to elaborate on what the members opposite were thumping their tables about.
Let us do the math: $300 for a family of three or more. So if you are part of a family of three who are unable to make ends meet, the government’s benevolent contribution to ensure your family’s survival would be at most $100 per person per month or $3 per day.
The international bench mark for extreme poverty is $6. 3 TT ($1US) per day, and for moderate poverty the defining level is living under $12.60 per day. Government is “helping” the poor to live at $3.00 per day!
Social Development Minister Anthony Roberts managed to keep a straight face when he spoke about what he promoted as a poverty-eradication scheme.
“The TT Card aims to provide food for the needy persons in Trinidad and Tobago and to liberate some members from the jaws of poverty. It promises a healthier and better standard of living for some families as we strive to create a better Trinidad and Tobago for us all,”
the Honourable Minister said at the media launch of the card.
It is preposterous that this government expects to liberate needy persons from the jaws of poverty by giving the three dollars per day. That cannot even pay for a potato roti.
Smart Card recipients are also required to access classes under one of the government’s social programmes so, out of the three dollars per day, they have to pay transportation to and from these classes and, still buy food.
I would really like to see – just as an academic exercise – any one of the members on the opposite side complete those transactions with $3, even $3 US dollars which is what they expect poor people to make magic with.
But the Minister continues:
“The card is an evolution in how the government supports the needy citizens of our country.”
I would like to commend his candor, because that is precisely how the government supports needy citizens, by keeping them in abject poverty on $3 per day.
A great man, who truly understands suffering, once said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and, I might add, they know not what they are talking about either.
This has got to be the lowest level of deception, absurdity or downright foolishness ever, but we must not forget incompetence as a major element in the various disasters this government has inflicted upon us.
It becomes obvious why the social policy framework of this government is such a spectacular failure – The Minister has lost his way!
Let us compare this with how they treated themselves!
Three dollars a day is what they expect the poor to live on. Minister Christine Sahadeo who tells workers their demands are too high earns $1,335 per day including perks! So do the other government Ministers.
The PM earns much more!
Now, just think of how much tax these same workers have to fork out, just to keep these ministers living in the style to which they have so quickly become accustomed.
Mr. Speaker, it costs the taxpayers of this country 14 million per year just to pay the Ministers in this government. And many more millions for their advisers! What do we have to show for it?
A booming economy according to the Prime Minister.
One only has to compare the glowing macro economic indicators the Minister of Finance has quoted with the stark reality of contemporary living in T & T to realize that those indicators on their own do not transfer into a better quality of life for the majority of the citizens of T & T.
Since this government has been in office, the Standard of Living has fallen for everyone, except Ministers of Government who are supplied with body guards, who drive on the PBR and who are given free rides and meals on luxury Bombardier jets.PENSIONS
Pensioners have been amongst those hardest hit by inflation.
In simple terms, the rate of growth of government pensions and savings has not matched the rate of growth of inflation.
The frightening part of this is that the purchasing power, or real value of money placed in savings is being whittled so that we may find pensions will not be enough to sustain life….except of course for Ministers of Government.
That is exactly where pensioners are today. The money they have put aside for retirement is worth substantially less now because of this government’s aggressive inflationary policies.
How heartless, how cruel it is to have effectively raised the pensions of these persons by $100.
The government’s approach to handling the conspiratorial combination of rising food prices and subsistence for the elderly also sends all the wrong signals.
It is callous treatment of, and utter disdain for patriots who cleared the path for those who today enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
To raise the old age pension – or whatever he now wishes to call it – the grant for the elderly by $100 per month, is probably designed to bring a little humour into the winter of their years, because the government simply cannot be serious.
I don’t know when last the Honourable Prime Minister personally did food shopping, but surely his dear wife could have enlightened him on the issue of food prices. Since the PNM came to office food prices have increased by 100%.
It is unconscionable that out of a whopping $38 billion scheduled for spending over the next fiscal year, those who have toiled for this country, those who have helped to create the largesse now being enjoyed by Members on the other side and their posh peers, are worth only a pitiful $136 million.
The budget contains no hint of a plan to stem runaway inflation, so the elderly, armed with an extra $100 are definitely going to suffer, and increasingly so, with each passing month as food prices continue to increase.
Given inflation and the absurd leaps in the cost of living during the past year, the elderly have gained exactly nothing. In fact, in real terms, they are behind where they stood at the start of fiscal 2006.
I wish to remind Members on the opposite side, that during last year’s budget debate, the Honourable Minister of Consumer and Legal Affairs promised on October 14th that the government had declared war on rising food prices and promised to lead the charge in a new era of consumer awareness and empowerment.
The government announced new measures aimed at reducing at least 35 food items, including rice, flour, cereal, salt fish and condensed milk.
All of these items, every single one of these items has shown substantial increases in retail prices.
We were told that, in order to ensure the prices are reduced, the Consumer Affairs Division “will act as a watchdog over the process of price reduction which ought properly to follow upon the introduction of these measures.” Given our experiences over the past year, why should we believe the new promises?
Roughly one year earlier, on Wednesday November 10th, 2004, to be precise, the Honourable Minister Christine Sahadeo, promised that the price of selected building materials would be reduced as Cabinet had agreed to remove the Common External Tariff on those items and predicted reductions of between 2.5 percent and 20 percent. Mr. Speaker, it is common knowledge that the prices of these items went up rather than down. Why should we believe any new promises?
Mr. Speaker: The only real tax break announced in this government’s budget, accrues to persons with children studying abroad. Doesn’t that tell you something? Does that not speak more so to a particular social stratum?
You increase a tax-break from $18,000 to $60,000 and you don’t tell us how many people are likely to be relieved by this measure, which indicates to me that you probably already know the number is especially small and decidedly select.
What is in the budget for the little people is a clumsy attempt at verbal gymnastics, intended to con them with a set of very fragile statistics.
Numb them with numbers, fool them with lyrics seems to be the concept upon which the 2006/2007 budget is predicated.
The PM speaks glibly about nurturing a caring society, or healthy lifestyles. What nonsense!
There is no dignity in poverty Mr. Speaker. Poverty results in prostitution of our women to feed their children, crime, destitution and vagrancy.
Poverty results in the destruction of relations, family relations included and the mess of social ills.
It places additional strain on the resources of the health sector, the Ministry of Social Development, police service etc. There is a high financial cost effect to it.
Instead of pumping money in ill fated social programmes, the PM would be well advised to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Treat the root rather than the symptom. That is basic common sense.
I note with concern that the PM has not increased old age pensions per se but in fact has given a grant of $100 per month. I object not just to the amount but also the method of giving.
A grant can be given or taken away by executive fiat at any time and does not require legislation so it is not protected.
Today I call on the Prime Minister to increase the pension for the elderly to $2,000 and forget about any grant. In this way he would have to entrench the amount in legislation so that if he attempts to take it away, he would be subject to accounting to the people through the parliament and so would be deterred from taking it away by “vaps”.
Let us compare the $100 per month increase for old age pensioners, the disabled and those on public assistance as well as the $3 per day for the poor and destitute under the Smart Card with the millions government has spent and will be spending on entertainment, hosting, overseas travel, promotions and publicity.
Every year government has budgeted huge sums for these items in what I have dubbed their propaganda vote.
This year a grand total of $209,751,350 has been budgeted.
This number now brings the total amount spent by this government and to be spent by them to almost one billion dollars!!
And this is figure of $1b is only for ministers and their ministries and not for the 89 state enterprises/Statutory Authorities like WASA and NLCB and so on, as well as the 15 new State companies that have been established so that the total amount is even greater.
Almost one billion dollars wasted by this government to spree, fly abroad and advertise themselves in full colour pages in the newspapers.
In 2006/7, let us see who gets what.
At the top of the list is the Tourism Minister at $61.3m with $60m to be spent on overseas travel. He is definitely a high flier. Not so the Housing Minister who has been allocated a mere $250,000 nor THA and CAST which has been allocated $100,000.
The Office of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance has been allocated over $21m. Entertainment is the largest part of this at $7.7m
Next, I am sure that you would have guessed correctly is the Ministry of Education at $15.9m and not surprisingly the largest slice of this is hosting ($8 m) and for promotions and publicity at $5.1m
Tobago is at the bottom of the propaganda list in 2006/7 with a total of only $325,000 and the Ministry of Housing is second to last at $1m.
In such a context, we on this side of the House were astonished at the ease with which The Honourable Prime Minister trotted out a string of largely useless measures described as bringing relief to the poor and low-income groupings.
In his very first budget speech four years ago, this Minister of Finance boasted
“We are in the process of evaluating recommendations on pension reform with a view to providing the national community with a comprehensive pension reform framework for wide consultation.”
Again in 2004/5 Budget speech he spoke of pension reform but not surprisingly, in fiscal 2007, there is no reference to pension reform and the critical need for same.
There is a desperate need for government to index Pensions!
This becomes even more important in the context of the increasingly aging population of Trinidad and Tobago and the possibility of unsustainable pension funds to maintain it.
Already we have realized that the income provided for the aged is insufficient to keep them above the poverty line.
I propose that government institute an Earned Income Tax Credit to assist our nation’s working poor. Introduced during the Clinton administration in the US, the EITC has met with tremendous success in protecting the working poor and help them become part of the formal economic structure.
The working poor include maids and housekeepers, drivers, gardeners, secretaries, clerks, cleaners, etc.
How the system works is that a basic amount is predetermined below which we do not want our citizens to fall. It could be the poverty line if you will.
Working persons would be required to file their tax returns and will be assessed. If they fall below the established amount, they would receive in effect a grant of the difference between their income and the defined line.
This would mean that a wide cross section of the population who presently work but fall outside of the formal sector because of being paid under the minimum wage, working part time etc. would now benefit from NIS, become registered and generally improve their standard of living.
Consider it Mr. PM. It is better than anything you have in the budget.
I turn now to another sector, which also is critical to the well being of the citizenry, it is the one sector which the government boasts of greatest success.
In his speech, Hon. Prime Minister promised 8000 new homes in 2007. He chose not to tell us whether he met the promise to this House for 8200 houses in fiscal 2006. But we know that accountability is a mortal enemy of this administration.
By now everybody knows that this government’s housing program is not to provide shelter but is a house- padding exercise in the marginal constituencies.
They have no concern with operating a comprehensive programme that examines need on the basis of demographics and then distributing low-income homes on that basis.
Their number one criterion is the party card. When we ask them to come clean on their allotment policy, they avoid the question. They say there is a process. We find their process nebulous, if not magical since it selects, somehow, basically their party members, notwithstanding the diversity or configuration of applicants.
Further, Mr. Speaker, in the last year’s budget speech under the title of ‘affordable housing’ these were Hon. Prime Minister’s words:
“The inability to access mortgages because of income constraints; the high cost of land combined with the high cost of construction just takes this dream beyond the reach of many, particularly females earning less than $3,000 per month.
This Government’s strategy is to make acceptable housing available through major construction and upgrading programmes, while simultaneously addressing the issue of affordability.”
But on the official website of the Ministry of Housing for the lowest priced house of TT $200,000, gross monthly income that a prospective home owner must have is $3417.44. This gives the lie to the words from last year’s budget speech that provision was being made for persons earning less than $3000 per month when in fact all persons below $3,417 are excluded. The dream was definitely beyond their reach.
And the dream was beyond the reach of 47% of all households in the nation. The CSO clearly states that 47 percent of all households in this country earn less than $3,000 per month. Therefore government provision of housing based on a household monthly income of $3,417.14 already rendered ineligible about half of the households in Trinidad and Tobago.
This year the Hon. Prime Minister quoted a new income eligibility criterion where the households now must have an income of $4,000 per month in order to be eligible.
Now that the PM has stated a new minimum monthly income eligibility criterion of $4,000. When we cross compare this with the CSO data, it means that more than 61% of all households will not be eligible since they earn less than $4000 per month.
This means that the dream has been taken beyond the reach of 61 per cent of all households who will not be eligible for the mortgages offered by the PM to afford to own a home.
This is a dreaded situation and we want Prime Minister to explain the stand of HDC in this regard. This implies that there is more than a reasonable doubt that government’s housing program is another of those projects the government trumpets as though it is doing something for the small-income earner, when in fact it is hurting the persons most, in need of help.
The Prime Minister talked about an income bracket of $1440 to $8000 and stated that the people in this bracket will “continue to be eligible for the houses for which they originally qualified without an increase in monthly payments”.
This is classic semantic jugglery of PNM.
Will the Prime Minister explain to this house exactly when, under what conditions and through what methodology, this government considered people earning $1440 per month as eligible for housing now?
We also want to know what dedicated efforts were made by the government to make the people who earn $3000 or less per month eligible for housing?
Mr. Speaker, this government increased the loan amount from the $200,000 to $315,000 without lowering the eligibility criterion but instead increasing it to $4,000. This means they again attempted to fool the people as it is customary to the PNM culture.
The programme, therefore, is another of those projects the government trumpets as though it is doing something for the small-income earner, when in fact it is hurting the persons most in need of help, the lower middle income and lower income groups
The government has clearly lost its way.Now, clearly the Prime Minister was making his offer last year in a vacuum, wishing to palliate women by giving the impression he was thinking of them, when the concept itself is unworkable arithmetic.
The flippancy in his words is galling. He knows the problem and acknowledges it. CSO verifies the verbal concern. And then they do nothing to solve the problem.
They first deprive the most needy people. Then they have audacity to say, again in the words of Hon. PM in the last year’s budget speech. “Government is convinced that squatting has gone beyond necessity. This trend has to be stopped.”
What are the rules of necessity here? What do they want the people to do?
In order to solve this persistent problem of squatting, you need to have a well thought out policy. In this regard too the government has lost its way.
In order to take away the worst aspects of public and subsidized housing you need to have reforms that acknowledge and facilitate powerful social dynamics that shape communities.
When we institutionalized the land Settlement Agency, we wanted to avoid a new generation of previous policy mistakes. We went for property rights which were neither politically divisive nor dependent on government subsidies.
The logic was that shelter policy is a local matter. Title security increases investment in home improvement. Then you do not need to give grants. People are able to do the job themselves. Mr. Speaker, this nation has a history of self-help home construction.
Further to this, the value of a house is partly dependent on the condition of the neighborhood. If you revive the culture of rewarding achievements, such as savings and investment among the aspiring home owners, it will keep the neighborhood safe and clean and people will work hard to arrest any hint of decay. This was the logic Mr. Speaker. This is how you encourage upward social mobility. Not by building houses you consider cheap but are still outside the reach of those who need shelter most urgently.
Now when you do the opposite, you get social ramifications. And that is what the PNM has been doing for years.
Costly subsidies for housing destroy the incentives of the people to save money and to maintain the condition of their environment. Look at some of the housing schemes they built which have turned into the ghettos. What do you see?
There is something called internally displaced people (IDP) crisis in the world. Normally this crisis takes place due to the war, strife or dictatorship.
We are a small nation that never went to war and have relatively few examples of social strife, although I cannot say we have been immune from dictatorship – or, at least the clear promise of it – yet we have an IDP crisis.
If we look at the ominous noises this administration is making in the context of East Port of Spain residents, people in the smelter affected areas or poor squatters in general, we would realize that they are utterly resolute to cause havoc in the already hard life of the thousands of people.
We know that this government is not adverse to the use of violence against the small farmers, hard working poor people and quiet, peaceful communities.
This government has demonstrated its duplicity by its pathetic surrender in front of the thugs, yet it is cruel, pugnacious and impatient in front of the common people.
Again Mr. Speaker, this government will fail the individuals. Again this government will create a crisis where none intrinsically existed and, not even the fact that we are the signatories to the Habitat agenda that rejects forceful evictions as an effective enforcement measure would stop them.
They have already begun to evict people from their homes in several areas in the country.
Unless you perceive people, individuals, as inanimate objects, you cannot move them around by “vaps”. This creates a fresh catalogue of social problems.
There is dislocation that brings with it domestic upheaval, where new schools have to be identified and fresh relationships nurtured.
If government really wants to ensure that people have shelter, I suggest that they implement a Home Ownership Savings Plan which would not only assist the working poor to be able to afford to build their homes but would also encourage savings and thereby reduce inflation.
A HOSP would entail that for every dollar saved by a prospective first time home owner in the below $4000 household income per month bracket, government matches same with a dollar – Dollar for dollar for housing at the time of commencement of construction.
Yet further, I propose that government gives a tax credit to the prospective first time home owner for the money put into savings by them.
In addition to the basic needs for security of life and limb and for food and shelter, another basic requirement of our people is the well being of the body. This requires personal commitment, appropriate lifestyle choices and access to quality health care.
But here too government has lost its way in providing reliable public health care.
NATUC Secretary-General, Vincent Cabrera has said that
“The health sector is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.”
(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN 15 September 2006 )
The only positive step in the Health sector this government has taken is the appointment of Madame Justice Gladys Gafoor as the Chairperson of the Commission of Enquiry into that sector.
This lady has taken a hands-on approach and is bringing the issues to the fore so that they can no longer be covered up or swept under the carpet by government’s public relations machinery.
What she has been able to do in a remarkably short time frame is to unmask the chaos, mismanagement, corruption, understaffing, neglect and downright abuse present in the health sector.
I salute Lady Justice Gafoor today as an exemplar and suggest that other chairpersons of Commissions of Enquiry and Parliamentary committees use the same format, making proceedings available to the media, so they could, in turn, let the people know what we are being forced to accept from this uncaring government.
Mr. Speaker, in 2000 the PNM leader proclaimed to all and sundry:
“We will sit down immediately with the representatives of the Health Sector personnel and negotiate with them in good faith, to arrive at a speedy settlement of their many justifiable grievances. At all times we will treat our health workers and their representatives as mutual partners with a shared goal and mission and show them the respect and dignity they deserve.”
It is now well-documented history that this Minister of Health has presided over an exodus of health workers largely triggered and sustained by his abrasive attitude.
Health sector workers have been held to ransom, threatened and belittled in the media.
To date the government has failed to officially recognize the professional body representing doctors. Advertising campaigns have been waged to present doctors in a negative light. The morale of health sector employees is at an all time low.
In his 2003 Budget speech, the Minister of Finance unveiled his
“plan to fast-track the implementation of the Reform Programme by promoting wellness and providing affordable, quality health care in an efficient and equitable manner.”
Empty Lyrics! As with every other commitment from this government, nothing has changed. Amazingly, it continues to get worse.
* Hospitals are overcrowded and understaffed,
* There are long waiting lines for basic surgery and patients are being asked to wait for periods sometimes over years for serious surgery.
* Hospitals are without medication.
* The infrastructure is antiquated and poorly maintained – in Sangre Grande surgery had to be cancelled and doctors had to protest in order to have oxygen lines repaired, although since 2002, the Minister of Health promised faithfully, and in this House to refurbish the Hospital.
* The Forensic Science Centre is severely understaffed and unable to cope with the work load. Criminal cases are in limbo as a result.
* There is a shortage of ambulances although they had committed to buy 50 ambulances over the five year term.
* And I can go on and on.
The question is where has the money gone?
The government listed as one of its priorities for the 2005/2006 budget:
“Investing in quality healthcare by expanding the availability and
strengthening the delivery of health and wellness services” (HANSARD 2005/6 Budget speech)
Unfortunately, it has done little to actually effect this promise.
The Government is running behind Justice Gafoor trying to put plasters on every sore. What have they been doing over the past five years?
People have died!
Children have died!
This country is receiving the highest income of all its Caribbean neighbors and we cannot have a functional basic health system? Vision 2020? That is a joke Mr. Speaker.
Another five years, another ten years will only add to the rot. It is a question of priorities. We have a shortage of beds in the San Fernando Hospital but the PM endorses the expenditure of almost 50 million dollars to refurbish a liming area for his friends at Beach Camp. People are dying Mr. Speaker! Priorities! Priorities!
This government has absolutely lost its way!
Mr. Speaker when we demitted office, we left a health sector on the mend from 30 years of PNM neglect. Unfortunately, as soon as they got back into power, the PNM reverted to their age old practice.
The ambulance service (a UNC initiative) is now in private hands as the PNM could not manage it, and many of the ambulances are now lying derelict in Couva. They act as if ambulances, like police vehicles, do not run a higher risk of getting into accidents, so they have no provision for ongoing maintenance.
We deserve better Mr. Speaker.
On the issue of health care, every objective Trinbagonian will agree that the UNC government delivered, and with substantially less resources at our disposal. It was then and is now, a question of priorities.
For five years, the PM and his Minister of Health have twiddled their thumbs and thumbed their collective noses at us. The only positive development which took place under this Minister of Health seems to have been in the Pharmacy business and we do not need to wonder why.
When he gets the opportunity to speak he will regale the House with his achievements.
Here are a few I hope he comments on:
“This is the worst place I have ever seen” said Justice Gafoor after touring the Lab at the San Fernando Hospital (Express July 2005.) After five years of the PNM.
Doctors were unable to assure the population that tests done at this lab were correct. Can you imagine that? You are waiting for test results to determine if you should have surgery and there is no guarantee that the result would be accurate? You run the risk of being misdiagnosed and mistreated.
Hear the Minister of Health in 2002:
“The San Fernando Hospital upgrade has gone out to tender. Tenders are in and are being evaluated for a complete revamping of that hospital. We are putting a new burns unit there and a new lab in the San Fernando Hospital.”
(HANSARD HOR 2002, Colm Imbert, Minister of Health)
Yes, this is the same facility, the same lab that Justice Gafoor was talking about two months ago!
Like everything else, no implementation and a fresh set of promises the next chance they got.
Mr. Speaker, the hearings of the Commission became stalled for several months until earlier this year due to Government’s tardiness – and there are those who argue this was deliberate – in appointing lawyers to work with the Commission.
You would of course forgive me, and the rest of the Nation for thinking that the government could not take the heat and thus became “negligent”.
But you cannot keep a good woman down forever. It is now history that Madam Justice Gaffoor continued the hearing despite the government’s refusal to provide the requisite lawyers.
Predictably, her findings were a serious indictment on the Government and the Ministry of Health.
“Problems aplenty in health system…medical malpractice, bad management”
was the headline (EXPRESS September 8th 2006.) and I quote:
“The Commission of Enquiry into the operation and delivery of Public Health Care services has found that poor management, misappropriation of Government property and financial mismanagement, as well as what would appear to be medical malpractice, plague public health care services.”
The article “System worst under RHAs says PSA” (NEWSDAY September 12th 2006) was particularly enlightening as it contained the testimony of Mr. Stephen Thomas, first vice president of the PSA:
“There is the general perception, based upon the evidence that comes in the public domain, that the quality of health care delivery is highly questionable,”
he said, citing a sorry state of affairs in our health service, including the case of a man who apparently died of nothing more complicated than a broken leg! He also revealed the shocking tale of a child who mysteriously became comatose, after being admitted for treatment of non life-threatening burns.
Mr. Thomas also highlighted the fact that there was no proper accounting to monitor the use, abuse and theft of drugs, pharmaceutical and medical supplies at the EWMSC although there were numerous complaints of inadequacy of medical supplies over the years. There seems to have been no desire on the part of management including the Minister to address these problems although they were clearly aware of them
Other headlines tell a similar story: “Tobago’s healthcare system potential disaster” (TRINIDAD GUARDIAN September 15 2006)
Ironically this story did not even mention the embarrassment that is the Tobago Hospital. It is my fervent hope that Justice Gafoor tackles that issue as the massive cost overrun, public fracas, attempts to remove the government’s preferred contractor, time overruns all point to corruption, mismanagement and wastage of millions of taxpayers dollars. Somebody is responsible and must be made to pay. Children have died in Tobago because of inadequate of access to health care. We cannot and must not allow these deaths to be in vain.
And perhaps the Hon Minister of Finance can recognise this one:
“Corruption at Hospitals” (TRINIDAD GUARDIAN September 15 2006)
The person highlighting allegations of corruption and more so, negligence on the part of the Government is none other than Dr. Petronella Manning-Alleyne, sister of the Minister of Finance.
“Manning-Alleyne also spoke of misallocation of funds and equipment for the neonatal unit, while the physical structure continues to erode. … For the 20-how-much-years I worked here, we never had a commercial cleaning” she said.”
Mr. Speaker, the irony here is that since 2002, in his 2003 budget contribution, the Minister of Health had promised:
“We will return the Sterilization Unit to the Port of Spain General Hospital, which is going out for tender very shortly, if it has not been done already.”
They forget Mr. Speaker. And every year they repeat the same promises. And every year they fail to deliver.
Today, four years later, Dr. Manning-Alleyne advises that this is yet to be done. But the woes in the sector continue.
“Medical supplies company AA Laquis was named by neonatal consultant Manning-Alleyne in her allegations of tendering corruption and a medical supply monopoly at the Prot of Spain General Hospital.
A Member of the Tenders Board, she claimed, indicated that certain medical suppliers were “Preferred” and were often privy to inside information.”
Her public accusation has not been refuted by the named company! That tells us all something.
Listing staff shortages, and the absence of middle management, the consultant also pointed to a bigger problem when she said:
“The Health Sector Reform Programme is not something that people have been practicing as far as I understand.
These are just documents…we don’t seem to be fulfilling the requirements that are suggested by that.”
What is more telling is her revelation to the Commissioner and to the country:
“But the archaic system is not the problem…It is the lack of will to do anything different…and every time you try to do something here, somebody, because of some partisan reason, decides to step on you.”
What do you call deliberate negligence Mr. Speaker?
Put to shame by these revelations, Health Minister John Rahael recently said that all her claims had since been addressed.
What was he doing before?
The Newsday Editorial of Tuesday September 26th described his comments as:
“A shamefully inadequate explanation since if this were so, then at the very least certain procurement procedures would have been changed and there might even have been criminal charges laid against certain individuals…the hardest proof of Dr. Manning- Alleyne’s allegations lie in some simple and awful statistics: an infant mortality rate of 17 per 1000 live births (with other estimates running as high as 24), an under-five mortality rate of 20 and a maternal mortality rate of 38.”
The newspaper also reiterated the core point:
“In a nation as rich as Trinidad and Tobago, the high mortality rate of babies is not the result of lack of resources. It is the result of lack of a professional, ethical and caring attitude.” (NEWSDAY Editorial 26/09/06)
No amount of promises to deal with the problems can erase the fact that after five years of government by the PNM, hundreds of millions of dollars, the health system is in shambles. Mrs. Manning-Alleyne calls it a lack of will. I call it criminal negligence.
Mr. Speaker, this year has been marked by some of the worst crimes committed against and by children in our history. It appears that life is as expendable as those of the characters in the violent video arcade games now popular in Trinidad and Tobago.
I listened to this budget with great expectations of hearing how government was going to improve the standard of living of our children, how they were going to be protected, exposed to a better learning environment, how the issue of street children was going to be addressed, or simply how their access to health care was going to be improved..
Alas, whilst, I was definitely disappointed, I was not surprised. This is the government that refused to implemented the Childrens’ Authority which would have provided protection for children like little Amy Anumathodo.
Across a wide range of children’s issues, from poverty to education, from investment in the future economy to the debt we will hand off to our kids, this budget fails at every sequence, disregarding the present and offering nothing to future generations.
I stand here not only for my children, for my grandchildren and their generation, but for yours too and the future generations that our decisions in this House must respect. They are the ones who will spend the most time living with the consequences of our actions.
It is the children of Trinidad and Tobago who are most vulnerable and without a political voice unless we stand up for them here, and now.
There is a huge generation gap but perhaps more important, we are witnessing today wholesale importation of the worst aspects of American ghetto culture. It is in the music, in the videos, in the graffiti, in the street language and in the clothes they wear. It is in the new wave of crime as well.
We are witnessing a growing number of youth in jail for increasingly severe crimes. We are witnessing today increasingly younger criminals; Children killing children.
We are witnessing an increase in the use of alcohol, marijuana and other prohibited substances by our nation’s schoolchildren.
As the former Minister of Education, but more so as a mother and grandmother, I am extremely distressed at the scant courtesy with which the Minister of Finance has dismissed the children of Trinidad and Tobago. On the face of it, there is obviously a strong clear correlation between illiteracy and social misconduct.
To be certain there are other factors including poverty levels, the particular living environment, family life and a broad base of cultural considerations which are also relevant. The improvement of several of these factors will undoubtedly impact these social problems and must also hinge on government policy (poverty, crime etc). We understand what is in store for the youth, because we have long witnessed this government’s continuing failure to address these.
As Minister of Education, I had ensured that diagnostic and other testing was introduced at the Form One stage for what we had called the Form One Specials. This would have informed literacy levels and guided the provision of educational opportunities and teaching procedures for those most requiring it.
I am heartened to learn that this programme was not stopped by the present Minister. Unfortunately, the Minister of Education does not seem to have moved it forward either. Mark you, it is not her fault, she just does not know what the next step should be. She, no doubt has also lost her way.
Having recognized the problem of illiteracy, we began by tackling the new Form ones but there is obviously a need to work backward, to get into the primary school system and deal with the issue even earlier, given the elapsed time and concomitant lethargy since we demitted office.
The next step, assessing and identifying earlier, offers the opportunity to treat the problem before it gets into the secondary school and thereby phase out the need for the Form One Specials as we bring ALL our children up to speed.
THAT was the UNC agenda for education.
But literacy needs other approaches also to deal with elder students still in the system and with adults who would have already left our education system but who are functionally illiterate.
I salute the pioneering work done by the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) who have adopted the onerous task of tackling the problem of adult illiteracy whilst I lament the government’s continuing disregard of this critical programme that is run privately and with no funding help from the State.
Mr. Speaker, the international lending agencies: the IMF, the World Bank, the IADB all use the government provided figures which suggest a 95 percent literacy rate in Trinidad and Tobago.
However, as ALTA has advised us in an Express report headlined “T&T’s 95 percent literacy rate is a thoroughly misleading indicator” (August 13th 2006), the last surveys done by ALTA itself and by UWI revealed that, and I quote, “…at the time…between 22 and 23 percent of the population could not be considered functionally literate, and an equal but additional number had limited reading skills. From all observances, those statistics have not varied significantly since…In the sum, about 45 percent of our people cannot be considered literate according to agreed international assessment systems”
This means almost half of our citizens cannot be considered literate, according to the experts in the field.
This disclosure was made early in August this year, in enough time for consideration for inclusion in the annual budget. Instead, this Government has refused to do so.
Nothing in this budget, nothing in any previous budget of this government sought to address what we all appreciate as a very serious problem of adult literacy in Trinidad and Tobago. The Government has abdicated its responsibility to the people in this regard as well.
Mr. Speaker, ATLA has over 250 volunteer tutors, they have developed over 60 books and local teaching manuals, an entire teaching structure is in place to teach both the teachers and the student.
And this Minister of Finance has offered absolutely nothing to this organization, not through the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Community Development. Is this a deliberate and sinister plan by the PNM to keep people in ignorance?
PROTECTION OF CHILDREN
This budget like those before, speaks volumes of this government’s lack of care and concern for our Nation’s children. Like in every other sector, they know what is required, they just lack the will.
In 1991 this country ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the child,. This means an acceptance of the responsibility to introduce relevant measures so as to ensure the general welfare and protection of children in Trinidad and Tobago. The UN then requires periodic reporting of the status of the implementation of the rights of the child. In January this year, this country reported to the UN via the former Attorney General and now High Commissioner to England Mrs. Glenda Morean Phillip. She spoke of a revised National Plan of Action for Children which was to be considered by the Cabinet during the first half of this year. She boasted:
“Various strides have been made in the introduction and implementation of measures to safeguard and promote the rights of children…my delegation would like to affirm that the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is committed to working for the full realization of the rights of children.” (Mrs. Glenda Morean-Phillips opening address at the 41st session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the child, January 16 2006)
Mr. Speaker, she went further to state that in 2000, the Government had enacted five critical pieces of legislation for the benefit of children:
The Children’s Authority Act (No 64 of 2000),
The Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act (No65 of 2000),
The miscellaneous Provisions (Children) Act (No 66 of 2000),
The Adoption of Children Act (No 67 of 2000) and
The Children (Amendment) Act (No 64 of 2000); all of which was done in 2000 by the UNC government.
Having been robbed of the government, it fell unto the PNM Government to implement the legislation and our Nation’s children would have benefited from protection.
Five years of PNM rule have passed and these laws remain on the statute books but have not been implemented while our children are raped, murdered, sexually and otherwise abused.
This entire government should hang its head in shame over the callous disregard for our nation’s young.
The deception of the UN by this government was highlighted in the UN CRC report on Trinidad and Tobago where it listed as positive aspects the enactment of these laws.
I wonder if the UN knew that this government has steadfastly refused to implement the critical legislation, what the response would have been.
As it is, the UN expressed dissatisfaction that the government had been negligent in following up its commitments:
“…particularly those relating to coordination, data collection, resource allocation for children, abuse, ill treatment and domestic violence, corporal punishment, alternative care, reproductive health, education, street children, child labour and the administration of juvenile justice.” (CRC/C/TTO/CO/2, March 2006 )
This government has failed on every single major plank of the Conventions of the Rights of the Child. On every single issue relating to the protection of our children this government has failed to deliver.
And this year’s budget continues the despicable tradition of negligence. None of these issues are addressed! This country is swimming in money and nothing is being provided to safeguard our children!
If not now, when?
Mr. Speaker, last year, when the Prime Minister refused to implement the Children’s Authority legislation twenty seven children were killed. This year we are aware of some horrendous murders which have already taken place in which children were the victims.
The Prime Minister has this year for the third time promised to implement the Children’s authority this legislation. You would ask Mr. Speaker why I find no solace in that? It is because he has made that promise before. In the Budget presentation for the 2003/2004 financial year , the minister of Finance promised :
“The establishment of a Children’s Authority which will champion the rights of children;”
He refused to implement it then but condescendingly repeated his promise in the following year’s budget:
“Establishment of the Children’s Authority and the survey of needs of Children’s Homes, which commenced in fiscal 2004, will be finalized in the new year.” (Manning Budget Speech 2004/2005)
That was exactly two years ago, and still, nothing has been done Mr. Speaker.
There is not now nor has there been for months now, anything stopping the Prime Minister from implementing the law. Nothing except a lack of will.
I call on government to implement the package of Children legislation now.
Mr. Speaker, this government keeps shooting itself in the foot and then uses guile, double-speak, outrageously expensive advertising campaigns and blatant deception (as evidenced in the UN example) or, where all else fails, aggressive denial to convince the population that it is performing well.
In every sector relating to children this government has performed pitifully.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Ministry of Education which has not met any of the glorious promises made by this Minister of Finance.
The Minister of Education, when asked about the tardiness of repairs to schools, and the fact that there were still schools under repair at the time of opening the new school term, glibly insisted: “We are really happy with what we have done.”(EXPRESS Hazel knocks critics. September 9th 2006)
Referring to the special purpose Education Facilities Management Company of the Ministry she boasted:
“I am very happy that we have stretched our team and they are delivering.”
Mere days later, the EFMC was confessing that it had failed to achieve the promises made in the 2006 Budget in regard to school construction.
Mr. Speaker, talking about universal childhood education by 2010 the Prime Minister in his Budget Speech estimated that 600 Early Childhood Care Centres (ECCE) would have to be built between 2006 and 2010. Of course, he did not let us off without a firm promise: “50 of these centres will be completed and established during this fiscal year. It would accelerate the construction into 2010,” he said in a tone that suggested something might actually happen.
The financial year is now over and the Ministry of Education has not delivered a single ECCE. Not one completed!
To make matters infinitely worse, only three are expected to be delivered by the end of October 2006 – the new financial year Mr. Speaker. (Construction scuppers PM’s Budget promise. GUARDIAN 21 September).
The response from the Minister of Education for this failure was to deny it. Mrs. Manning insisted that the EFCL, who directly guides the work, hires the contractors and does the quality control were uninformed and in true Manning fashion, sought to misdirect attention from her failures. Although only 50 ECCES had been promised, Mrs. Manning would have us believe that 110 sites had been identified. You do the arithmetic.
While studiously ignoring the fact that none of the promised ECCEs were delivered in 2006, she brazenly offered that: “It was possible that construction on the 50 promised ECCEs would start this year.”
Playing games with projects for adults is one thing, because grown-ups tend to be more resilient but playing with words in disrespect of projects aimed to assist children, Mr. Speaker, must be punishable at some higher level, although stark incompetence may be argued in mitigation as, in this case, there is not even an attempt to mask it.
What is worse is whilst the UNC built ECCE centres for $250,000, under this government one centre will cost $1m!!!
Having not built the ECCE centres, I ask, What are you going to do with the 100 teachers you were supposed to have trained for these 50 centres you promised? And what about the children who were supposed to have attended these schools…where will they go?
Do you know why these units were not built ? The EFCL said that they were unable to secure contractors. Market pressures! Well, who created the market pressures in the first place? $500 million building a tsunami stadium for a cricket match which it will never see, and without the required approval too! The Prime Minister had no problem finding a contractor to build this white elephant stadium in Tarouba which no one but him wants, but he cannot get a single ECCE building completed.
Only the PNM can plan this way.
It is a question of Will. An issue of Priorities, and we have just shown that children are very low on the list of priorities of this government.
PRIMARY SCHOOL CONSRUCTION
Hear them again:
“At the primary level, the Government would rebuild some 150 primary schools to replace schools which are up to 50 years old. In fiscal 2006, 20 of these schools which cater for approximately 10,000 pupils would be reconstructed.” (2006 Budget Speech)
How many were actually done? The answer is shameful. Let me quote :
“The release added that the EFCL has begun construction on only one primary school in Icacos.”
Yet, the Minister of Finance and his dear wife, the Minister of Education are happy with their individual (and we may suppose joint) performances in those portfolios. Hopelessly and unrepentantly lost.
And, Mr. Speaker, they ain’t ‘fraid to promise.
Remember this gem from the 2006 budget speech:
“At the secondary level, the major initiative is the de-shifting and conversion of junior secondary schools to five and seven-year schools as well as the conversion of senior secondary comprehensive schools to seven-year schools. In fiscal year 2006, an additional 10 schools, five junior secondary schools and five senior secondary schools would be de-shifted allowing an additional 3,200 students to benefit from full-day schooling during this academic year.” (2006 Budget Speech)
How many were actually done? Again the EFCL confessed that only three of the ten have been de-shifted. What was the response of the Minister of Education to this? Studiously ignoring yet another failure, she noted that no de-shifted school would have more than 875 students. Who asked her that?
What about the staff, the allocations which were targeted for the proposed de-shifted schools. De-shifting requires a planned programmed approach, ensuring that all the infrastructure is in place, not just the physical structure but the staff and equipment etc. What has become of that?
Were they in fact ever sourced or even put in place, or did the government expect to fail so nothing was done, or worse, did they ever have any intention to fulfill their budget promise?
By now we should have had a surplus of teachers, desks, chairs, computers and other equipment, which would have been assigned to the de-shifted schools but were left unoccupied or unutilized because they did not de-shift the promised number of schools.
Instead we have schools protesting because of staff and equipment shortages!
But the problem does not end there. TTUTA President Clive Permell has complained that maintenance of schools is also a problem. In one incident recently fire officers condemned two blocks of the Point Fortin Secondary School.
Citing complaints about the quality of the work being done, Permell has called, and I support his call, for an engineering audit of all schools.
May I repeat that the Minister of Education is extremely happy about her performance.
Mr. Speaker, as minister of Education, I had ensured that principals receive a maintenance grant so that they could be responsible for minor maintenance at the schools.
I was shocked to learn that schools – more so the primary schools – have to go cap in hand, begging for funds to fix chairs etc. That is not the way to treat our nation’s future Mr. Speaker.
The New Grant Government Primary School is in such a decrepit state that, whilst the government is talking about de-shifting secondary schools, this primary school had to establish an involuntary shift system. That is not the way to treat our nation’s future Mr. Speaker.
Elswick Presbyterian School was condemned and no building has been built for them. Students had to be moved to the Poole River Presbyterian at great inconvenience to the children, their families and the staff of the schools.
Shame on you, Madame Minister.
The TTUTA President seems to be more aware of what is going on in education than the Minister in charge. He says:
“One suspects it is because of bureaucracy, but we are convinced that all our complaints are not handled. But trust me, there are a large stock of primary schools and other schools that need help…fast”. (Construction scuppers PM’s Budget promise. GUARDIAN 21 September)
An issue of priorities Mr. Speaker.
You see, Mr. Speaker, this government has developed a love for catchy phrases “Vision 2020″ but their priorities are confused. Money to burn, as the saying goes, and the Ministry of Education is in chaos. Schools being condemned, teachers not being paid, short staffing, failure to build….
But I ask again, so much money has been spent by this government….where has the money gone? What have we to show for it?
Not only is the future education of our children compromised. The very quality of their lives are also in trouble.
Mr. Speaker, if this government is remembered in history for one thing: it would be for the destruction of the environment of Trinidad and Tobago.
Its housing policy is dependent on converting arable land into house plots without EMA approval.
Today we see hundreds of acres of land which was formerly under sugar cane being used to build houses on, and the government tries to convince the people that these were not good arable land.
They have to clear organic material several feet deep prior to construction, but this they say was not good arable land!
But by far the worst example of wanton destruction of the environment is taking place as we speak in Chatham and La Brea. Hundreds and hundreds of acres of virgin forest are being destroyed, converted into a vast dust bowl. Natural flora and fauna, unknown specie, natural habitats for our wildlife, the wildlife itself slaughtered under the direct instruction of this Government.
Not ironically too, Mr. Speaker, this is happening despite the pleas of concerned residents who are faced with armed police because of the instructions of this government.
The Prime Minister’s response? The smelter will go on.
The response from their MP, the PNM MP for Point Fortin, his response to their cries and pleas is to label them as obstructionists, aping the words of his Leader, the smelter will go on.
There are so many unanswered questions about this deal. Mr. Speaker let me advise those involved now, this would not be a repeat of the escape which took place with the Labidco scandals in the 1990’s, in which the Manning and others were involved.
This time, the UNC government will investigate all these clandestine deals. Be warned.
Mr. Speaker I want to refer you to two environmental studies done by SEDAC (The socioeconomic data and applications centre) called the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2006 and the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI).
The EPI records high scores for Trinidad and Tobago on air quality, water resources and productive natural resources. (We know that these will change once the smelter plants come into operation).
However it recorded extremely poor performance when it came to the use of sustainable energy (like oil and gas) and the protection of our bio diversity and natural habitats.
Let me repeat what the environmentalists, the Cedros residents and the people of Trinidad have been saying: this government has been given failing marks in its use of sustainable energy and the protection of our bio diversity and natural habitats. But this is a totally new index, there is nothing available for comparison.
The more relevant index is Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) which was released at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January 2005.
Not the performance index which we already have seen chastises the government but the sustainability index.
The ESI details 146 countries’ ability to manage and sustain their environment over the next few decades.
Trinidad and Tobago ranks 139th having fallen from 121st place in 2002.
The index goes further, citing that a vast percentage of our rich, natural endowment of biodiversity is under serious threat! This is directly because of this government’s actions! This country has the largest number of threatened species of birds, mammals, amphibians and “eco-regions” of any nation in the ESI.
When it comes to land management, or the percentage of land suffering negative man made impacts – including inland waters – a vital indicator given our geographical size and population density, Trinidad and Tobago was listed as the worst ranked in the world!
And this is before the forests were cleared in La Brea and the wildlife, flora and fauna destroyed.
In the physical areas of land, water quantity and quality, air pollution reduction, and reduction of stresses on water and ecosystems this country was among the lowest scorers in the world!
Is this what we are to give to our children? This government is already frittering away their legacy, all the benefits of oil and gas. To top it off they are also destroying the future of our children, and their children!
This is why we are concerned Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, our Global Stewardship is the third worst in the world according to this report. But I have one more for you. According to this research, this country’s greenhouse gas emissions (that is the emissions of gases which destroy the environment) is the third highest per capita in the world.
And the proposed smelter plants plan to add more than 800,000 tones of carbon dioxide to our air every year!
Are you still satisfied with your stewardship Mr. Prime Minister?
It is not enough to say that we have the EMA to look after the environment. The responsibility is that of the government! Even with the EMA we are in this sad situation!
It puts shame to this country’s signature on international obligations such as the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Convention on biological diversity.
Mr. Speaker, this Parliament cannot allow itself to become swayed by the distractions of the members opposite. We must focus on this issue. I want you to note carefully that the poor ratings in protection of the environment and in the use of sustainable resources in 2006 means that our ratings will be even lower next year.
There is no laughing matter here. We are discussing the future of our children and grandchildren. We are discussing the future which you will give to them. And that future as I have just shown you, is not very bright.
Environment/ Green Fund/ Beverage Containers Bill
Mr. Speaker, while we are on the topic of the environment, we note that the Minster failed to even mention the Green Fund.
What has happened to the Green Fund? By now the monies in the Green Fund will be approaching one billion dollars. Maybe the Green Fund will be used as a slush fund for the PNM’s campaign in 2007. In the last budget the Minister promised to bring the Beverage Containers Bill. One year later we are still to see that bill introduced in this Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, the Opposition has no problem with industrial development but it must be done in the context of sustainable development with care and concern for the lives of citizens and the environment. It must not be done with arrogance and contempt for the people and their community. The disregard for the opinion of the citizens of this country with regard to industrial development in the South West of the island is typical of this Government.
It is as insulting to the intelligence of our citizens for the Hon. Prime Minister to come here one more time and make the same promises he has made for the last three years.
We know that he has failed to deliver it in every one of those year, and again he will fail this year.
His giggly Minister of Works has not been able to deliver on his promises but he continues like a stuck tape recorder saying the same words. I want to remind him that his predecessor was just as giggly but does not smile anymore.
Mr. Speaker, he has not been able to maintain the Princess Town San Fernando road as it exists today, but he is planning to build a new highway.
This is the same gentleman who was supposed to have built the interchange in 2004/2005 financial year and spent nine months building a little, uncomplicated lay bye.
It will take him the rest of his lifetime to build that interchange and like every other project that he has undertaken it will be unprofessional, overpriced and of abysmally poor quality.
Really Mr. Speaker, I feel sorry for the Prime Minister to have to put in this embarrassing position every year because of the incompetence of his Minister of Works.
He was a failure as a Minister of Health and he is a failure as a Minister of Works. It is time for him to be transferred to the Ministry of National Security, the home of failed Ministers.
This unfortunate Prime Minister was given the text to read “Infrastructure that works” by his PR team….Obviously, they, like the Minister of Works are oblivious to the huge traffic jams which frustrate our citizens resulting every day in millions of dollars worth of productive time lost.
The entire attempt to introduce the water taxis is really just a holding mechanism to distract the population from their inability after five years to deal with the congestion. The penalization of people who cannot afford new cars and chose instead to invest in less expensive foreign used vehicles is another attempt to shift the blame for the traffic jams to the general public.
To point out how foolish the entire approach is we only need note that the Comprehensive National Transportation Study has not yet been completed but the government is making multi billion dollar pronouncements on major transportation infrastructure projects, promises which they made three and four years ago and failed to implement.
The sheer duplicity and deliberate misleading of this Honorable House, and the Nation Mr. Speaker causes me great pain. We know now that when this Minister of Finance promised the over pass in 2004 he had no plan, he had no contract, he had no contractors, he had no price and in fact Mr. Speaker he had no intention to build any overpass.
Yet he stood here and unashamedly mislead this nation, and he talks about moral and spiritual values?
When the UNC government demitted office, Mr. Speaker, there was a full set of plans which had been developed after consultation with all the relevant bodies in Trinidad and Tobago.
For both the interchange and for the series of interchanges and overpasses at the key intersections! We have lost five years because of his bungling. For the last five years, citizens of this country have had to ensure traffic jams on the east west corridor because of the incompetence of this Minister.
The idea of the water taxis, Mr. Speaker, you would know was a UNC idea. But I AM CUROIUS Mr. Speaker. I am perhaps looking at the wrong sections because I have seen not one mention of any infrastructural work catered for in the budget to facilitate these water taxis.
As you would know, prior to the introduction of the water taxis, we must have appropriate ports established, parking facilities, berthing areas and so on.
To hear the Minister recently one would conclude that you simply have to charter a vessel and start. That would be an oversimplification of what is required for the project. Or maybe like so many other projects proposed by the government since 2002, this one is just another pie in the sky.
Mr. Speaker, as an attorney I want to place on record my grave concern about the way this government operates, the callous disregard for professional conduct and the rules of engagement of contract.
I refer specifically today about the Bombardier affair. I see a clear case of conflict of interest and possible misconduct in public office on the part of the Prime Minister for accepting a gift from a company bidding for a government contract. He has compromised the entire process and lacks the courage to take responsibility for his own actions.
GENDER AND CULTURE
The Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs has her own set of fancy words to describe the deafening silence from that quarter, by saying it remains “committed to the process” of developing consensus towards the establishment of a national gender policy.
The PM and his colleagues continue to discriminate against women in Trinidad and Tobago. There has been little process and no progress.
I call on the Prime Minister to put his personal preferences aside and fast track the introduction of a gender policy that would be in keeping with the wishes, aspirations and hopes of the women of the Nation.
We are tired of waiting.
Once more, perhaps there is need for the Opposition UNC to be allowed to play a more direct role to get this done.
Staying with the same Ministry, Mr. Speaker, the matter of administration of culture in this country is a scandal of scary proportions.
In 1993, Mr. Manning declared the steel pan the national musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and, since that time, he has, almost annually announced grandiose plans for pan, none – I repeat none – of which has ever been implemented.
I am told that prizes are outstanding from last years World Steelband Music Festival, which was held at Madison Square Garden in New York in June of last year, are yet to be paid.
The pan in schools project is a disaster and the government has committed not a single cent to research and development of the instrument.
We sat here last year and heard that the Grand Stand at the Queen’s Park Savannah would be torn down on Ash Wednesday to make way for an elaborate Carnival Arts Centre that nobody asked for. Result one year later? Nothing!
Like the rest of our totally embarrassed population, I really would like to find out how the recently concluded Caribbean Festival of the Arts, Carifesta 9 could have turned into such an ignominious fiasco.
I too would like to know why this government thought it necessary to subject Trinidad and Tobago to such ridicule by having a last-minute production of an event for which it had more than a year of lead-time.
The PM boasts of the Soca Warriors shamelessly but we remember. We remember that Government funding was delayed until almost after the World Cup.
We remember the delay in sending a cultural contingent to Germany. Our Prime Minister claims the Soca warriors now, but he never endorsed them then!
Little wonder that that same document makes it clear there is no prospect whatsoever of achieving what the Government claims to be its highest priority, namely raising the living standards of all Trinbagonians to those enjoyed in other developed countries.
Never before had a Minister of Finance and a government faced such an opportunity to invest wisely in the future of our country.
Never before had a Minister enjoyed such capacity to say to hard-working, innovative Trinbagonians that he saw them as the key to unlocking the country’s potential, and that the Government would back them.
Never before had a Government enjoyed such an opportunity to say to the tens of thousands of Trinis living abroad – the children and grandchildren of people still here – you can have a great future back home.
But this Government did not see this as a Budget of opportunity. Asked to choose between self-reliance and dependency, they chose the latter. Given the chance to chart a bold and better way forward, they chose to retreat to their comfortable position of dependence and destitution.
The clear and overwhelming message in this Budget to all of those who believe Mother Trinidad and Tobago can do better, is that the only way to achieve this is to bring about a change of Government.
The sooner, Mr. Speaker, the better.
But, not only has the government neglected the general citizenry when it comes to the poverty, health care, national security, education, infrastructure culture and gender affairs etc, (one wonders exactly where the money went?), they have also placed the business community at a tremendous disadvantage.
Mr. Speaker it is the business community which generates full time productive employment, which provides the fall back in the event that the oil and gas sectors collapse.
If the energy sector is the backbone of the country, the business community is the rib cage which protects the heart of the country.
In the last five years the government has done little to encourage expansion.
As a matter of fact, we are all aware that there has been a substantial exodus of business families to safer shores because of this government’s failure to deal with the kidnapping issue.
And whilst they are busy patting themselves for their “success” in reducing kidnapping, let me advise them that kidnappings have gone down not because of government actions, because there was none.
Kidnappings have gone down because of the precautions which the business community have adopted including the hiring of armed guards and the self imposed curfew. Ask the businessmen!
And worst, Mr. Speaker, the criminals have moved away from kidnapping and have developed a new method of extracting ransoms from the business community.
The Business Express of September 20th 2006 featured on their front page “Crime in Central: The price of safety”, a most disturbing and frightening trend.
The following is excerpted from that article:
“Criminal bullies have expanded their “business” in central Trinidad, where coward tax is being paid to protect wives, daughters, sons and self. A silent hell is how some Central proprietors have described their lives, with many saying that the criminals now form the real business community”
In 2006, in a country in which the Ministers claim they are trying to encourage the business community, these businessmen and women are being threatened that if they do not pay these criminals extortion money, their families will face a selection of perils, including raping of their children and tortured or murdered before their very eyes! What would you do Mr. Speaker?
Mr. Speaker, one of the businessmen interviewed said:
“Kidnappings are not down, we are just paying by installments.”
The article continues
“Are we asleep? Are we blind? This country is on the verge of collapse,” said another entrepreneur, who has postponed the expansion of his business while he decides whether or not to stay in T&T”
Is this the way to treat our businessmen? And yes Mr. Speaker, people are afraid to talk. But the public knows Mr. Speaker that these things are going on to our people in our country. No one is safe.
The business community is reaping the whirlwind which this government has sown, and I want to warn the businessmen in Port of Spain and throughout the country. This new wave of extortion will not stop in Central.
Mr. Speaker, in the IADB Special Publications on Development Volume One entitled “Policy Perspectives for Trinidad and Tobago: From Growth to Prosperity” (released earlier this year), the writers noted:
“….in light of Vision 2020’s stated goals for Trinidad and Tobago, an issue that deserves special attention is crime, both common and organized.
“In this aspect, Trinidad and Tobago ranks unusually low among countries with similar incomes and the above-described (economic) indicators.
According to the business costs of crime and violence indicator, Trinidad and Tobago ranks 87 in a sample of 104 countries, with a score of 2.8, compared to the world wide mean score of 4.4; likewise, according to the organized crime indicator, the country ranks 89, with a score of 3.4, compared to the worldwide mean score of 4.8The imbalance is striking.
“Though these indicators aim at measuring business-related costs, it is reasonable to assume that this problem bears on the rest of society. Clearly, if Trinidad and Tobago wants to provide its population a developed-country quality of life, eliminating crime and violence must be an issue of the highest priority.”
The business community is in crisis and this government is merrily ignorant, or more likely willingly negligent in dealing with their concerns.
The World Bank Group produces an annual ranking of countries based on the ease of doing business.
Trinidad and Tobago entered this listing last year, and whilst 20 new countries have been added since then, the rankings in the 2006/07rankings have been adjusted to compensate.
The Doing Business database provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement. The Doing Business indicators are comparable across 175 economies.
They indicate the regulatory costs of business and can be used to analyze specific regulations that enhance or constrain investment, productivity, and growth.
Not surprisingly, Trinidad and Tobago has slipped from 55th in 2005 to 59th in 2006.
The rating also reflected increased difficulty in terms of starting a business falling from 32 in 2005 to 35 in 2006.
The worst showing however, was in the measure of the ease of getting credit which shows the country slipping from 41 to 48.
This performance, it must be borne in mind, is during the period of greatest government income and expenditure ever witnessed by any government in the nation’s history.
Doing business in Trinidad and Tobago is becoming increasingly more difficult under this government.
This was further confirmed by the Corporate Confidence Indices or the CCI for third quarter 2006 which shows a decline in five of the six economic dimensions examined.
What is the CCI?
The CCI is an index produced by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business looking at the short and long term prospects for the economy.
Let us look at the indicators
The Financial Performance Index gives a generalised overview of the past financial performance of the firm.
More executives felt that their financial performance had deteriorated over the past six months than in the last quarter, as this index decreased by 25 index points.
The Financial Outlook Index measures executive opinion about the expected financial performance of their firms in the relative short term (six months) and long term (12 months) in order to determine what their level of economic activity is anticipated to be over these time periods.
Over the last three months, executives’ short run financial outlook fell by 20 index points, while their financial outlook for the long run fell by 15. This slide merely continues the downward trend of this index since the third quarter of 2005, and is consistent with movements in the Financial Performance Index.
Executives are cautious about the financial prospects of their organizations in the coming months and have been so for some time.
Local and global economic outlook
These indices explore the overall expectations of the level of economic activity on a local and global scale.
The aim is to quantify expectations about the performance of the macro-economy.
In addition to investment, employment and micro financial health, this index examines consumption, government spending and the value of imports and exports.
The outlook for the local economy was less optimistic in this quarter. Executive expectations for the local economy in the short and long run fell by 20 and 21 index points respectively, while the Global Economic Outlook index fell by 15 and ten index points in the short and long run respectively.
Expectations for the local economy are consistent with the other indices which comprise the CCI.
In general then, outside of the energy sector, the business community is extremely concerned about the business climate in Trinidad and Tobago. Key issues such as personal and operations safety, runaway inflation and the high and rising costs of labour have contributed to this level of discomfiture.
Another factor has been the difficulty in accessing foreign exchange, which is even more pronounced now as entrepreneurs try to get their Christmas stock in.
This flies in the face of the high foreign exchange reserves exhibited in the Central Bank figures.
We are reminded of the Governor of the Central Banks concerns of foreign exchange migration earlier this year as members of the business community apparently sought to relocate their families and investments.
This Government has succeeded in dismantling a once strong business class, a once strong manufacturing class.
Minister in the Ministry of Finance Conrad Enill in August this year told the Business Guardian that:
“One of the major issues facing Government is that of the decline of the manufacturing sector and how do we ensure that the manufacturing sector ceases to decline and instead expands.”
He went further too, remarking:
“The manufacturing sector is changing in T&T with some manufacturing industries choosing to move away from manufacturing to become distributors. So we have to deal with that.”
As usual, they know the problem and they know the solution. They just do not have the skills to implement it or, as has
been suggested, the will to correct these reversals. There is nothing in the Budget for this sector!
Mr. Speaker, even whilst taking steps to further liberalise the economy, the government has handcuffed exporters by making our exports more expensive externally.
This government’s policies have virtually wiped out the export market for our products except for oil and gas. The government induced runaway inflation has raised the cost of labour and has prompted increased interest rates thereby raising the cost of borrowing and the opportunity cost of investment.
When the new cost of security is now combined with these input costs, it is easy to see why the manufacturing sector is dying, and why the business sector generally is becoming increasingly uncompetitive locally and internationally.
It is cheaper to import a product from the large international producers than to accommodate the multiple risks to produce it domestically. It is easy to see why our manufacturing industry is in crisis.
The Global Competitiveness Report
The World Ecoomic Forum annully isues a Global Competitiveness Report.
Competitiveness is defined as a collection of factors, policies and institutions which determine the level of productivity of a country and that, therefore, determine the level of prosperity that can be attained by an economy.
In comparing countries competitiveness, the World Economic Report has found that the quality of the macroeconomic environment is a key determinant of competitiveness.
The Growth Competitiveness Index (GCI)
In formulating the range of factors that go into explaining the evolution of growth in a country, the GCI has identified what it terms the “three pillars”:
1. the quality of the macroeconomic environment,
2. the state of the country’s public institutions, and,
3. given the importance of technology and innovation, the level of its technological readiness.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that this country continues to rate poorly based on these criteria.
In fact since this government has come into office, Trinidad and Tobago has continually been in a downward slide, from a rank of 38 in 2001 to 60 in 2005.
The Business Competitiveness Index
The Business Competitiveness Index (BCI) focuses on the underlying microeconomic factors which determine an economy’s current sustainable levels of productivity and competitiveness.
It measures two areas that are critical to the microeconomic business environment in an economy:
1. The sophistication of company operations and strategy, and
2. the quality of the overarching national business environment in which they are operating.
Since both macroeconomic and microeconomic factors are critical for driving productivity, the BCI and the GCI provide complementary perspectives on national competitiveness. The results of the two indexes are highly correlated.
We have come from pride of place at number 34 in the 2001 ranking to a lowly 65th in 2005 in the BCI.
QUALITY OF THE NATIONAL BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
This is a separate index which ranks this country at 63, an unacceptable level given the high incomes and strategic location of this country.
The 2006 World Economic Forum Report was partially released last week (September 27th 2006) and shows Trinidad and Tobago’s Global Competitiveness Index slipping further down from 66 last year to 67 in 2006.
An even poorer showing was revealed in terms of our institutions (85) and our infrastructure (70). And market efficiency (69).
To highlight the fact the economic indicators are poor indicators of a country’s state, Trinidad and Tobago’s macro economy was ranked 38th.
While the figures for the BCI and GCI are not yet in, it is reasonable to assume that given the fall in the Global CI, the other two indices will reflect a continued downward slide in 2006.
What these indicators are telling us directly correlate with the previously mentioned Corporate Confidence Index which is that on an international level, Trinidad and Tobago is becoming less competitive.
Ironically perhaps, Jamaica which is higher ranked than us at 60, improved from 63 last year. Our next door neighbor, Barbados is ranked at number 31!
This government has surely lost its way.
It has completely reversed its stated policy. In the Draft National Strategic Plan the government clearly states at page 11 under the rubric The vision for national development :
“The State will provide the enabling environment as it recognises the private sector as the engine of economic growth”
Today we see the emergence of government not as a facilitator but as a major player in the economy often crowding out the private sector. This is true particularly in terms of the construction sector. Given the government’s record of economic mismanagement, we cannot be confident that we can expect positive economic performance.
Mr. Speaker: this is how our current Prime Minister and Minister of Finance responded to the 2000 budget as Opposition Leader:
“Mr. Speaker, the country is concerned about the wanton waste and gross mismanagement of our prosperity by this government. The government’s record of poor financial management threatens to undermine all the sacrifices and good work that went before.
`After five years of this regime, we are in grave danger of losing the possibility of real achievable promise of the future that our overall economic potential suggests.
It would be a great shame and a devastating blow to the vast majority of our citizens who kept the faith and demonstrated their patience and who are so close, only to see their prospect of a better life snatched away by the uncaring actions of a destructive government which believes it is accountable to no one.
However, we can’t go on this way forever. Sooner, rather than later, the economy would run out of momentum and we would plummet right back to where we were prior to the attainment of economic prosperity in the mid 90’s.
What happens when the oil price return to more normal levels as it is bound to do?”
(P. Manning, Response to the Budget 2000)
Mr. Speaker those were the words of Mr. Patrick Manning, six years ago. They fully describe the situation today. After five years in office, wasting 140 billion dollars on monuments, joyrides, friends and cronies, today the country is worse off than it was in 2000, thanks to his government.
In 2000, he was worried about what would happen when the oil prices stabilize. In 2006, The Prime Minister says that oil prices will remain high forever, and obviously since Trinidad and Tobago has an unlimited supply of oil and gas we should not be worried how HE spends it.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning, the Minister of Finance Manning stated that the high prices and high output which was being witnessed in the oil and gas industry today was not a boom but rather “…it is a movement towards sustainable development.” (EXPRESS 28 August 2006)
There is a very real possibility that this Minister of Finance has completely lost touch with reality.
I doubt he even knows what the term “sustainable development” means!
In five short years this government has spent 140 billion dollars! In this year alone, the government intends to spend $38 billion at an average rate of a one million dollars per day. This is more than was spent during the entire 10 years of the previous oil boom. In one year!
The government revenues are higher than it has ever been. But what do we have to show for it?
In an exact repetition of the PNM of the 1970’s, the PM has been wildly throwing money this way and that – spiking inflation and doing everything except ensuring that the citizens of this country benefit from the windfall.
We recall only too well the depression which followed and which will follow this boom also! The difference is that the PM would have feathered his nest and those of his friends and it will be the ordinary citizens of this country who will again be asked to sacrifice for the errors his government is making!
The Prime Minister boasted that the economy grew this year by 9 percent. During the oil boom of the 1970’s we experienced “economic growth” of an average of 9% but immediately after when we experienced the oil shock, when prices fell, the economy actually contracted by 11 percent in 1984!
Mr. Speaker has this government learnt nothing from the experience of the 1970s or , and this is my belief, is it that the government expects there to be an oil shock and is consciously ensuring that they and their friends derive maximum benefit so as to ride out the hard times?
I ask again, what will happen to the small man, the average citizen.
In 2000, Mr. Manning was saying:
“We, in the PNM, believe that in good times, the very first concern should be the strengthening of working families, and rewarding them for their vast contributions to society. To all those who have worked hard, played by the rules and sacrificed for the future of the country and our nation, the PNM’s vision will work to improve your lives and reward your efforts.”
In 2006, he is saying build the smelter plant and to hell with the citizens. In 2006, he is telling hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens to live on $3 per day per person. He continues to play “trick or treat” with pensioners and to mask his failure to deal with pension reform.
Let me remind you: Do you remember when pensions were increased by 15 % and pensioners celebrated? Food prices doubled, and the price of everything increased by substantially more than 15%. What did you really get?
Remember when taxes were reduced and everybody thought they were getting more in their pay packets? What did you really get?
That is what happens after PNM’s Christmas, the illusions disappear, and the true character of the Grinch emerges. For the past five years our citizens have heard him promise the world and deliver nothing. When the bell rings he will hear them resoundingly.
I do not jest when I say that this Prime Minister seems to think that the population of Trinidad and Tobago is exclusively comprised of idiots.
You would recall Mr. Speaker, just two months ago, the Minister of Finance was at pains to convince businessmen and the nation at large that:
“As Chairman of the Cabinet, people ask me how I live. I do not make as much money as most of you. But money is not my focus!”
(NEWSDAY August 9 2006: Manning not on money)
He is the highest paid Parliamentarian in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. I dare say no former Prime Minister had a higher salary and certainly, his salary today is higher than any he has ever received in private practice.
Money is not his focus Mr. Speaker? Yeah right!
Since becoming Prime Minister, he has increased his income from $30,000 to $61,867 per month . That is money that he puts in the bank because the state (taxpayers pay for his food, drink, travel, medical everything else separately!) His annual, bankable salary is a whopping 742,400 per year! And he expects citizens half the people of this country to exist on 3 dollars per day.
Money is not his focus? Yeah right!
Having made his wife Education Minister, he managed to further supplement the family bankable income to $1,229,800 per year. TAX FREE!
And as if that was not insulting enough, he then said: “I don’t think anyone in this room gets the job satisfaction I get from being associated with the development of Trinidad and Tobago.”
The murder rate in Trinidad and Tobago is at an all time high and the Prime Minister is satisfied.
The nation is under siege by criminals but the Prime Minister is happy with the job he is doing.
Poverty levels are unacceptably high. People in this country are existing in absolute poverty. But the Prime minister is satisfied with his performance.
The health sector is in shambles, people are dying. But the Prime Minister is satisfied.
The agricultural sector has been all but eliminated and this Prime Minister boasts of being satisfied with the job he has done.
Food prices have doubled since he became Prime Minister and he is happy!
Absolutely out of touch with reality Mr. Speaker!
As Prime Minister, he is in charge of a government which is supposed to uplift, safeguard and promote the welfare of the citizens of this great nation. He has failed miserably and ia unashamedly proud of it!
The PM talks about sustainable development. This country is suffering from classic Dutch disease and the stubborn refusal to acknowledge this has resulted in policies which exacerbate the problem!
Where has all the money gone? Let me give you a little clue:
Do you know that it costs this country fourteen million dollars per year to keep this government employed. This has got to be the largest government in the Caribbean! There are 20 Cabinet Ministers each receiving $487,400 per year and 7 non-Cabinet Ministers each collecting $419,000 per year.
But what have we, as taxpayers, as citizens received for this expense?
Mr. Speaker, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, recently posted on its website its considered opinions on the state of the economy of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Report whilst highlighting economic growth indicators, stated:
“What is most amazing, however, is the disregard shown by the leadership in Port of Spain concerning the very real danger lurking behind this tiger of an economy.
Trinidad and Tobago, with its single-sector economy and its managed peg to the U.S. dollar, must track its revenue and make a special effort to prevent a disastrous, inflation-induced bust.
Failure to do so would spell disaster for the islands’ price stability and hurt the country’s overall productive capacity.
“As the energy sector benefits from government preference and crowds out investment in other potential activities, Trinidadians and Tobagonians will eventually have to come to terms with the consequences.
Ultimately, these policies will result in highly adverse effects on Trinidad’s external competitiveness in non-energy exports. Even construction costs related to energy production are beginning to suffer from inflationary pressures.
The ripple effects of a burgeoning inflation rate will eventually affect all segments of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy, with little or no discrimination.”
Frightening! Everybody except the Prime Minister and his government can see this!
The government has refused and continues its reckless behaviour even into this next financial year, despite all the advice to exercise control and caution.
The results thus far have been predictable, as are the results for the future.
Moodys Investment Services, one of the world’s leading credit rating firms, is sounding a note of caution about the Manning Administration’s spending binge. The firm warned in an assessment of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy:
“The energy boom has led to a large rise in revenues that has been matched by the increasingly aggressive expansion in expenditures, At this stage it is not clear whether the rise in expenditure will be easily reversed, if needed,”
Noting the increase in the cost of living, Moody’s was also concerned about:
“Sharp increases in the non-energy fiscal deficit suggest public finances are increasingly exposed to potential swings in the energy cycle.
“Off-budget” spending has led to contingent liabilities and may be trouble in the long run. Any loss of competitiveness in the non-energy sector would exacerbate economic vulnerability in the energy sector.
A sharp reversal of foreign direct investment in Trinidad and Tobago could force a downgrading of the country’s stellar credit rating.”
(NATION NEWS 18/09/2006)
This Government has put all its eggs in one basket, to the exclusion of all other available receptacles. It is based on the PM’s conviction that everybody else is wrong and like Don Quixote he runs off askance and tilts at windmills created in the fantasy of his own mind.
With all the billions in revenues from the energy sector at his disposal, the mismanagement by this Minister of Finance, this Prime Minister, this government is disgracefully evident.
When the revenues from the energy sector are removed from the GDP, an even more frightening picture emerges of a people totally dependent on the vagaries of the international market for oil, gas and methanol sales, over which we have no control. The price of oil has just dropped to below sixty dollars per barrel as evidence of its volatility.
Whilst this Government is busy treating our treasury like its private campaign fund, they have been drastically increasing the level of recurrent expenditure. Even the capital expenditure being undertaken now, will result in even larger recurrent expenditure tomorrow. The government is committing future generations to greater recurrent expenditure at unsustainable levels.
The government’s inability to manage is most evident when we look at their expenditure pattern as opposed to their budgeting. Not only has expenditures risen drastically, but there has been a virtually consistent underestimating of expenditure by about four billion per year.
In 2005, this government planned to spend 24 billion, they actually spent 28 billion. In 2006, they planned again to spend 32 billion and ended up spending 37 billion. For fiscal year 2007, they are advising that they will spend 38 billion but will probably keep true to form and spend closer to 43 billion.
This is in direct contrast to the UNC budget in 2001 which was 13 billion!
Over the PNM’s five year period, we have seen a three fold increase in terms of expenditure without a three fold increase in capacity.
Another economic flaw in government’s policy is contained in this Budget Speech.. The Minister of Finance has made no effort to increase the level of efficiency of collections. He either thinks that the system is efficient or he has not figured it out. So we must continue to depend on foreign exchange earnings to finance government’s operations.
I want to warn the national community again of the effects that this government’s “doh care damn” attitude will have on the future of the country. We have now a macro disequilibrium which we did not have before.
Dealing with inflation is going to occupy the attention of policy makers for quite a while. The PNM is leaving a legacy in this country similar to what they did in 1985. We have warned them. Others have warned them. But old habits die hard.
Managing the fiscal deficit given the slowness of the economy to diversify will occupy much of the time of the UNC government next year and onwards. Once more, another government will have to step in to clean up the rubbish of incompetent economic management.
We need to marry the non oil fiscal deficit with competitiveness in particular with reference to exports, agriculture and tourism, all of which are experiencing a reduction in competitiveness on account of the impact of the fiscal deficit.
What we are seeing is a clear re-emergence of classic Dutch disease. This government has learnt nothing from the past.
I want to ask the Prime Minister as head of this amorphous government What is your position on the exchange rate?
Since they have given a targeted inflation rate, I ask through you Mr. Speaker: Is this government committed to a stable exchange rate and at what level? Does the PM believe that the present exchange rate has temporal sustainability?
Does he intend to devalue the TT$? I will give way, Mr. Speaker, to hear his answer.
Mr. Speaker, the concept of financial education for our citizens is a good one, and I want to recommend with all sincerity that Government Ministers should be the first ones to attend.
Managing peoples finances require certain basic rules and regulations which Ministers in this Government seem not to understand at all.
Mr. Speaker this budget is as deficient as it is heartless. It is a manifestation of the sad fact that this Government neither understands basic economic principles or the way in which the macro economy works.
I believe too that the Minister was intentionally vague in his presentations. Normally the Minister of Finance would give specific details in terms of wages and salaries, transfers etc, instead he chooses to focus on percentages in given sectors.
We see this as a deliberate move to conceal expenditure patterns and how they have been changing. To know how the wage bill is going to change from year to year is in the public’s interest. We need to know if the country is being saddled with an increasing wage bill which will be difficult to manage in the event of an oil shock.
I would like to refer you now to yet another example of deliberate misrepresentation in the 2007 Budget presented by the Minister of Finance. On page 51 he says:
“Mr. Speaker, the budget for FY2007 provides for total revenue of $34,125.9 million which is 3561.8 million lower than estimated revenue collections in FY 2006. The main reasons for the shortfall are the LOWER oil and gas prices used in the revenue calculations for the new fiscal year.”
You will forgive my ignorance Mr. Speaker as I confess to not being able to understand PNM economics, and as you would see PNM arithmetic, both of which differ substantially from the conventional genre taught in our nation’s schools.
The reason given for the shortfall, I remind you of his words, were the LOWER oil and gas prices used.
In 2007, the oil price used was $45 per barrel. In the 2006 Budget Speech the price of oil used was $35 per barrel. Let me repeat that.
According to the Minister of Finance, the reason for the shortfall in projected revenue was a lower price of oil used to calculate FY2007 revenue. In 2007 he used $45 and in 2006 he used $35.
This Prime Minister seems to have a serious problem understanding arithmetic. Here is a free lesson in Arithmetic for him Mr. Speaker. 45 is NOT LOWER than 35. 45 is more than 35.
This then is a clear attempt to hoodwink the population, to misinform them. What is the real reason for the shortfall since it is not the one given by the Prime Minister. Is it because of an output shortfall?
Mr. Speaker, the Petroleum sector accounts for approximately 40% of GDP and almost half of Government revenue.
We know the economy is predicated on energy and as such the proper management of this sector is essential. This year the sector is framed against a backdrop of turbulent times for oil and gas on the international markets which are underpinned by geopolitical risk factors.
In recent times we have seen just how volatile the price of oil and gas can be. From a peak of 79 dollars a barrel in August, West Texas Intermediate crude has plunged to 59 dollars a barrel last week.
In the past 10 months natural gas prices in the United States have fallen by 75%. In light of these falling prices Government continues with its programme of economic inefficiency, wastage and squander mania.
I have already alluded to the possibility that we have entered the situation of reducing production levels for oil and gas.
Last year when the former Leader of the Opposition warned this Government that the price of oil could fall, his warning was greeted by laughter and sarcasm from the benches opposite. Today that prediction is becoming a reality.
Today I want to add another warning : Slow Down ! You are biting off more than you can chew. The year 2006 bears a striking resemblance to the early eighties which was the calm just before the storm.
Gas Reserves and Deep Ibis Failure
Mr. Speaker, we are now faced with the reality of our proven natural gas reserves running out in less than 14 years. I stress on proven reserves as we are well aware that there are probable and possible reserves but it is the proven reserves that matter the most to investors and bankers.
Mr. Speaker, it is well known that the Government and its main gas supplier bpTT had banked heavily on the Deep Ibis Well delivering a major gas find. The disappointment of the Deep Ibis Well has serious consequences for this country. This must now alert us to output shocks in the energy sector.
Given our tenuous position with respect to gas reserves the Government must tell us about the status of the negotiations with Venezuela. Those talks with Venezuela are shrouded in mystery.
Despite the fact that we are running low on gas the Government has signed a plethora of MOU’s with foreign and local investors for the construction of downstream plants.
It seems the Minister of Finance is not only misleading the nation, he has taken his trade to foreign investors. Perhaps, that is the reason for the clandestine arrangements for the nation”s patrimony.
Proven oil reserves also are estimated to last only another 13 years. This means that by 2020 Trinidad and Tobago could have no oil and no gas.
Is that the Vision 2020 of which the Minister speaks?
Given our rapidly declining oil and gas reserves, the Opposition is of the view that the time has come for Trinidad and Tobago to invest in renewable energy projects such as solar energy and wind energy.
While this Government has rushed to close down and destroy the sugar industry, in Brazil they have used their sugar industry to produce ethanol which now fuels over half the vehicles in that country. Today Brazil is a model of what is possible in the field of alternative fuels.
However, since the PNM cannot think outside of the oil barrel, it will be left to a UNC Government to implement these renewable projects.
WHITHER SAVINGS? The R.S.F.
The government has implicitly indicated that it is de-emphasising savings.
Last year it based its expenditure on an oil price of US$35 per barrel. Naturally any oil price higher than 35 realised during the year would generate a surplus to be placed in the stabilization fund as in fact happened.
What did the government do for the current fiscal year?
They based expenditure on an oil price of US$45, so if the price of oil averages $45 for the new fiscal year, then clearly nothing will be placed in the fund since revenue will equal expenditure.
Saving for future generations is not a priority of this government.
It is clear that this government does not understand the purpose of using a portion of the energy rents to build a stock of assets to ensure an improvement in the well being of those future citizens for whom we are but trustees of the country’s natural resources.
This government has failed to understand the purpose of the RSF established by the UNC Government. It was never meant to be a “stabilisation” fund. It was always meant to be a heritage fund.
A stabilisation fund is triggered for use on the whim and fancy of the Minister whereas the Heritage fund requires parliamentary approval and supervision.
That is the true reason for the fund – saving for the future as opposed to how this government sees it as simply a parliamentary by pass fund for special projects.
Mr. Speaker, during the 1970’s many oil producing countries established stabilisation funds. Trinidad and Tobago was one such country.
However, the history is that the entire stabilisation fund which took ten years to accumulate from 1973 to 1983 was drawn down by this government in 3 short years during 1984,1985 and 1986 to maintain its reckless spending habits.
That fund was established without legislation and was used at the whim of the then Finance Minister. In fact the current interim RSF was also established without legislation, regretfully we were not able to enact the appropriate legislation at the time we demitted office.
The legislation referred to by the Prime Minister in his presentation then is flawed.
We can advise that now. We do not need to legislate for a stabilisation fund that is a very simple mechanism to establish. It is a simple basic account.
We do need to legislate for a heritage fund. It is suspicious to attempt to lump both funds together.
Essentially they are like oil and vinegar : they do not mix.
We recommend the establishment of a pure heritage fund to hedge against the future economic shocks, so that we can ultimately protect the young people and the next generation of Trinidad and Tobago from having to undergo the hardships we all faced during the economic depression of the 1980s.
It is clear to me that this government has either absolutely no clear understanding of the nature of heritage funds or, that they intend to mislead the population into believing that they are saving for the next generation when they actually intend to steal from this trust fund when their wild and reckless spending spree can no longer be financed due to falling oil and gas output or prices.
We would also recommend that the fund contain a minimum of about US$ 5 billion which is the equivalent of one years’ cover before interest can be withdrawn.
Mr. Speaker through you I want to suggest that the government needs help in figuring out the mechanics of the fund. They obviously are lost when it comes to basic techniques of saving.
Further, we recommend that government cuts back on its wild spending and save more in the heritage fund. The UNC proposal was that anything in excess of $22 per barrel should be placed in the fund. This government raised that amount to $35 last year and in this budget to $45.
This means that despite the windfalls in oil prices, government has been spending more and saving less of the windfalls thereby robbing the next generation of that which is rightfully theirs.
Over the last five years of this regime, real agricultural contribution fell dramatically. The shortsighted closure of Caroni 1975 Limited caused a major supply shock to both domestic and export agriculture, and allowed vast acreages of oranges, portugals, rice and other crops to be abandoned. The refusal to undertake a deliberate policy of rural and access road development has prompted farmers to abandon their fields.
This country has become totally dependent on imported food to feed our people. Our ability to exchange petrodollars for food has allowed imported food to mask the problem.
However, the continued substitution of imported food for indigenous produce crowds out local farmers, and can have dire consequences owing to the inability to control prices and the ready availability of imported food.
While imports could make food supplies available, prices may block access by a large section of the population, which therefore restores the original problems regarding food security.
But the problem is more severe that this. Increasing food prices erode real disposable incomes. This is especially true for lower income families, but when you consider that the rate of food price increase far outstrips the rate of wage increases, it becomes obvious that middle income families are also affected.
The consequences include deterioration in nutritional intake as families seek to balance a reduced budget with competing needs, including the children’s education.
In July 2005, the government set up a committee to “examine initiatives to deal ONCE AND FOR ALL with the problem of rising food prices,” as promised by Mr. Manning in the 2005 budget speech.
We may surmise that their report helped form the basis of promises in the 2006/2007 budget, and yet food prices have continued to escalate.
Wages have not kept pace. As a matter of fact it is only the PM and his Ministers who have had their salaries doubled, and in the case of the PM he has been “fortunate” enough to have had his household income at least tripled!
But what about the the taxi driver, the tailor, the doubles vendor, public servant or teacher? What about the mother on poor relief, the pensioner, the widow on survivor’s benefit? What about the average Trinbagonian?
Worse, what about the average Tobagonian? He has to pay even more for everything because government’s ferries continue to be a source of anxiety and frustration.
Mr. Speaker, a large percentage of the population of Trinidad and Tobago is being forced to chose between eating a meal today and eating a meal tomorrow.
One would have assumed that rising food prices would have attracted persons to get into farming.
Instead, it has done nothing to stimulate the development of the industry simply because farmers know that there are too many risks involved.
The 2004 Agricultural Census told us that the number of family farms had been reduced by more than 37 percent and pointed out that the collapse of the sector is due to :
Declining productivity and/or competitiveness
Lack of technological advances and
Insufficient government support (subsidies)
These are serious problems as they underscore future social and health considerations.
The much touted Vision 2020 declared food and nutrition security as one of the major development goals. This year’s budget again promises to revive the agricultural sector, which does not distinguish it from all its predecessor promises.
If nothing else, the Minister of Finance is consistent in his failure to keep his promises to this sector. In last years budget speech, he promised that this year we would have seen a dramatic rise in food production as the former CARONI workers received their lands after three years of suffering. Again the same promise is made for fiscal 2007.
Every year this government has been proclaiming that 1000 youths were going to be trained in agriculture (YAPA) and they would add to the stock of farmers who would then be able to enhance agricultural production.
The Minister of Agriculture in 2002 assured the population:
“We are taking these young people and training them, exposing them and advising them. Those who are really interested, we shall make the lands available to them. We shall assist them; we shall hold their hands and walk with them so that they will be successful.”
It almost goes without saying that this lofty plan also failed, but is repeated once more in this year’s budget speech. If persons were in fact trained, obviously the industry was not economically attractive enough to entice them to stay.
Every year, the PM stresses the importance of the Agricultural sector and the commitment of his government to bring the sector into the 21st century. Every year he fails.
In his 2004 budget speech the PM said:
“This Government has assigned a very high priority to the modernization of the agriculture sector and will immediately introduce new and appropriate technologies, improve infrastructure and generate a wave of new investments in the sector.”
Three years later, he is still making similar noises as sounding as though they are fresh and novel ideas when, in fact, it is simply more of the same, promises with no substance, no hope of implementing the grand plan.
Mr. Speaker, the PM has been extremely consistent in stating his goals:
“Our goal is to increase the sector’s contribution to economic and social development, and employment creation while providing an increasing level of the food requirements of the nation.”
This is not a typographical mistake or reading error, Mr. Speaker, this is what he said in the 2005 Budget Speech which, you will recognize is no different from what was promised the year before, or what he has said on Wednesday last.
In fact, similar utterances may be found in the records of budget speeches since 2002 and, as we ever so recently heard, the game continues.
“Our programme for revitalising the Agriculture sector is expected to gain momentum in the next fiscal period,”
He had promised (and I quote):
A reform of the Fiscal Regime for the agriculture sector & the streamlining of existing support arrangements as well as the introduction of tax credits and investment allowances to create a more effective fiscal regime in 2004″
He has variously promised a National Agriculture Information System for further modernisation of the sector, said databases were already developed on technology, markets, livestock, crops, disease control, fertiliser use, seeds and other relevant agricultural information. He promised too that the government would promote fish production through the establishment of the Fisheries Monitoring and Surveillance Unit, and put sustainable management techniques in place for renewable marine and inland fisheries.
By now, we should have had an agricultural sector capable of delivering high quality foodstuff, capable of feeding this nation at an affordable price but, as everyone knows, this is unfortunately not the case. The only fresh produce we get is fresh promises for next year, made each preceding year.
Mr. Speaker: I want to refer the Minister of Finance to a recent interview titled “Last chance for farming” reported on September 6th 2006:
“Over 19,000 local farmers are concerned that they are being edged out of existence, to make way for heavy industrialisation.
Mr. Norris Deonarine, President of the National Food Crop Farmers Association has lambasted the government for “frustrating farmers out of the business”…He said that the mostly middle aged traditional farmers have stayed in the industry and they are turned off by a complete lack of support and a negative attitude towards their trade. ‘Most of them are ready to give up agriculture as a livelihood.’ Deonarine said. ‘ They are the ones with the most knowledge about growing anything in this country’.”
In fact these are the people who possess the culture in agriculture.
This is a most telling point. No new blood was being lured to agriculture and the country is at risk of losing the veterans in the field, its most valuable human resource in this context, as this body represents the kind of experience that comes from having personally tilled the soil. Mr. Deonarine noted that the land use policy never has been truly implemented. “There have been so many studies done by the Ministry itself on land capability, yet no real understanding of this place is being demonstrated by the government,”
he said, his warning echoing those of all farmers in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Prime Minister has launched an assault on the 20,000 small farmers of this country. Why does he want to set up 8 farms to plant Ochro and melongene and pumpkin. These are well taken care of by the small farmers who can increase their production reasonably quickly if the proper support facilities are in place, e.g. Water, access roads, marketing, planting material, field support from the Ministry of Agriculture like soil testing, and pest control.
The crops identified the Budget statement have nothing to do with inflation or cost of living. They are a very small part in the basket of food (what about butter, cheese, milk, oil etc)
The government has always been lost with respect to Agriculture. Agriculture and energy have very little in common.
The emphasis on large farms is flawed. In Cuba large tobacco farms were highly inefficient. The next time the Prime Minister visits Cuba, he should ask Castro to explain why the tobacco crop had to be returned to small farmers in the 1960s who operated for profit in a highly socialist economy.
He should then ask the Aranguez farmers how they are able to make a small profit planting only an acre of cabbage, tomato, cauliflower, patchoi and baigan. Unless this government realizes that farming is about farmers, they will get as usual, nothing right in agriculture.
The PM should say why he allowed the 3,000 acres of Caroni Citrus to be abandoned and the 25,000 acres of planted sugar cane to be abandoned.
His plan, his intention was to kill agriculture and to kill the small people involved in agriculture. And it looks like he is succeeding.
The dramatic collapse in the dairy industry is similarly due to a lack of interest on the part of the government.
A September 17th, 2006 article in The Express titled “Farming woes,” cited the example of, a dairy farmer who has become exasperated by the industry, vowing to sell his farm if he got however little money for it – such was his frustration.
In the same article, Chris Medford, President of the Cattle Farmers Association detailed the decline:
“In 1998, we produced 13 million kg of milk, almost all went to Nestle. Last year, in 2005 we produced 5.8 million kg. Since the year 2000, milk production has been dropping by at least 1 million kg per year.”
He further claimed that since 2000, the number of dairy and beef cattle has been reduced by half. The 2007 Budget has not a single mention about the dairy industry.
After all the annual and sequential budget promises, after all the public pledges and commitments, after all the recognition of the need for special attention to the sector, agriculture remains in crisis.
The reason is not only that this gvernment is not seriously interested in developing this sector, being focused instead on the energy sector to the exclusion of all others.
It is that the process by which they propose to develop the sector is stagnant in outlook, impractical and short sighted.
We need to develop technology-driven agriculture. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on research and development as a guide to agricultural production.
This is the view of the UNC.
A multi pronged approach to training or retraining farmers, including an understanding of genetically modified seeds, focus on irrigation to ensure water supply during the dry season, infrastructure that concentrates on access roads, deliberate incorporating of technology and mechanization, as tools to ensure greater productivity.
But the basis of all of this must come from an evaluation of our productive soil. This government is content that merely assigning two-acre plots to farmers and trying to convince them that planting peas is sufficient.
This will create a fresh issue of dependency and do little more in the field than repeat the mistake manifested in the Wallerfield livestock experiment.
How do you know that the soil nutrients in a particular area, or its PH factor or colloids will deliver the best possible yield of pigeon peas?
By handing out little squares of land, you may be dooming those farmers who choose land from that area to spending thousands of dollars on fertilizers, chemical treatments etc. in order to convert the land to that use.
That is patently bad planning but then, that is a hallmark of this Government.
A simple example of how farmers have used native intelligence to discover these secrets, is the case of Paramin, an area equally well-known for parang music and seasonings.
In the context we are examining, this village has become the official seasoning basket of Trinidad and Tobago because, for many decades, farmers there realized the soil is best suited to cultivating chive, celery etc. and have specialized in the production and export of these items. There is a scientific practice hidden in this which has evidently escaped this government.
The UNC’s navel string is in the agricultural sector, which is perhaps why this government has studiously neglected it.
A UNC government will undertake a plot by plot assessment of the land and determine what crops can best be grown there. Proper training will be provided to ensure farmers can grow chosen crops efficiently.
We propose a reintroduction of the cooperatives in agriculture, whereby farmers engaged in similar cultivation can share resources including machinery, and the bulk purchasing of fertilizer.
This is what is required to rescue the agricultural sector and bring it first into the 21st century.
A deliberate, conscientious and protracted partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture and the farming community which, of necessity, must include tangible support from the government and which will not limit itself to conventional approaches, but consider horticulture, aqua culture, organic foods etc.
The UNC proposes to let the research and development guide the focus of the agricultural sector.
To do this we need to enhance our agricultural extension services, our access to local and international R & D and our training facilities for local farmers. We recognize that our farmers will not go to school, we must bring the school to them.
In the 2004 budget PM Manning had proposed to use some 100 acres of land to establish a Demonstration Organic Farm. Of course, like all the other promises he has made, the government has done nothing.
In 2007 budget speech, agriculture was given perhaps the most attention. Again we have promises and more promises. Perhaps the truth is hidden in the size of the allocation to the sector. A total of 750 million dollars, which tells us basically that very few if any of the commitments made will be attained. For the third year running, we are recognising the heavy dependence on the former Caroni 1975 workers as the source of the food revolution.
I have already indicated that this government lacks true commitment to the development of the agricultural sector.
The deliberate negligence of the dairy industry and the domestic rice industry by the Minister patently ignores areas in which we have tremendous expertise and which have been operating with little assistance from this government.
I am deeply saddened by what appears to be a hastily compiled list of reworded, rehashed old promises and the apparent absence of a framework, a road map including deliverables with regard to this sector. I see this as an attempt to put in place a ready explanation for the failure, again, of the government in agriculture.
There is no policy here, just a mix of programmes without timeframes. This government has absolutely no idea of how to resuscitate the agricultural sector. They are lost.
WHY ARE THEY LOST?
This has to be the great tragedy of the PNM government – they have squandered a unique opportunity to lift our relative living standards, to create a place where our most able and innovative and enterprising young people want to return to.
When the history of this Government is told, their epitaph will surely read: Here lies the PNM. They nearly wrecked the country but for the timely intervention of the UNC.
This Government has been the beneficiary of the best growth in the history of the country, growth that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything the Government itself has done.
To large degree, the good growth has been the result of the economic reforms of previous governments, the policies which they have tried desperately to brand as “failed”. The growth we may count today has not come as a result of any initiative on the part of the government, but rather, as a result of high international prices for oil and gas!
In addition, the Government came to office at the end of 2001 at a time when the economy was already growing at almost 4 % per annum. The price of oil then was nothing like today. Three additional trains of natural gas will continue to pump additional revenue into the country.`
So this Government has simply reaped benefits it did not sow, but just happened to be given power on account of its well concealed “moral and spiritual values.
And what do they do with this windfall? They spray money around to a small minority of households who, they hope, will vote for them in the next election, and by so doing convert families into beneficiaries, dependent for part of their income on the grace and favour of the Government. They further entrench a debilitating culture of dependency.
This government has absolutely lost its way.
Mr. Speaker, I have repeatedly said that Government of the PNM led by the Hon. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance are lost, and while I am certain that you would understand why, if not completely agree, I believe that I should also explain why they are lost and perhaps help them be on their way.
I have already showed you that the classical indicators used by this government are inappropriate. I have also discussed the indicators that should be used to measure development.
But Mr. Speaker, I have been going through their documents, I have reviewed this “moving onward” speech and found nothing moving onward. We are in fact stagnated at best.
The reason is that this government does not know what they are talking about. I ask the Prime Minister, What exactly does he mean by Developed Country status? What is the roadmap to get there?
Surely this must relate to a systematic reduction in negative indicators and a deliberate improvement in the positive indicators?
For example we should be looking at maybe a one percent reduction in poverty levels to get to a target of maybe 12% by 2020. What are the specific targets in specific problem areas?
I ask Mr. Speaker, knowing that they do not know. So let me guide them through you Sir.
Let me introduce a new concept to members opposite : enhancement of Net social and economic welfare. In purely academic terms, it means that well being must improve qualitatively and quantitatively.
Here is another: “Ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things.”
Development is about building institutions to help people so that their social welfare can improve. This Government has failed to build institutions based primarily on the lack of understanding of their importance in the development of a people. Instead, this government has spearheaded the dismantling of the most sacred institutions of a country, the independence of a judiciary, the medical profession, healthcare, education.
You see Mr. Speaker, institutions develop traditions, they develops cultures, they empower people. Individuals themselves cannot improve their own welfare. Governments on their own can do nothing. They need a transmission mechanism and that is the institution.
Mr. Speaker institutions must instill confidence for them to be effective. As such when you deliberately set out to emasculate them for your own personal vendettas, you reap the whirlwind after.
This government rather than engage in institutional reform has developed an entire new set of institutions, parallel institutions all of which are inefficient and expensive.
They have not learnt from last oil boom and bust and whilst there were already over eighty nine state/statutory enterprises all functioning inefficiently, they have gone ahead to create about 15 other companies none of which are regulated by legislation.
According to a Guardian editorial, “Overnight, then, with no public or parliamentary discussion, public policy changed. The effect has been to expand the state sector, re-embracing the notoriously failed expedient of state enterprises, which had mushroomed around the time of the last energy boom.
Trinidad and Tobago has very few fully functional institutions largely because of despotic nature of this government. It is useful to stress too that programmes are not institutions.
This is why we have high GDP per capita but low quality of life. To address this deficiency the government keeps throwing money after the institutions.
It takes time to build an institution, and it takes nurturing.
The family is perhaps the best known institution whereby family members get together to improve the conditions of each other.
PUBLIC SECTOR MAINTENANCE PROGRAMME
Maintenance must also be an institution. I recommend that in addition to the PSIP we should also have a PSMP, a public sector maintenance programme.
This government is guilty of spending billions to construct large buildings without putting in place the mechanisms and machinery to maintain.
Mount hope is testimony to that grand PNM tradition of negligence.
WASA is an institution involved in water delivery and also because of poor maintenance, we have a situation where wastage is higher than the delivered product.
There is now an unsustainable deficit of $1.7 billion due to the absence of a structured maintenance programme for all the plant and buildings owned or used by the government. Similarly for all roadways, drainage etc. The PSMP will be the roadmap to inform the policymakers as to when the repairs to which school will be required, which road etc. so that we can effectively dispense with the need for protests.
Mr. Speaker I want the Minister of Finance to present the Cost/Benefit analysis for every water front and every other government project to this Parliament through the Finance Committee which should have a special session to review and evaluate these projects.
We need to identify clearly an intellectual and philosophical difference of the UNC from the PNM.
Our concept of national development vision is focused on enabling the citizen as opposed to the PNM style of sporadic intervention with short term cash inducement. We are about providing property rights rather than knee-jerk property solutions. It is about substantive democracy, participatory democracy as opposed to the dictatorship and despotism practiced by the PNM.
We are proposing a system of incremental but universal development – preparing the groundwork, building the foundations as we set out to do in our first term of office, re building this nation from the ground up.
That is how you address basic needs. That is how you develop sustainability. That is how you empower people. Real measures not cosmetic, real solutions not false hopes.
It is a methodological approach which will include institutional reform and the guaranteeing of institutional safety and independence, which will guarantee the following results:
1. Improved Standard of Living
2. Sustainable growth and development of the country
* An appropriately educated population Secondary sector – processing and service sectors – criminally neglected – linking innovation with the science and technology rather than seeing science and technology as segmented item…systemic development
* Increased employment – full time, permanent well paying jobs. Facilitating business and the development of the small and medium sized business
* A responsible and responsive parliament – appropriate legislation speedily implemented
* Systematic development of the non-energy sector – specifically agriculture, tourism and education – T&T the centre of Caribbean academic, technical and vocational education.
* Development of sport as a business –
* Targeting crime spots
* Enhancing the Administration of justice
These are carefully studied considerations, ideas and methods that can work and deliver in a relatively short space of time, dependent, of course, on the extent to which the PNM will wreck the economy during its last few months in office.
My response today has not been just to highlight the multiple failures of this government. I offered some solutions including the following:
For our senior citizens and the disabled and the poor on public assistance, forget about the grant of $100 and instead increase old age pensions, disability grants and public assistance grants by way of amendments to the relevant legislation to $2,000.
For the working poor, institute a system of and Earned Income Tax Credit
For the homeless working poor, institute a Home Owners Savings Plan and thereby encourage savings and reduce inflation.
For our children, implement the package of Children’s legislation NOW.
For our women, bring on board a gender policy in the short term.
For our safety and security, implement the package of Police Reform legislation now.
For our public sector assets, institute a Public Sector Maintenance Programme, PSMP
For reducing our dependence on the energy sector and for our food security, go into a system of regional cooperatives for farmers and so help the small farmers and keep the culture in agriculture.
For our future generations, re RSF spend less and save more and so decrease Inflation.We on this side demand that the government specify in unambiguous terms, the expected results of each intervention and tabulate in reasonable detail, each aspect of its social policy.
How many are going to benefit and what result is expected at the end of the quarter and at the end of the cycle.
In that way, we can judge the performance in finite terms, where you have failed, and why and address those disasters with appropriate dispatch and remedies.
Finally, we call on government to establish a joint select committee of Parliament to review targets and assess implementation of the budget promises.
In the final analysis, Budget 2006/7 is just another round of promises from a government that has lost its way in every sphere of activity.
And so as I examine the 2006/7 budget, Mr. Speaker, I find myself at the junction where paths are either leading towards the sustainability of our nationhood or towards anarchy. While I can see a strong possibility that the macabre of PNM rule will soon come to end, I can not ignore the irreparable harm this administration is causing to our nation.
So today I did not just address those on the other side who are morbidly visionless and absolutely apathetic towards the hardship of the common people. I addressed the people of this nation.
I am talking to the people of this country because they represent the fundamental reason for our existence as their representatives. I am also talking to the people because this government can not complement the representative form of democracy with the responsible form of democracy.
This government is anti-people.
The country’s economic performance trumpeted as an indicator towards developed country status remains silent on the vast income inequality among our population as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen.
Industrial initiatives that are portrayed by the prime minister as growth engines do not speak to sustainability.
Two of the most dismal aspects of this administration are failed governance and a policy approach that is not people centered. GOVERNANCE
A responsible government, Mr. Speaker, that has a sense of servitude would be interested in providing the good governance through the measures such as effective government policies and administration, encouragement of and respect for the voice of the people and maintaining accountability to its people, upholding the rule of law, maintaining the regulatory quality, controlling the corruption and maintaining political stability. These benchmarks Mr. Speaker are the internationally accepted components of good governance.
Six internationally accepted components of good governance are:
– Voice and accountability: a government that is willing to listen to the voice of the people and make necessary adjustments to policies that affect them, and one that is vigilant about accountability to its people
– Striving to streamline administrative red-tape and reduce unnecessary stress – government effectiveness
– just application of the rule of law –
– regulatory quality
– controlling corruption
– maintaining political stability
A current World Bank report which presents governance indicators for Trinidad and Tobago for the last eight years is glaring proof of this Government’s poor performance with respect to good governance.
This government’s performance in each of the six areas has dropped from when the UNC was in office.
(1) Voice and Accountability –
2000 UNC – 63.8 %
2005 PNM – 59.9%
(2) Effectiveness of the national government
2000 UNC – 71.8%
2005 PNM – 63.6%;
(3) Just application of the rule of law
2000 UNC – 64.9%
2005 PNM – 52.7%;
(4) Regulatory quality
2000 UNC – 78.3 %
2005 PNM – 69.8% (5) Controlling Corruption –
2000 UNC – 66.7%
2005 PNM – 56.2%
(6) Political Stability
2000 UNC – 55.7%
2005 PNM – 43.4%
But, Mr. Speaker, the PNM needs to tell us how this happened. How could such a slide occur when they have holding trumps, toying with public funds at will, using taxpayers’ money to launch expensive advertising campaigns trumpeting how splendidly the government was doing when, by all the serious and applied indicators of good governance they were – and are – making an unholy mess of everything they touch.
WHERE IS THE PEOPLE CENTERED FOCUS?
There are many reasons why under the PNM we have been witnessing a slide in all the governance and Human Development Indicators. Principal among them is the failure of this government to recognize the true nature of democracy and the only faithful way to deliver in democratic spirit.
The true nature of democracy lies in the critical link between politics and service. I firmly believe that unless we understand this link and commit ourselves for its materialization, we are not truly eligible to sit as representatives of the people in this parliament.
Time and time again, we have seen that this administration oscillates between two equally inadequate methodologies. They see the State either as an omnipotent centripetal force where the state decides and does everything without reference to people or, they perceive the condition as a demonstration of the power of market forces and allow those forces to take charge of the situation to the peril of people.
So they either put the State in the center or market forces in the center but never the people making for a fundamental flaw in each such process.
The vision of the UNC has been and continues to remain putting people first. We are not about old new politics, that is about egalitarianism. We are not about old politics, that is totalitarianism. We are about the people. That is true democracy, something things government knows nothing about.
Government views with disdain any protest from the people and consequently fails to take notice of the concerns and objections raised by the people prior to entering into a dubious agreement with an industry, such as the smelter’ that presents a serious challenge to community life.
Instead this government bulldozes its path toward and through imposition of controversial and draconian measures such as mass resettlement without considering what they may confer on the community and without engaging in meaningful dialogue.
At every turn this government adopts a top-down approach even for the most sensitive of issues, namely, constitutional reform.
Under this administration we are fast approaching a phase when we will be in danger of losing all correctives to the distortions of having the State and the Market at the centre instead of having people at the centre.
Already the population has concluded that speaking to this government will not work. Protests have become the only way to embarrass this government into some kind of response and, as we have recently been witnessing, that response is only swift when it is brutal.
In true despotic fashion, the government responds with force, trying to silence opposition. Ask the people of Barrackpore, Chatham and Fyzabad.
But vox populi, vox dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God and the people will not be silenced. We will no longer tolerate the disrespect of this malevolent and mephistophilian government on hapless and helpless citizens of our country.
The most recent example of this government’s wayward and irresponsible governance is the smelter deal.
Complete failure of good governance can be identified in the case of the smelter plants where government has given precedence to economic growth over the voices of the people.
I make it clear today that a UNC government would take into account the wishes of the people with respect to the PNM’s done deal smelters and terminate any deal that they have made in the absence of meaningful dialogue with the communities and a transparent accounting to the people of this nation.
Having people at the center of policy formulation and implementation is simply the best workable option. Our people are smart, innovative and accommodating.
Consulting them is the counter guarantee against failures. The PNM should try that. Participatory governance is not about the procedural consultations held at the Hilton.
This administration clearly does not understand that it is the centrality of people in the state of affairs that makes good the affairs of the State.
This is why they are incapable of empowering the people themselves as the central strategy for sustainable economic development.
In all of the circumstances, Budget 2006/7 is yet another round of promises from a government that has lost its way in every sphere of activity.
This government has had five years of uninhibited high revenues and high expenditure. They have had every opportunity to address the problems of the national community. They have failed on every count. They have chosen to mislead rather than lead, misguide rather than guide, insult rather than consult. They have lost a great opportunity to have placed this country among the highest ranked by the socio economic and human development indicators.
Every budget from 2002 to present has tried to deal with the same problems. Every one has failed.
I have shown that the reason is that their prognosis is wrong and therefore their prescriptions are wrong. They have misdiagnosed the problems and therefore they have been unable to provide a solution.
They know that they have failed but they continue blindly along the way hoping that the inevitable oil shock would not come during their term or that they would have put away enough for themselves as individuals to ride it through. They are content to spend millions in propaganda to fool the citizens of this country.
Unfortunately, again their premise is wrong. The People of Trinidad and Tobago are not fools. They know that the government has caused the inflationary spiral which has robbed them of the value of their incomes. They know that the promises are never kept. They know that the poor and the working poor have been made worst off and that neither this budget nor the ones before have offered any solution.
During the debate to follow this presentation, government ministers will rise and boast of their accomplishments. The public knows their failures. We have to sit in the traffic, we have to face high food prices, we have to pay for private treatment as the health sector crumbles and we have to hide behind burglar proofed houses in fear of the criminals that government calls their leaders.
There is no hope under this government nor any real solutions.
More and more people are recognizing this and realize that as long as the PNM is in control of the government, our standard of living will continue to fall and our children will have no real future.
This government has lost its way. They seek their own interests even when it clashes with the national interest.
The PR is not public relations, it is Patrick’s rules. He who has the gold pays the musician, and the rest, you and I and our families, we do not count.
I urge the citizens of this nation to stand up and be counted before it is too late. We are almost there.
In closing, I wish to pay public tribute to the founder of the United National Congress whose battle against injustice and oppression, whose fight to improve the standard of living of all citizens, we carry on still.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you.