10th October 2016
The Opposition Leader was deliberately misleading the population when she made her wild and unsubstantiated allegations that the Government proposes to spend half a million dollars to build a house for the Prime Minister in Tobago. This, during a non-response to the National Budget in the House of Representatives, on Thursday, October 6th.
For the benefit of those citizens who may not be aware, and for the education of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, who as a former Prime Minister ought to have known, but clearly does not (as is quite frequent with her), since the days of our first Prime Minister, the late Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, Blenheim House in Tobago, has always served as the residence of the Prime Minister, when visiting the island.
Blenheim House was used as recently as when the late Patrick Manning was Prime Minister, and was used by his predecessors also. Under the Persad-Bissessar government, it was allowed to fall into disrepair. As Prime Minister, Mrs. Persad Bissessar (and her Cabinet) preferred to use Private Hotels, even as they also ignored the state-owned Magdalena Hotel.
As a result, Prime Minister Rowley has been using his private home at Mason Hall on all his visits to Tobago. However, it is the Government’s intention to rebuild a proper Prime Minister's Residence at Blenheim, so that the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (whoever he or she may be) can enjoy accommodations befitting of the holder of the Office, whenever he or she visits Tobago. There is provision in this budget to advance the architectural works for such work. When all is done and ready, there will be construction of a replacement building.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar should be reminded that this non-issue does not remove from our memories, her refusal to occupy the Official Residence of the Prime Minister when she was appointed to office in 2010. It is well documented that she moved into the home of her friends, the Gopauls, at Pasea, and only moved out after the outcry relating to millions of dollars’ worth of Government contracts awarded to her hosts, in most cases, even when they didn’t have the ability to undertake the projects.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar would also do well to note that a PNM Prime Minister is now occupying the Official Residence of the Prime Minister at La Fantasie, restoring dignity to the Office of Prime Minister. The high lifestyle and partying associated with the last regime in Trinidad and Tobago has come to an end. The Prime Minister is at work on time every morning.
The United National Congress (UNC) opposition’s failure to support the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), has demonstrated once again the glaring inconsistencies in their flippant stance on matters of major national importance. The latest, which could have dire consequences for financial institutions and businesses engaged in international trade, seems to point again towards an inconsistency in positions taken by the UNC Opposition versus distinctly divergent positions taken when they were in Government.
In the case of FATCA, the Minister of Finance revealed in the Parliamentary Debate that he has been aware of identical legislation since May 2013 and the former PP Government headed by Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, had agreed via a Cabinet decision, to have the agreement signed by the end of that year. So what has changed between then and now?
The UNC in Opposition has been consistent only in being inconsistent. I take you back to another conspicuous example, the recent Anti-Gang Act and Bail (Amendment) Act which the UNC piloted and championed when in Government but again backtracked and reversed their position, when asked to support its extension.
Another item of national and regional importance on which the UNC has again flip-flopped is the issue of the Caribbean Court of Justice. It was under the UNC that T&T agreed to the establishment of the CCJ. But when in Opposition after PNM was installed as the Government, the UNC in Opposition did not support this country’s acceptance of the CCJ as its final appeal court.
Then Party’s Chairman Wade Mark speaking on the issue in July 2003 commented, “Our position has remained consistent. The Party’s position on the CCJ remains unshakeable”, unshakable in terms of nonsupport of the CCJ.
In light of that, one can imagine the country’s surprise when it awoke to news in August 2012 in commemoration of the country’s 50th Independence celebrations that Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then PM, had announced that legislation would soon be brought to make the CCJ this country’s final appellate court on criminal matters. A welcomed announcement in many quarters, but no one held their breath. No further move has been made since then and one can only speculate whether the UNC has again reversed its position on this issue.
The UNC’s lack of support for anything positive for our beloved country goes as far back to the 90s when in Opposition they opposed the creation of the Police Complaints Authority and changing of the financial year.
However, when they formed the Government and presented the two pieces of legislation, the PNM did not hesitate and wholeheartedly supported the measures.
Compare this to the PNM as a responsible opposition in the period 2010 to 2015. Support for legislation was not based on being Anti-UNC or simply opposing for opposing sake. The record will show that the former PNM Opposition supported more pieces of legislation than possibly any other Opposition in this country’s history, not for mere political gain but in the national interest.
One of the first acts as Opposition Leader, Dr. Keith Rowley was to ensure his team supported the first budget presented by the Kamla Persad Bissessar Government in 2010.
Further, the PNM opposition took a leading role in Committees in crafting amendments and strengthening legislation by collaborating with the then government for the greater national good.
One only has to look to Bills with major national implications such as the Anti-Gang Bill, Anti-Terrorism Bill, the Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago Bills, and the Interception of Communications Bill to name a few, which the responsible PNM opposition then contributed to and supported. Support was not dependent on possible political gains but on an understanding that Government and Opposition must come together, more often than not, for the greater good in an effort to improve the lives of all citizens.
The inconsistent behavior demonstrated by the UNC is symptomatic of an irresponsible Opposition which may not have the real national interest at heart but is pursuing its own selfish political agenda. The UNC has signaled that it is not willing, in its behavior and actions to be pro Trinidad and Tobago but rather to be Anti-PNM. It is an illogical and irrational position to hold as it will lead to continued “opposing for the sake opposing” and the UNC continuing to be consistent only in being inconsistent.
In reviewing the one year anniversary of the PNM electoral victory, the obvious and expected analysis on the performance of the Government by all and sundry has been consuming the airwaves, armchair political discourse and the nation’s thoughts. A number of polls, scientific and unscientific have shown mixed results regarding the performance of the Government, the most notable by Nigel Henry showing a 51% approval rating when the Government only received 51.7% of votes cast a year ago. However in order to make a proper assessment of this Government’s performance, one must go back to September 7th 2015 and remember where we were as a country at that crucial time in our political, social and economic history.
With the benefit of hindsight we can only now understand where we were last year. We know now that there were a number of serious events occurring by this time last year that would have posed a perilous threat to our quality of life, irrespective of who would have won the General Election. From almost $100 per barrel, oil prices has plummeted to $45 a barrel and was to drop to the low $26 in coming months. We know now that by September 2015, the country had not experience economic growth for the entire year and was in fact contracting. Thanks to disturbing revelations by the current Minister of Finance, we know now that in September 2015, the Overdraft Facility at Central Bank was effectively maxed out at close to $9 Billion. The country was experiencing a Foreign Currency shortage and Unions were clamoring for their just dues.
The UNC government had effectively collapsed with about 25 Government members having either been fired, replaced or resigned in their five year and three month term. The foul stench of corruption was abound as the familiarity of sagas such as Lifesport, Reshmi and Prison Gate still left a sour taste in the Nation’s mouth. Yet despite all this, the UNC Government failed to acknowledge and blatantly ignored the economic woes and problems of the nation as its unrestrained election expenditure continued to sink this nation deeper and deeper into a fiscal and economic hole. Grasping to any straw, the UNC Government clung for dear life to the very end, almost pushing the boundaries of its constitution time limit and the country’s patience.
In came the PNM Government on September 7th 2015 and its first act was to reduce the Cabinet size from 33 Ministers to a more manageable 23 Ministers. The Government from early on was very upfront with the citizens about the economic challenges faced and the adjustment needed to confront such adversities. This was a very divergent policy from the UNC Government, who chose to ignore the problem and spend as if oil was still at $100.
The first Budget, presented within a month of assuming office, slashed VAT, increased the Personal Allowance to $72,000, increased OJT Stipends and removed fees for seniors for essential services. Savings were sought from Subsidies and the burden of this adjustment had to be balanced. Additional revenue raising measures were put in place seeing that oil revenue had fallen to $3.4 Billion from $10 Billion the year before. The Minister of Labour took decisive steps to assist workers in light of increasing retrenchment notices and the National Tripartite Advisory Council was set up to engage key stakeholders on issues of national development. Fundamental institutions such as the poorly functioning CSO and Local Government are in the advanced stages of being reformed. Unlike the UNC, this PNM Government has moved to complete ongoing projects and have seen the completion of the Aquatic Centre, Tennis Centre and the Cycling Velodrome with work commencing on the Brian Lara Stadium. In areas where wastage was apparent the government has moved to plug the holes and create efficiency in service delivery which will result in savings.
Other major accomplishments were the commencement of the housing programme, outfitting and occupancy of Government buildings to reduce rental fees, VAT decreased to 12.5%, cutting out wastage in the delivery of food cards while Caroni workers were paid outstanding money.
The hallmark of this Government in its achievements in its first year is that it had not acted as a populist government, as the UNC Government did but made the hard, unpopular decisions during a difficult time in this country’s history. Good Governance has been restored and there is an increased confidence in the Government. Decisive steps have been taken in International relations and the country has even seen a significant decline in it Corruption Perception Index.
As I write this oil prices still hover around $45 per barrel but the long term expectation are for increases. In the energy sector the expected increased production will auger well for the country and the Government has finalized a deal for the long awaited Mitsubishi and Massy project in the downstream, that hadn’t seen any new significant investment in many years. The Minister of Finance has announced the overdraft facility had been reduced to zero, removing us from the precarious position on which we once stood. As a sense of optimism grows in the country it is the hope that the achievements and decisions of the first year of this PNM Administration will lay the foundation and groundwork for increased delivery, reform and efficiency in its services in the following four years and beyond. This will surely redound to the improvement of the lives of all citizens and continued development of the country.
The People’s National Movement Women’s League congratulates the Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley on his stewardship over the last year that has saved this country from the brink of the disaster for which we were heading prior to the intervention of the PNM on September 7, 2015.
Trinidad and Tobago has indeed come a long way.
Despite the difficult economic times, Dr. Rowley by his leadership has been able to hold this country together by taking the people into his confidence. This was demonstrated last Sunday September 11, 2016 when he presented a report that not only told the country of the challenges we faced but he also identified that the government had a clear plan to take us out of those difficulties.
We recognize that the main burden, in difficult economic times like we are currently facing, usually fall on the women of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the mothers and caregivers who will be called upon to shoulder the responsibility to keep the families of the country together.
Dr. Rowley, by his timely address, gave the assurance that the government is definitely up to the challenge of steering the country in the right direction. We look forward to the September 30, Budget Day, when the plan for the next financial year will be announced.
We encourage the women of the PNM and indeed of the nation to heed the call to make Trinidad and Tobago a better place to live by playing our part in nurturing a safe, productive society. We can do this together.
Hon. Camille Robinson Regis, MP
National Women’s League
- Smaller Cabinet Size from 33 to 23 Members
- Decreased perception of Corruption evidenced by CPI
- Dialogue and Consultation in Decision making.
- Local Government Reform Embarked Upon (Policy Document)
- Successfully brought the Overdraft facility from negative $9 Billion to zero.
- Completion of ongoing projects viz Brian Lara Stadium, NAPA etc despite financial constraints.
- Completion of Cycling Velodrome
- Completion of Acquatic Center
- Completion of Tennis Centre
- Rationalize Fiscal Expenditure
- Timeframe set out for minimizing Budget deficit and returning to balanced budget.
- Inflation subdued at 2.1% Core and 3.5% Headline at April
- Outfitting and occupancy of Government Buildings to reduce Rental fees
- VAT Reduction decreased to 12.5%
- Personal Allowance increased to $72,000
- Phased reduction of Fuel Subsidy and savings of $340 Million
- OJT Stipends increased by 20%
- Removal for fees for persons over 60 years old for Drivers permits and passports
- GATE Reviewed to ensure savings and efficiency.
- Legislative Agenda for 2015-2020 prepared and published
- Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Properties Amt Bill passed paving the way for implementation.
- Simplified process of selecting Police Commissioner
- Enforcement of Speed Limit – Noticeable decline in road fatalities
- Firm Action to reduce violence in schools – decline in school violence.
- National Tripartite Advisory Council Established paving the way for greater consultation.
- National Statistical Institute of Trinidad and Tobago being established.
- Landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change signed
- Cooperation Agreements signed with Ghana in oil and gas.
- Opportunities created to expand trade into Venezuela.
- State Visit to Jamaica to avert a potential foreign relations crisis.
- Cut out wastage in the delivery of Food Cards
- Improved working relationship with Tobago House of Assembly (THA)
- Commenced the Housing programme under the HDC
- Paid Caroni workers outstanding money
Compare to the UNC Blunders after their first Year
- Pension promise of $3,000 for 60 year olds withdrawn
- Thousands of Contract works fired or not renewed (Response to a question from Dr. Rowley in September 2010)
- Award of Airport lighting without a Board or tendering process
- Ganga Singh appointed CEO at WASA – without Board and Advertisement
- Anand Ramlogan & missing Piano at PM residence
- Cancellation of OPVs with nothing to replace it
- SIA Files revealed in Parliament
- Appointment of Reshmie Ramnarine as Head of SIA
- Susan Francois appointed Acting Director of the FIU
- Jack Warner dispute with Nicholas CAL Board
- Mary King’s dismissal in corruption scandal
- Bulldozing Farmers Crops
- Award of Gopaul Contract with NP
- Spent over 10 million dollars in 81 overseas trips (after nine months)
- Hiring of party members (UNC), friends and family in Ministries and State Agencies with impunity.
- Hiring persons with false papers
- Shutdown of special Anti Crime Unit (SAUTT)
- Insulted Jamaicans (ATM Machine slur)
- Insulted St Lucians in despair when in hurricane damage they were told that to get aid from T&T they must agree to buy from us.