The Opposition “is sabotaging the country” and “protecting the criminal elements.”
So said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as he addressed a public meeting on the City Hall, POS on Thursday night.
The Prime Minister said the UNC was “hell bent” on not voting for the Income Tax Amendment bill because it wanted ” to protect the criminal element in the country who is parading in the financial sector, those with money to launder, those with money to hide, and those with money they can’t explain”. He said the Opposition also knew that the outcome of not supporting the measure would be “chaos” and the “ sinking of the banking sector”.
“This is sabotage by Parliamentarians, the same way that we have sabotage on the boat [when] people stuffed the toilets with oranges and those who stuffed jerseys in the toilets at the Brian Lara Stadium, (similarly) the Opposition is sabotaging the country,” he declared.
He said for the Opposition to say it would not vote for a bill which would prevent the country “from being expelled from the world banking system” or for us “to have pay more to those who allow us to continue doing business with them, to bring hardship to poor people…I call that sabotage”, he reiterated.
Recalling that the UNC had pledged to make the country ungovernable, the Prime Minister said the Opposition had now found a way.
“Our banking sector, the strongest area of our economy..they know if they attack the banking sector…it would create economic collapse..of this fragile economy. When Minister Imbert announced in the last budget that we had 1.9 per cent growth they (the UNC) almost got diarrhea. Because that is the last thing that they wanted to hear”, he said.
“And the last thing they also wanted to hear is that the police is fighting crime successfully. They want to be able to say ‘murder here, murder there’…They almost died of shock when I supported a former politician from another party to be the Commissioner of Police…They invested all their political whatever in the ferry (problems) between Trinidad and Tobago. Well when the two ferries arrive in Trinidad and Tobago, all Lomotil [going to] sell out,” he said, sending the crowd in uproar.
The boycott of T & T has begun
The Prime Minister said “already Ambassadors of foreign countries that have companies that are doing business in Trinidad and Tobago, have come to the Government to warn us that their companies are telling them that if we don’t get our act together and get ourselves out of this situation (by passing the bill), they will have difficulty doing business in and with Trinidad and Tobago. We are there already.”
“Kamla Persad Bissessar and Bhoe Tewarie are telling you, that they so want to protect your, what they call it, constitutional rights, that they will not vote in support of this (bill) and then you will (have to) bank by yourself, play by yourself and conduct your own economy; We, who are a nation trading in the world economy, we who are encouraging our banks to grow, only this week Republic Bank has spread its wings across the Caribbean by buying out Scotia bank, which is good for the people of Trinidad and Tobago…. Republic Bank is the region’s leading bank. If it comes from a country…that is a FATF pariah, what do you think is going to happen to us? Who is going to want to do business with a bank whose home country is where we are today and can go worse?…But they (the UNC) tell you they protecting you. Well let me say tonight, from this platform, they not protecting you at all. They are putting you at risk unnecessarily and you have to ask yourself, just who they are protecting. They want to protect the status quo where the FIU could be receiving reports on an annual basis of $20 billion of suspicious transactions carried out by criminals”, he said.
The Prime Minister said for those who may think that he is being harsh when he says that the UNC is supporting the criminal element, he wanted to remind them that it was the same political party which as a government used the Cabinet and deceived the Parliament in order to pass Section 34 “to prevent their friends from appearing in court… and up to this day, 16 years after white collar criminal conduct took place at in the Piarco project, there are persons in this country still to appear before a court for their conduct”. He said while their (white collar criminal) colleagues in America have already gone to jail , in Trinidad and Tobago “nothing happening. And that is what the Opposition UNC is defending”, he said.
The Prime Minister said the contractor who was building the water treatment plant in the Beetham, who got “the last billion dollars from NGC’s kitty”, left the country the day after the 2015 election when the government changed. “[That contractor] Left a billion dollar project, high and dry,..that is the same contractor who painted off his name from the equipment that (was used to) build the (last) Prime Minister’s house”, the Prime Minister said. He added that Beetham contract which was awarded at $400 million more than the lowest bid, was about white collar crime and government had this matter in court.
He said LifeSport was also white collar crime. “$400 million (spent) and murder she wrote,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the PNM saved the country $1.5 billion by retendering six contracts which had been previously awarded under the last government. “And you must ask yourselves where that $1.5 billion was going and who was getting it. And when you have the answer to that, those are the people that are being protected by the UNC when they talk about protecting the people’s interests,” he said.
“So now that the international community is saying to us that we must not stymie the FIU, that the FIU and the police must be able to go to where there is reason to believe there is criminal conduct, the UNC is saying ‘no’.
We gave them everything they wanted
He said his Government, in an effort to satisfy the Opposition, put an amendment to allow a judge to determine whether there is sufficient reason for the police to access taxpaying information and that the police officer must not be below the rank of Superintendent. “We still can’t pacify them (the UNC),” he said.
He said the UNC’s position now was that they want to deal with two other bills, which are currently before the House and which according to the standing orders cannot be considered at this time.
“ But they have found themselves in that situation because we have given them everything they wanted and they are trying to contrive a reason for not supporting the bill,” he said.
The Prime Minister said he wrote to the Opposition Leader on Monday morning requesting a private meeting “at her convenience” and she responded on Wednesday, suggesting a meeting time of 11.30 on Friday, a mere two hours before the Parliament sits on the issue. “So that meeting is a sham”, he said.
Pledging PNM 23 votes in support of the measure, he said If the Global Forum requirements are not satisfied, the PNM would have done its part.”
The successful passage of the bill requires at least three votes from the other side.