Trinidad PM: Jobs will be lost, businesses will struggle Govt’s hands tied

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during Monday night’s address to the nation.

(Trinidad Guardian) The Gov­ern­ment is not mag­ic, the Gov­ern­ment is man­age­ment.

These were the words used by Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley to end the first half of his two-part tele­vised lec­ture se­ries on the eco­nom­ic sta­tus of the coun­try.

Row­ley spent the ma­jor­i­ty of the first hour of his pre-record­ed “Mind Your Busi­ness: A Re­port To The Na­tion,” dis­cussing the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion that he and his Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) Gov­ern­ment in­her­it­ed from the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship, up­on en­ter­ing of­fice in 2015. He al­so fo­cused on how his Gov­ern­ment ap­proached the daunt­ing sit­u­a­tion and its pro­pos­als for stim­u­lat­ing the econ­o­my over the next two years.

Armed with a pow­er point pre­sen­ta­tion of graphs and di­a­grams, com­piled from da­ta from sev­er­al Gov­ern­ment min­istries, Row­ley sought to prove his case that ir­re­spon­si­ble bor­row­ing and ex­pen­di­ture cou­pled with falling en­er­gy rev­enues and pro­duc­tion be­tween 2010 and 2015, were the main con­tribut­ing fac­tors to this coun­try’s eco­nom­ic down­turn.

“It was a sit­u­a­tion where you spend all that you earn, bor­row some and spend that too,” Row­ley said dur­ing his an­i­mat­ed pre­sen­ta­tion, which was filled with stiff crit­i­cism of his po­lit­i­cal col­leagues’ ques­tion­able eco­nom­ic poli­cies.

Row­ley stat­ed that the ex­ter­nal fac­tors in the world­wide oil and gas in­dus­try were ex­ac­er­bat­ed tax breaks of­fered to en­er­gy com­pa­nies by the for­mer gov­ern­ment, with rev­enues falling from $17 bil­lion in 2014 to $1 bil­lion in 2016.

“What this did was what­ev­er tax­es we were li­able to get go­ing for­ward, even in a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion, we gave that up in those con­ces­sions,” he said as he not­ed that his gov­ern­ment was work­ing on rene­go­ti­at­ing the deals.

“Those dis­cus­sions are open, we have had some agree­ments so far and they con­tin­ue in some ar­eas,” he said.

Row­ley al­so stat­ed that in 2015, T&T’s month­ly gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture was ap­prox­i­mate­ly $5 bil­lion with $4.75 bil­lion in rev­enue and $250 mil­lion in loans. Ac­cord­ing to Row­ley, the cur­rent fig­ure stands at $4.3 bil­lion in ex­pen­di­ture, $4 bil­lion in rev­enue and $300 mil­lion in loans.

“It does not mat­ter who you vot­ed for or where you live, the coun­try could not con­tin­ue like that oth­er­wise the coun­try would end up in bank­rupt­cy,” Row­ley said.

He al­so not­ed that his Gov­ern­ment was able to im­me­di­ate­ly save $50 mil­lion a year by re­duc­ing the size of his Gov­ern­ment from 33 min­istries to 23.

“We had to cut the waste and cor­rup­tion and we made de­ci­sions to in­crease rev­enue,” Row­ley claimed.

He went on: “Some jobs would be lost, some busi­ness­es would have to strug­gle, but we must do what the rev­enue al­lows us to do and to do it on a sus­tain­able ba­sis.”

While Row­ley stat­ed that his Gov­ern­ment was able to re­duce the month­ly ex­pen­di­ture through aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures, it still had to bor­row in an ef­fort to pay pub­lic ser­vants, to pro­vide so­cial ser­vices for cit­i­zens and stim­u­late long-term eco­nom­ic growth.

How­ev­er, Row­ley was care­ful to note that his Gov­ern­ment was en­gaged in re­spon­si­ble bor­row­ing un­like the short-term arrange­ments utilised by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment in the run-up to the 2015 gen­er­al elec­tions.

“We are re­duc­ing the amount we are bor­row­ing, not be­cause we don’t want to spend, but we want to bring the econ­o­my to a po­si­tion of sta­bil­i­ty where we can, year af­ter year, seek eco­nom­ic growth,” he said.

He re­vealed that dur­ing that pe­ri­od, the Gov­ern­ment bor­rowed $ 4 bil­lion for sev­er­al State en­ter­pris­es in­clud­ing the Es­tate Man­age­ment and De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny (EM­BD), Caribbean Air­lines, the T&T Elec­tric­i­ty Com­mis­sion (T&TEC) and the Na­tion­al Car­ni­val Com­mis­sion (NCC). He said that the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment al­so sad­dled his with $5 bil­lion in debt by com­plet­ing salary ne­go­ti­a­tions with pub­lic ser­vants on the eve of the elec­tion.

“They were giv­en a pay in­crease and the mon­ey was not there,” he said.

Row­ley al­so al­leged that be­tween 2010 and 2015, the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment wast­ed $29 bil­lion in cash-$16 bil­lion from the Na­tion­al Gas Com­pa­ny (NGC), $6 bil­lion from the Cen­tral Bank and $9 bil­lion in over­draft fa­cil­i­ties.

“In fact, be­fore the elec­tions, they went in­to the NGC four times,” he said as he not­ed that the Gov­ern­ment usu­al­ly re­ceives an an­nu­al pay­ment as the ma­jor­i­ty share­hold­er.

As he ques­tioned what the funds were used for, Row­ley claimed that they could have been bet­ter utilised on projects that would stim­u­late and di­ver­si­fy the econ­o­my.

“They have the un­mit­i­gat­ed gall to tell this gov­ern­ment and you the peo­ple to put them back to con­tin­ue do­ing this,” Row­ley said.  

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