Opposition Response to Budget 2008
After 5 › years of PNM governance, our country is precariously positioned on the edge of an abyss of social and economic disaster.
This government has received the highest revenue levels in our nationís history and spent more than any other government in our nationís history.
They have spent more than $200 thousand million at the rate of about $1m per day, BUT our citizens are worse off today than they were 5 › years ago.
This government has consistently failed to deal with the critical problems facing our country and our citizens so that after 5 › years of their mismanagement, incompetence and dereliction of duty, today:
A substantial number of our citizens live in poverty and destitution whilst government ministers and their friends and family are smiling all the way to the bank
A large portion of our workforce has been humiliatingly reduced to being the working poor
The business sector has expressed a lack of confidence in the local business environment and are forced to compete on an uneven playing field
Food prices continue to skyrocket at double digit inflation rates despite all governmentís bleating and schemes about lowering food prices
The cost of housing is increasingly prohibitive as building materials and labour costs continue to soar
Citizens continue to live in fear of being raped, robbed or murdered as crime continues unabated despite governmentís A to Z of crime plans, from Anaconda to Zero Tolerance accompanied by limping blimps
The education system continues to fail our children despite the billions squandered therein
Our health sector is in crisis, with citizens unable to access basic health care
Our roads are congested and crammed resulting in hours of traffic gridlock and loss of productive manhours
More than 70 percent of households do not have an adequate supply of potable water whilst WASA has spent over $8.5b
Power outages are the order of the day as the electrical resources are stretched by demand; right here in parliament, during the last two sittings, budget day notwithstanding, we experienced power cuts
Flooding continues to be a common occurrence resulting in substantial property damage annually because of poor drainage and watercourse maintenance yet farmers get 49 cents compensation for crop damage
The economy continues to be polarized with increased dependence on the energy sector and a widening non oil fiscal deficit in the face of volatile output and prices in the energy sector
Our agricultural sector continues to contract as farmers are forced out of the sector because of governmentís neglect
High inflation caused by governmentís excessive spending has resulted in higher borrowing costs
The environment is under serious threat from proposed government projects
The administration of justice has been severely brutalized and compromised
The country is perceived as being increasingly corrupt
Instead of institutional strengthening in the public sector, institutional weakening and destruction is the modus operandi of this government.
These are the problems affecting the standard of living of our citizens and the quality and substance of our lives.
A responsible and caring government would have addressed these priority issues in its budget.
Instead, the 2008 budget is nothing more than a feeble, lackluster political attempt to deflect public pressure from the PMís constant failure to deal with the peopleís issues.
And so,I ask, where is the love?
Where is the love PM?
Where is the love?
I am forced to remind you that people ëcanít make love on hungry bellyí.
The PM does not understand that a country and its people progress only through sustained programmes for development and prosperity.
Such programmes should provide every citizen with a sense of security and wellbeing, with equality of treatment and equality of opportunity to benefit from the exploitation and development of the countryís resources.
The PM does not understand or does not want to understand that a country cannot develop with a burst of feverish, frenetic activity predicated on broken promises in the closing weeks of the life of a government
It is therefore a gross insult to the intelligence of the people of T & T for the PM to try to deceive us in his swan song Budget with re runs of his broken promises of airy-fairy projects and grandiose plans in the dying weeks of his tenure as PM.
It is a gross insult to the intelligence of the people of T & T to find Ministers obscenely falling over each other in the last weeks of their life in government repeating their broken promises to provide water, good roads and transport, housing, health care, education, schools, police stations, affordable food, agricultural development and national security.
It is a gross insult to the intelligence of the people of T & T for the Prime Minister to present a series of rehashed promises, inadequate prescriptions and an abundance of deliberate misleading statements and embellishments of the truth.
I call on all right thinking citizens to reject these contemptuous and futile attempts at pre-election pacification in the face of the reality that this government has become irrevocably brutal, reckless and irresponsible, and is guilty of perpetrating the most heinous, abusive and offensive assaults on the lives and livelihoods of our citizens.
Today, I make no recommendations to this government. We all know they know not what to do; they know not what they do, nor do they listen. They have stopped up their ears so they do not hear the cries of the people, of the fathers and mothers and children of our nation. But I warn them with the words of Proverbs 21.13.
"If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered."
So I make no recommendations to them today.
Instead, Mr. Speaker, in my contribution, I intend to highlight the critical issues of the day and the failure of the PM and his government to address them.
Further, as the alternative government, I intend to share with you some of the measures the UNC Alliance will pursue to take our people and country forward when we form the next government.
Last year in my budget contribution, I warned that this government had lost its way, that it was mismanaging our finances and did not care about the people of our nation.
I say now, having lost its way, government became confused and in their confusion have become increasingly reckless and irresponsible so much so that there is no hope or salvation for them.
This recklessness and irresponsibility is manifested in the fact that in a time of excess demand, in an inflationary environment, the PM has expanded budgeted expenditure by three thousand million dollars.
Displacement of the Business Community
Such excessive expenditure comes at a time of shortage and structural constraints and represents the height of irresponsibility to the citizenry.
Governmentís presence in the competitive marketplace has already had a significant effect on both the price and availability of resources.
The proposed substantial injection will further entrench the governmentís position at the expense of the other players in the country, including the business community.
The state will be wielding the might of the government cheque book in direct competition with the cheque book of the ordinary citizen and the business community for access to resources.
This exposes the definite potential for displacement of the business community who are being forced to compete on an uneven playing field.
Further, with excessive government expenditure over the years, it is no surprise that people are finding it difficult to source contractors and workers to build or repair homes, or to obtain basic building materials such as cement and blocks.
Worst, the governmentís massive building program has drastically forced up the price of building inputs over the last three years.
Mr. Speaker, the 2008 Budget is an inflationary one.
So too was last yearís budget.
In my last budget contribution, I predicted that governmentís inept management of its fiscal package would have resulted in double digit inflation.
It is now history that mere weeks after my words, the inflation rate climbed to 10 percent. They did not listen then, I hope they listen now.
Once more the country will have to brace itself for double digit inflation and there is every indication that if the proposed injections are applied as scheduled, we may get to double digit inflation before the end of the year.
Double digit or any inflation would mean a double blow to the consumer. The first blow is that people will now have to pay higher prices for goods and services, particularly food.
The PM has increased the minimum wage by 10 percent, but if inflation grows to ten percent, then there would be no real increase in minimum wage.
He has increased old age pensions, and disability grants and given a lump sum to public employees.
But how callous, how uncaring, how irresponsible, indeed how reckless of the Prime Minister to give to the poor, to the elderly, to the disabled in a direct (and highly public) way and then to come like a thief in the night, when they go to buy their food, their medicine and their milk and rob them of their benefit.
As Trini would say, the PM would get a ëcattleboilí because he is giving and taking back.
Three months ago in this very chamber, I presented a detailed analysis to prove that CEPEP workers, persons on fixed incomes such as pensioners and those on disability grants and anyone working for minimum wages were part of the working poor ñ condemned to poverty by the government.
I indicated then that a realistic minimum wage would be in the vicinity of $16 per hour.
I proved then that the minimum pension should be in the vicinity of $3000 per month to keep the elderly above poverty levels. The same $3000 should be applied to disability grants.
To come now and offer a paltry $1 dollar increase in the minimum wage is an insult to our workers. It does not even cover the hike in the cost of living caused by the past inflation induced by the governmentís profligate spending.
To offer a pension merely half of what was calculated to be needed is an insult to our elderly.
It is instructive to remember that while the PM was refusing our requests for a higher minimum wage and a more realistic pension, he increased his own income 3 times effectively doubling his salary since he became PM.
t is instructive to note that whilst the poor and elderly are offered these paltry sums, he wants $100,000 per plate for people to have conversations with him as they sit with the mighty emperor to eat and drink.
If the PM would tell the truth he would also accept that the one dollar increase, in an environment where the price of food has literally doubled will do nothing to improve the workerís life and he knows that.
He will admit to knowing that the increased pension and disability grant is inadequate for the elderly and disabled, that it forces them into poverty.
Where is the love??
Increased Interest Rates
Mr. Speaker,as I said, the 2008 Budget is an inflationary one and while the Central Bank has been able to intervene positively to control, in some measure, the rapid escalation in prices, it appears that the government is determined to pursue a second attempt to undo the work of the Central Bank.
And so, the firefight between governmentís fiscal profligacy and the Central Bankís monetary policy will continue to the detriment of the ordinary citizen.
The Bank will then have to introduce massive interventions to absorb the additional liquidity; to sell more bonds and/or to increase the reserve requirement and, even so, it will still have difficulty in controlling inflation.
I commiserate with the Central Bank Governor.
Now, in addition to having to pay higher prices for goods and services, particularly food, people will now find it more expensive to borrow money as liquidity control mechanisms will push interest rates up.
The people who will be worst affected by the increase in interest rates would be those holding mortgages with floating rates of interest and, new borrowers.
The business sector would also be adversely affected as increased interest rates are translated to increased financing charges and increased overdraft costs leading to a further decline in competitiveness. Because these are usually passed-on-costs, consumers will be subjected to yet another round of price increases.
The combined effect of the new round of government induced inflation contained in the proposed budget, and the Central Bankís response to it will negate the material benefit to be derived from the proposed increase in the depreciation allowance for plant and machinery.
One step forward and one step backward. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are running away very fast but staying in the same place!
But Mr. Speaker this problem will not easily go away.
The Minister of Finance in his presentation on Monday reveals his ignorance of economics and production management when he condescendingly chastises those who question government spending saying such criticism is based on ìspurious indicators of absorptive capacity.î
Personally, I found it shocking that the custodian of our financial resources was ignorant of the fact that there is a limit to how much we can spend efficiently as a country.
The notion of absorptive capacity is the key to understanding why our economy is where it is, and as a result informs policy decisions in determining operating and production levels.
Simply put, absorptive capacity refers to the ability to transform inputs into outputs without waste.
Each plant manager knows the capacity of his plant. He knows how much output he can produce using the materials and equipment at his disposal over a given shift. That is his plantís capacity.
Let us apply the concept to the economy now.
In 2000, the national budget was $13 billion.
In 2008, the figure increased by some 300 per cent to $42 billion.
During that period however the capacity of the government to discharge its functions did not increase by 300 percent!
Over the past seven years the ability of the government to implement projects has not increased by 300 per cent.
In fact, it would be safe to say that over the past seven years the capacity of the government to discharge its functions remained basically unchanged.
In 2000 for example, when the budgeted expenditure was 13 billion, inflation was not an issue of concern.
In 2002 when this government came into office, again no inflation problems.
In 2003, again no concern over inflation.
Why was this Mr. Speaker?
Simple! There was no inflationary spike despite the injection of over $60 billion between 2000 and 2003 because there existed at the time tremendous excess capacity in the country.
You see, when the PNM was voted out of office in 1995, the UNC government was confronted by an economy that was staggering to recover from a protracted and severe depression, which had resulted in huge amounts of idle capacity and capital availability in both the private and public sectors.
We recognized this and began a programme of sustainable growth aiming at full capacity in 2005. History records that we were cheated out of office before we got there.
In 2005, this very PNM government budgeted at $27 billion but when they exceeded that mark and, by supplementary appropriation, crossed to $30 billion in government expenditure, inflation became a problem for the first time since 1982. And it has not abated.
$30b represented the watershed level, demonstrating that the economy had reached optimum level. We could efficiently do no more.
If this had happened under a UNC Alliance government, you can be certain that we would have scaled back operations so that there would be no pressure on prices and lending.
The PNM on the other hand was unwilling to curb its lavish expenditure patterns. Any CXC Principles of Business student could have predicted the result. Too much money chasing too few goods causes price increases.
The PNM squandermania continues and the inflationary pressure continues, and prices will continue to rise as long as the government fails to appreciate that they have reached the limit of absorptive capacity.
So that when the Prime Minister gloats that we are where we are because of the PNM, he is not lying.
The national crisis of high prices and the resultant societal pandemic of poverty, and the associated ills of crime, breakdown of the family structure, etc. were solely caused by the PNM government.
The UNC Alliance position
What is the position of the UNC Alliance?
It is our view that Trinidad and Tobago must never have an inflation rate greater than that of our trading partnersÖ.and this is estimated at 4 percent.
Given our firm understanding of absorptive capacity and our intention that citizens get value for money and our desire to ensure that those most vulnerable in the country will have more real incomes, a UNC Alliance government will determine what the country can efficiently spend and we commit to ensure efficiency of resource use across the board.
This will obviously impact on the level of national savings.
The UNC Alliance view on savings is similarly straightforward.
Having determined what the nation can efficiently spend, we will place the rest in the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund and thereby build up a huge balance so that by the year 2020, it would be immaterial whether Trinidad and Tobago has exploitable levels of hydro carbons.
You would of course recall that the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund is a product of UNC foresight, initiative, creativity and commitment to the welfare of all our people.
This fund must ideally generate a level of returns equal to the amount of revenue we receive from the oil and gas sector.
Given todayís situation, our intention is to build this fund to such an extent that if today we are collecting $15 billion from oil and gas, 30 years from today we should collect at least the same amount from this particular fund.
In the interim, we are bent on Saving, Saving, Saving, until we have reached a level where we can be confident that we do not necessarily need natural resources for economic sustenance.
This position is one that we hold firm.
We are of the view that it is not okay to gamble with the future of the nation.
Quite frankly, we find it ironic that the PM who is chastising the poor man for gambling in play whe with one dollar of his own money, thinks nothing of gambling away three thousand five hundred million dollars of our money directly or via tax concessions for oil and gas exploration in the hope that he will get lucky.
That is hypocritical and deceitful!
The PM claims to be anti-gambling but he is gambling with our lives! He is the biggest gambler and ìcasa-manî in T&T!
We will not gamble with the nation and our future. We are cautious, conservative, and careful.
That is how we will show we care.
That is how we will show OUR love!
I turn now to the energy sector.
There is no argument that the energy sector represents the engine of growth of the Trinidad and Tobago economy. At present 43 per cent of the annual GDP originates in this sector, although it employs a mere 5 % of the labour force.
Dependence on sector
The UNC Alliance has long expressed our concerns about the absolute dependence of the government on the energy sector as a whole and the concomitant failure to develop the other sectors of the economy.
Further we have advocated restraint, and a carefully managed monetization of our resources so as to ensure a constant stream of income over a long period of time.
Neither has been forthcoming. What has become most ubiquitous however, has been the high level of secrecy regarding the contents of the MOUís to which the government commits.
This has often led to allegations of collusion and concerns about the abuse of our national patrimony.
The government has assiduously ignored its obligation to account for the use of the nationís resources by refusing to provide information on the price of gas committed to ALCOA and other downstream users.
The revelations of excerpts of the Ryder Scott gas audit have put the issue back on the front burner.
It has highlighted the clandestine manner in which the government operates.
The Minister of Energy initially promised to lay the report in the Parliament. To date he has not done so!
Further, while the Prime Minister insists that we take his word that gas will be found when it is required his assurances ring hollow in the absence of any supporting technical evidence.
How and when we utilize our diminishing and increasingly valuable reserves, at least that part over which the T&T Government has some control, is of critical importance to our inter-generational well being.
The exposure of the damning findings of the audit prompted a panicked response from the Prime Minister who immediately announced Budget Day so that he could declare incentives for hydrocarbon exploration even while he says that there is no problem.
The UNC-Alliance calls for the immediate publication of the full contents of the Ryder Scott report.
A point to note Mr. Speaker is that no-one knows what other damning disclosures may lie in that report.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister continues in his mad rush to gas based industrialization in flagrant defiance of the findings of the experts, confident only in the visions of his prophetess that there will be more oil and gas to be found
We put no trust and faith in false prophets.
The fact of the matter is that no gas has been found in the last two years!!
Further, the Ryder Scott Report reveals that our proven, probable and possible reserves have all dropped!!
The refusal of the Prime Minister to temper his industrialization programme, to desist from committing this country to additional projects until and unless additional resources are found flies in the face of common sense, especially when one considers that already projects committed by this government are in danger of becoming gas strapped based on the existing level of proven gas reserves.
The arrogance of the Prime Minister in believing that he could generate a sense of comfort by assuring citizens that HE, Prime Minister Manning has said that there is sufficient gas and therefore it must be so and we must believe him despite that the evidence is 100 percent against him, this God syndrome is extremely frightening.
If present trends continue, the nation is likely to be confronted very soon with a reduced revenue stream which will prompt a reduction in government expenditure.
As always it is those least able to bear it who will be hardest hit ñ and this will start with the make work programmes, CEPEP and URP, the most vulnerable groups, the aged and the disabled and the working poor.
I am no doomsday messenger but these are the facts.
When the oil and gas runs out, the governmentís 2020 vision will be dog eat dog. And this may come sooner than you think given the 5 gas based projects to come on stream in the short term and about 6other projects government has been touting of late.
UNC Alliance Position
A UNC Alliance government will slow down the exploitation of these finite resources.
We will put new projects on hold until proven reserves can be located to support the additional demand.
We will develop a clear programme of monetizing based on true consultation with stakeholders.
Further, A UNC Alliance government will adopt the Dubai model.
Dubai recognized the potential for severe consequences as a result of their exposure to an output shock as a result of diminishing returns in their oil economy and gas audit they proceeded to build up their saving stock. They also started to activate their non-oil sectors.
A UNC Alliance government will increase the rate at which we convert our energy into foreign exchange saved in our HSF.
We will develop other sectors of the economy, while continuing exploration in a planned, structured manner.
Mr. Speaker as you may discern, our economic philosophy is diametrically opposite to this governmentís.
The country is looking for an issue to take a stand on in the next election, and this is it!
The UNC Alliance holds the view that the country has gotten a second chance; that God has been kind to us. He has forgiven us for allowing the PNM into office in the 1970ís.
The Good Book says God provides and He helps those who help themselves.
Mr Speaker, God has already provided. Our present and future depends on how we use what he has given.
The Prime Minister professes to be a pious man yet he seems to have learnt nothing from the scriptures.
ìIn the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.î
MasterCard Vs ManningCard
The Prime Minister spent the better part of three hours boasting of how much money he was able to sink into his failing ministries over the past five years without providing any measure of service.
Mr. Speaker there is a popular advertisement that goes:
ìThere are some things that money cannot buy; for everything else there is MasterCard!î
Obviously, the Prime Minister does not subscribe to this view.
We expect his new Public Relations campaign to go something like this in the new fiscal year:
Failing Public Health Care ñ $3.7 billion
Bogus National Security ñ $4.4 billion
The Love of the People - $42 billion
Obviously, the PM believes that there is nothing that money cannot buy, so for everything ñ there is ManningCard.
The 2008 national budget is characterized by a continuation of the traditional PNM practice of throwing money behind problems rather than sensibly analyzing the issues involved, determining their root causes and devising proper solutions.
For this reason, although this government has spent more money than any other government in the history of the country, it has failed to make a dent in any of the problems facing the country.
The Minister of Finance and all his colleagues will come to this debate and regale this chamber with all the committees they have formed, buildings they have built, how much money they have spent on the problem issues, and how many persons they have exposed to some form of training, and the number of jobs allegedly created during the last six years.
They will chant the contents of the transformation in progress book supplied last Monday which they claim speaks to the governmentís performance.
But these numbers do not tell the reality of Trinidad and Tobago. These are Public Relations gimmickry, glorified conmanship, statistical manipulation and prolific spin doctoring.
Public Relations ñ Propaganda Vote
Under this PNM Government every Ministry now has a designated communications unit, including several staff members, press officers and most often highly paid consultants whose only job it is to convince the nation that the government is performing.
It is not accidental that the expenditure on the propaganda vote escalated with every passing year as this government required increasingly more money to mask its increasingly incompetent performance.
The propaganda vote is derived by combining the expenditure under the heads entertainment, overseas travel, promotions and publicity and hosting.
Not surprisingly, the propaganda vote for the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance was consistently larger than most of the other government ministers. This is because it takes a lot more effort to cover his multitude of daily bloopers.
Mr. Speaker, in 2002 their first year in office, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Patrick Manning spent $5.5 million on various aspects of PR.
For the year 2007, that increased by 300 percent to $22 million. Perhaps this has to do with all the damage control he has had to do as a result of his excesses at the palace.
But wait! It gets even worst.
For 2008, the relevant estimate is a whopping $27.4 million. I wonder what catastrophe he is bracing himself for.
The PM and MOF would have spent $111.8m during his term in office on his propaganda vote.
His wife, the Minister of Education, who spent about half a million dollars in 2002 spent 3138% percent more in 2007 ($16m) and estimates to spend another $17.6m in 2008. So from 2002 to 2008, a total of $63m in PR for the MOE.
In fact between them, the emperor and his wife would have spent a massive $174 million on propaganda during their term in office!
People in this country are starving and homeless and they can spend $174 million on publicity stunts.
That works out to an average of $ 80,000 per day for every day for the last 5 › years.
This government would have spent $63.7 million since 2002 to prop the sagging performance of the Minister of National Security.
Another chronic blunderbuss, the Minister of Health, would have spent $67.3 million to bolster his image.
As before, the biggest spenders have been the PM and the MOE and as before the Minister of Housing is at the bottom of the list.
The statistics reveal that this government would have spent a grand total of close to $1b ie one hundred thousand million on propaganda since assuming office in 2002.
From an expenditure of $17.8m on propaganda in 2002, government has increased its expenditure by 1,353% in 2008 to S260m.
For the year 2008, the government proposes to spend some $260 million on entertainment, overseas travel, promotions and publicity and hosting.
By way of comparison, the UNC government spent $14 million during its last year in office under these heads. And in years prior to 2001, the expenditure was less than $14m.
BROKEN BUDGET PROMISES
Certainly one of the difficulties which even the best spin doctors will have with this government is that they have developed a reputation for broken promises, and this has resulted in a loss of confidence in the delivery of commitments made by the government.
The public remains baffled as to why there are so many broken promises especially those emanating from the annual budget.
One school of thought is that it is because the persons who actually make the decisions for the government are not those who were elected by the people, and that the country is being run by persons who control from the shadows.
That this is so makes a mockery of the democratic process!
Others have suggested that many promises are made with no intention to implement.
This is a hallmark of the PNM, and is clearly contrary to the principles of democracy.
In the fiscal package presented on Monday, the Minister of Finance made quite a lot of promises, some of which were quite familiar. In fact, throughout the three-and-a-half-hour speech, one would be forgiven for asking whether the Minister was not reading from a previous yearís document.
Mr Speaker, one does not have to look far to find the broken promises. There are thousands of citizens whose distressed lives are today living testimony of the deceit and failures:
In 2003, this very Minister of Finance assured the Nation that Caroni (1975) Limited will remain in the sugar processing business and cane cultivation and production will be done by cane farmers.
Today, the sugar industry is dead and cane farmers are out of business.
The allocation of land to the former Caroni workers for the production of food for the country has been a constant undelivered promise since 2004.
This year is no exception.
The construction of the Mamoral Dam & Reservoir Project was a priority of the 2004 Budget but was not started.
In the following year, 2005, the promise was recycled into the Budget, and an allocation of $100 million was made for the project.
Nothing happened and the process was repeated in 2006.
Since then, the government appears to have completely abandoned this project as the dam has not been built and is no longer under consideration.in 2008.
In 2008 the government has promised to build and rebuild police stations they promised to build every single year since 2003.
Every year they are going to start the stations at Brasso and Manzanilla. Yet they cannot start.
Since 2004 to date every single budget has come with promises of new highways to Mayaro and Point Fortin which still have not commenced.
A parole system was promised in the 2004 budget and never mentioned again.
Comprehensive Local Government reform has been promised since 2004.
New Hospitals were promised for Point Fortin and Scarborough both in 2005 and 2006. Up to now, neither have been built!
The Minister of Finance promised that those projects would be started by 2007. In the 2008 Budget Speech, the Minister advised that construction was ìabout to beginî.
In 2004, this same Minister of Finance said the National Oncology Centre would be started in the 2004-2005 fiscal year. It has only now started and will not be completed until 2009 or so they say.
There have been multiple promises about the number of ECCEs which would have been constructed in any given year.
The government has failed to meet its target every single year. In 2003/4 promised 50; 2004/5 promised 43, 2005/6 promised 150 (600 by 2010), 2006/7 promised 150 (600 by 2010). If the PM had kept his promises there would be a total of 393 ECCE centres now but this year he admits only 7 have been built but goes on to promise to build 33 in the coming year.
A new procurement reform programme due to begin in June 2006 has not yet commenced.
Mr Speaker, I could go on all day and night recapping the broken and undelivered promises of this government. There are so many. My colleagues would speak more on this.
This government and its Prime Minister have lost all credibility when it comes to keeping promises.
A survey done by the PriceWaterhouse Coopers firm has found that 77 per cent of the projects promised in the 2006-07 Budget alone have not been delivered. This is a 77 per cent failure rate from last year to this year.
If that trend should continue, it would mean that most of the promises made this year will not be delivered at the end of financial 2008.
Mr Speaker, what amazed me is that so many of these projects are behind schedule, undelivered and abandoned, and this government will not have the courtesy to inform this Honourable House of the reason for its inability get them completed.
Worst, having failed to deliver on last years promises, the Minister begins to promise anew.
This Minister of Finance has clearly lost all credibility.
Mr. Speaker, the sector that has perhaps been the recipient of the most broken promises from this government is Agriculture.
The lobby for increased emphasis on agriculture has been pleading for decades to be taken seriously, without success. But you see, Mr Speaker, this government has its priorities all mixed up.
Imagine last year, the Minister of Finance saying as he has said this year and all previous years, that ìAgriculture is a priorityî.
But in the 2007 financial year expenditure on Agriculture was a meagre $697 million ñ a paltry 1.7 per cent of the $41 billion that was blown away by the government during the last year.
$697 million for the whole agriculture sector but $1 billion for the over-priced, incomplete and unwanted Brian Lara Stadium; $200 million for a palace for the Royal couple! So is agriculture really a priority?
Under the heading fiscal operations for 2008 on page 49 of the budget speech, the PM advised that the proposed agricultural allocation was $1.2b. However, this is at variance with the allocation shown under Head 25 (Agriculture) of the Appropriations Bill is about $674m which is the same figure found in the Estimates of Expenditure at page 126.
This apparent contradiction requires clarification.
If it is that the proposed allocation is indeed $1.2b the question is why now? Why so late? After the PM has ignored all the pleas and supplication from the farming public and the consuming public to invest in the land!
Why should the public believe in this sudden ìintense focusî that is being placed on agriculture in the 2007-08 Budget?
Every year the minister professed to be placing intense focus on agriculture and every year he neglected the sector.
None of the support systems materialised and for that agriculture became an infertile venture.
Mr Speaker, from 1995 to 2000, the UNC developed the infrastructure ñ access roads and bridges. We built and refurbished markets. NAMDEVCO was restructured and given a new mandate to provide technical and market support. Financial incentives and assistance were provided to make the acquisition of machinery and equipment more affordable, and thousands of persons benefited from training in various aspects of agriculture and animal husbandry.
We were dealing with the issue of flooding by developing and maintaining the drainage infrastructure and thereby reduced the hardships and losses to farmers.
Agriculture was beginning to flourish and prices were much lower than they are today. Inflation was about four per cent.
The PNM has annihilated the agriculture sector.
In my Budget response last year I noted that not a single mention was made of the diary industry in the 2007 fiscal package. Exasperated dairy farmers began abandoning the industry.
Again, this year, the diary industry has been ignored and the exodus is expected to continue. The government continues to put too many of our eggs in the energy basket.
The reckless disregard with which Caroni (1975) Limited was shut down stinks of malice and raw politics. 28,000 acres of productive agricultural lands are laid to waste because of a desperate political agenda to break the backs of the Opposition support base.
Thousands of kilogrammes of paddy were dumped and farmers put out of business in January because the Minister of Agriculture says it is cheaper to import rice than to grow it locally.
Mr Speaker, the farmers said consumers could have gotten lower prices if the government supported the industry. Farmers planting tomatoes, melongene, cabbages, and other crops say the same thing. Neglect of access roads, irrigation, pest control, marketing and distribution support increases production cost.
Balliram Maharaj of the Supermarket Association and Karen de Montbrun of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturersí Association told last weekís Food Prices Talk Shop that inefficiencies at the ports increase importation costs which are passed on to the consumers.
In the same way, losses incurred by farmers due to flooding will end up being passed on to the consumers. That is how business operates.
Mr Speaker, that is not price gouging as the Government is so fond of accusing farmers and grocers of doing.
But this government views farmers with scorn and cannot conceive that they are small and medium businesspersons ñ entrepreneurs ñ struggling against tremendous challenges.
In December 2006, hundreds of farmers in Penal and environs lost thousands of dollars as a result of floods. Barrackpore farmer Popo Narine Dass, aged 78, lost four acres of chadon beni, oregano, fine thyme and mint.
The Ministry sent him a cheque for $100.50!
The official position of the Ministry:
ìÖ(that) the government will not be paying compensation to farmers.î
ìÖ allocations are tabulated not on the amount of produce lost for flooding but instead based on the amount of damage to farmersí plants and the farmersí replanting needs.î
TRINIDAD GUARDUAN ñ December 16, 2006.
Can $100.50 re-populate four acres, Mr Speaker? Can it buy seedlings and fertilizer? Can it cover the cost of sanitizing the land and ploughing?
You cannot have money to invest in technology if every year your profits are washed away in floods or stolen. Farmers have been kept back in a cycle of underdevelopment and poverty because they have been struggling to overcome the challenges of lack of access roads, irrigation and markets, and praedial larceny.
Mr Speaker, a UNC Alliance government will provide the absent technical, financial and infrastructural support so that the remaining 19,000 farmers can produce food and others may be encouraged to join them. Any production shortfall thereafter may be addressed by Super-Farms.
Any other approach may be perceived as another case of Big Business running Small Business out of Business.
The nation has seen no comprehensive agriculture plan. They only get bits and pieces whenever the Prime Minister or his Minister needs to find something to say to quell the public disquiet.
These Super-Farms are the PNMís panacea. But they will not address the real issues of supply and price control. The government has been promising lower food prices every year since 2002 and they have failed.
They have no credibility for the public to believe that they can really bring prices down.
Further, Mr Speaker, where will the labour come from? The make-work government programmes have destroyed the labour market! Will the labour come from China and Guyana? Why are we giving the lands to foreigners when there are so many locals who are capable of managing the farms?
Mr Speaker, the distribution of Caroni lands to the over 7,000 former workers remains a bone of contention. The government lied to these workers repeatedly and have cheated them in the VSEP. The majority who signed up expecting residential lands have received none.
The handful that got agricultural plots were given two acres instead of the agreed five. Most do not have leases and are therefore unable to access funding from the banks for purchasing equipment and supplies, or concessions on machinery because although they occupy the land, they have no proof that they have a right to be there.
The government is looking at the 7,000-plus Caroni workers who they have put on the breadline and who they continue to promise land, and they are counting each of these individuals as farmers.
Does the Prime Minister know that not every Caroni worker was involved in agriculture? There were mechanics, welders, drivers, office assistants, secretaries, boilers, machine operators, nurses, security officers, crane operators and the list goes on.
Of those who were involved in the fields, many of them were not involved in the technical decisions associated with planting cane. They performed manual tasks on instruction.
Planting is a science. It is more than digging a hole and ìchookingî a stick in the ground. And planting cane is different from planting peas and cassava and tomatoes.
Mr Speaker, fish is a source of food and we have heard nothing from the Prime Minister in successive years of the specific measures to revive the fishing industry.
Instead, we see the government and its agents muscling Otaheite fishermen out to make room for smelters. Brickfield fishermen are unable to go to sea because the bay has filled up with slush and needs to be dredged.
Fishermen and wholesale buyers are being robbed because there is a lack of security at depots and the wholesale markets.
What the fishing and agriculture industries need, Mr Speaker, is a comprehensive evaluation and overhaul of the infrastructure in that sector.
In short, there is nothing in the Ministerís agriculture proposals that give us any hope that the food security issue and the problem of high food prices will be solved any time soon.
The only thing the public can do is to ensure that this government will be removed at the next election so that a UNC-Alliance government can implement a proper agriculture programme.
My colleagues will expand on our proposals in the agricultural sector.
Mr Speaker, this government came to office scandalizing an engineering solution to the congestion at the Grand Bazaar Intersection which at that time would have cost only $150 million to build.
To date all they have done is a new design that costs more than double the price ($321 million), and allowed tens of thousands of commuters to suffer in agony ñ leaving home in the dark, facing hours of snail-pace traffic just to get to work for 8 oíclock, and then doing it all again in the evening.
That, Mr Speaker, is not government performance. It is ìOLE TALKî!
The Rites Group of India conducted a traffic survey in Trinidad and Tobago in 2003 and projected that by 2005 an average of 23,000 persons would travel into Port of Spain per peak hour.
The Minister, in his Budget contribution in the Senate last year acknowledged the work of Rites and suggested that the actual traffic may be heavier now.
Using the Minimum Wage of $9 per hour, and peak hours as 6 to 8 am and 4 to 6 pm; the average person spends about two hours ñ many spend more ñ trying to get to Port of Spain and about two hours on the return leg.
If you had to compensate the average citizen for this lost productive time, it would be:
$18 one way; or
$36 per day;
$180 per week;
$720 per month;
$8,640 per year;
$51,840 per person for the six years successive PNM Ministers of Transport and Works sat down and did not build that interchange.
That is the cost to the average person who works in Port of Spain because of the governmentís idle procrastination. That is how much poorer the workforce is because of governmentís inaction.
The cumulative lost productive man-hours are worth $1.19 billion. At minimum wage! That does not take into account the fact that a lot of persons are earning above the minimum wage.
Mr Speaker, year upon year, we have been promised highways to Mayaro, Point Fortin and Chaguaramas. But nothing is ever done. This is one of the most over-used, over-recycled of all the failed promises over the past few years.
The proposed highways are all toll-booth roads and citizens will be required to pay an unknown fee to use them.
Further, what became of the promises last year to build over and underpasses at key intersections along the East-West Corridor such as Macoya, Aranjuez, Trincity and El Socorro.
Those promises were made in the absence of the Comprehensive National Transportation Study just like the Trinidad Rapid Rail Project. What has happened to these promises?
Were they just meant to fatten up the 2007-budget?
The $66 million water taxi project was guaranteed to be operational by July 10, 2007. That date has come and gone. So too have several other start dates. The Prime Minister says it is coming in the first quarter of the fiscal year but he would not put his head on a block to give a date. That is because he has no confidence in his Minister to deliver.
Mr Speaker, the UNC delivered water to over 80 per cent of the population during our term in government. Today, only about 30 per cent of the population have a proper supply. Today, after six years of PNM governance, the infrastructure has collapsed.
Further collapse has taken place, by the Ministerís own admission in his presentation of Monday.
Despite the fact that there are so many high-priced consultants and executives, WASA continues to be a drain on the treasury of over $1 billion per year.
Mr Speaker, more water is wasted than what reaches consumers mainly because 95 per cent of WASAís lines are leaking.
Meanwhile, there are members of my constituency as in others who, in 2007, are forced to use ground-well water to drink, cook, wash and bathe.
Is this the Prime Ministerís Vision 20-20 for those people?
I wish to publicly endorse the position adopted by the Trinidad Guardian in itís Editorial of May 15, 2007; ìWaiting for Waterî.
ìWhile the current administration has gone about committing huge resources to the construction of many high-rise, ìprestigeî buildings inÖPort of Spain, it has not shown the same commitment to addressing the water distribution problem. The proof of the Government's watery and lacklustre resolve is that the Government has committedÖ only US$200 millionÖ to increase WASA's pipeborne water supplyÖî
Mr Speaker, that is like taking a Baby Cafenol for a migrane!
It is a fact, Mr Speaker, that the government has not properly planned for the electricity needs of Trinidad and Tobago. They have been too slow in putting measures in place to deal with the consumption demands, particularly when the effects of the aging turbines at Powergen could have been foreseen.
Why does the government always have to be reactive and not pro-active? The governmentís mega-building projects will come online before the proposed power plants come on stream in 2009. The results would be load shedding, electrical blackouts and unreliability of supply.
Mr Speaker, the only seemingly positive news is that the streetlighting programme appears to be on target. But there are allegations of massive corruption hanging over this scheme. There is need for a forensic audit of this programme.
Mr Speaker, at last weekís food price talk-shop, the Prime Minister came under fire for the inefficiencies at the Port of Spain port which are resulting in increased fees to importers who, again, will pass on these increases to customers.
The Prime Ministerís solution is simply to build a new port however this will take years and the problem will remain unresolved.
Mr Speaker, I acknowledge that the infrastructure in Port of Spain is not adequate for the volume of activity that takes place in the city. Further, the aesthetics are not befitting of a Capital city. Some future demands are anticipated and surely that would justify improvement of the infrastructure. But that does not justify the kind of reckless and wanton free-spending that is taking place.
Port of Spain alone is the seeing rapid construction.
Chaguanas is begging for a hospital. Point Lisas, a hub of industrial activity that makes it a ticking time-bomb, needs a burns unit. Point Fortin residents are also crying out for proper public hospital facilities in their community.
And so I ask, is our money being spent to address our greatest needs? NO!
Flooding continues to be a perennial problem that affects thousands of citizens, disrupting their lives and causing losses several times every year.
Why is there not as much enthusiasm on flood alleviation as there is on building tall buildings in town for hundreds of millions of dollars?
I turn now to the vexing issue of the Environment.
The 2007/8 budget like all of the previous PNM budgets treats the environment with scant regard, perhaps because the government has been the worst culprit in destroying the environment.
The entire smelter issue has exposed serious deficiencies in our environmental protection legislation, and in the procedure, rules and regulations for developing large acreages of land for industrial land purposes.
Over the past year we have witnessed the governmentís assault on the Cedros peninsula and the multimillion dollar public relations campaign waged against the people and environment of Cedros, La Brea and La Romaine.
Hundreds and hundreds of acres of virgin forest have been destroyed under instruction by this government in the La Brea and Cedros areas in furtherance of the smelter industry.
How I wish that the Prime Minister could be as passionate about solving crime, eradicating poverty or protecting our Nationís children. THAT would be love.
We have witnessed too a deliberate strategy of divide and conquer used by the Manning regime in eliminating opposition.
The people of La Brea were quickly massaged and
independent of advice, appear to have conceded to having a smelter in their area ñ hence the introduction of Alutrint.
However, the Cedros residents were, and continue to be much more aggressive in defending their property and environment.
What is of national importance here is that the introduction of a smelter is not a localized phenomena. It is an issue which has national impact. The smelter talk shop rushed by the government last year served only to highlight that this is a national issue, with the potential to adversely affect the entire country given the comparatively small size of Trinidad and Tobago.
There are other matters related to the environment which I would like to mention and which will be further developed later by one of my colleagues:
I am concerned deeply that CEC could be granted to a smelter company without clearing up what will be done with the waste products from these smelters, including the highly toxic potliners.
It is obvious that this Government has not done any type of assessment of the full social, environmental and / or economic costs associated with converting the Cedros peninsula into an industrial estate. Sadly this appears to be true for most of governmentís mega construction projects as well.
The UNC Alliance believes that decisions such as these should benefit from a national referendum in which the views of the people would be sought and accommodated.
Illegal quarrying continues unabated despite the passage of legislation in the Parliament increasing penalties for same.
The clearing of massive areas for housing development, and the attendant altering of water courses, the resultant increased flow and speed of flow of surface runoff are also cause for concern.
The continued denudation of our hillsides both for housing and for agriculture continues unabated with the resultant silting up of the river courses and flooding during the rainy season.
Most of these cases can be dealt with by enforcement of existing laws. There still appears to be some hesitation in enforcement of the existing laws.
The Newsday of Friday August 17th 2007, exactly one week ago carried a revealing story captioned: ìEMA: Pricesmart got no clearance.î
As the accompanying photographs showed, substantial construction which would have taken months to do had been completed. Yet, when pressed, the EMA spokesperson, could only concede that enforcement action IS GOING to be taken.
No action had yet been taken despite the building having been under construction for several months. Further no indication was given of a time frame ñ no stop order, no compliance order. As a matter of fact, the EMAís recourse appears to be to write to the offender asking him to come in to discuss his violation with the EMA. This unfortunate tendency to tolerate and negotiate with law breakers weakens the respect for the law.
It is possible that the absence of a clear mandate to enforcement of protection laws allows for a lacuna.
As such a UNC Alliance government will establish an Environmental Protection Agency which will be given the teeth to enforce the relevant littering, dumping and other forms of environmental destruction. This agency while working closely with the EMA will be charged with the responsibility of generating maximum emission standards, testing and enforcement of same.
A UNC Alliance government will amend and reintroduce the Planning and Development of Land Bill (PDLB) to govern land use planning and development.
The structure and operation of the Green Fund initially established by the UNC has been changed to allow the Minister to provide funding to groups already engaged in environmental development and conservation. In one fell swoop the government has converted an environmental protection fund into a slush fund for political manipulation and expenditure.
A UNC Alliance government will place the operations of the Green Fund under the aegis of the proposed Environmental Protection Agency with requirement for periodic reporting to parliament.
A UNC Alliance government would promote the introduction of a one time tax concession for the use of bio digesters for both commercial and industrial usage. We would source the technology for construction of a fixed size range and make the technology available freely to the nation. Consideration will also be given to subsidizing the specialized equipment which may be required for the conversion of the biodegradable material for domestic usage and for energy conversion.
Additionally, we will review the possibility of using solar power in government buildings with a view to generating sufficient power to facilitate even the daytime electrical requirements of these buildings or some substantial component of it.
The critical role played by the business community of Trinidad and Tobago in the development of the economy is often overshadowed by the sheer size of the energy sector.
However given the constraints within which they operate, the survival of many of these businesses is testimony to their resilience, sacrifice and self management. As the economy becomes increasingly open and exposed to the vagaries of international trade their mettle will be even more fiercely tested.
The experience of the last six years has convinced me that this government does not have a clue of how to treat with the sector. The result?
Exactly one year ago, Junior Finance Minister Enill confessed that the decline of the manufacturing sector was one of the major challenges of this government, as increasing numbers of persons were leaving the sector and getting in distribution instead.
After six years, six budgets, multiple meetings with the business sector including recommendations for budgets, the government still has not been able to bridge the hemorrhage in this vital sector. It is either ignorance as in not knowing what to do or ignoring as in indifference.
Mr. Speaker I refer the PM and indeed the entire government to the IADB publication ìPolicy Perspectives for Trinidad and Tobagoî released last year which in fact informed the preparation of the IADB country strategy with Trinidad and Tobago.
The topics in the Report were presented and discussed in a conference by the IDB in Port of Spain in July 2004. It was opened by the PM. So government had knowledge of this information since 2004.
If government had only paid cursory attention to the private sector outside of PNM friends, the business community in this country would have been well on its way to being efficient, internationally competitive and an even more significant contributor to employment, investment and GDP.
It is clear to me that the government itself needs to be retrained, retooled and perhaps even reeducated to understand what its role is supposed to be.
The political mindset and the demonstrated attitude of this government are inimical to a sustainable developmental agenda.
The evidence lies in governmentís failure to transform the private sector in any meaningful way over the last 5 › years or at the very least to set the stage for transformation.
The Minister of Finance prefers instead to offer short term bandages to long term problems.
When the development of the private sector, the business community, is viewed as described in the IADB Report, you would note that the policy prescriptions in addressing our capital shortfalls will impact simultaneously in a transformation and elevation of our work ethic, knowledge base and social focus.
We would find ourselves improving the capabilities and competence of our work force which itself impacts on earning potential, job security, marketability, personal independence and initiative. This in turn has the potential to transform the way we look at ourselves as individuals and as a people.
When we say knowledge is power, this is what we mean.
But this government lacks the commitment. It lacks the desire to elevate the nation. To do so would reveal their absolute failure not just of the business community but of the entire nation.
As a result, the government has failed to create an environment for business development. Worst! It has eroded whatever business confidence that existed before!
Our private sector is reeling under the assault of criminals.
Businesses are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on security to protect their property and their assets. This is a cost which is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices cause essentially by the failure of the government to deal with crime!
Mr. Speaker last year when I raised the issue of extortion in the budget response, the Minister of National Security was callous in his response saying that the business community was encouraging extortion! As a result he has done nothing to deal with the problem. It continues unabated!
At mid February of this year, Caribbean Development Strategies conducted a crime risk assessment survey of the business community of Chaguanas. The results mirror the concerns of the private sector throughout the country. As a matter of fact it reflects the same concerns expressed by the average citizen.
The CDS survey revealed that a massive 94 percent of respondents said that they were very worried about crime. Half of the businesses surveyed indicated that their businesses had been attacked by criminals. This has resulted in most of the respondents operating under reduced business hours with a resultant loss of sales. Two thirds of the survey population complained that they had incurred additional security expenses.
These are frightening figures!
More than half of those asked believed that the crime scourge had become a major problem in the Borough of Chaguanas during the last two to five years ñ under the government of this Prime Minister. Perhaps ironically, the same percentage believed that the government COULD solve the crime problem.
However, more than ninety percent of the persons surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with governmentís approach to dealing with crime.
I hope the Minister of National Insecurity is paying attention Mr. Speaker because 40 percent of those surveyed indicated that they were considering migration with an additional four percent stating that they had already begun the process.
Individuals who have invested their money to develop this country, hard working civil minded tax paying citizens being forced to flee this country because of fear of being robbed, kidnapped, raped, murdered, or all of the above.
Vision 2020 Mr. Speaker?
The Central Bank governor has already noted the potential for significant capital flight consequent to the migration of several large business families from our shores. We recognize too the loss of valuable members of the entrepreneurial class many of whom come from families with long histories in business.
Mr. Speaker the Vision 2020 document at page 243 identifies as its primary focus for industry and entrepreneurial development in this country the act of:
ìCreating an enabling environment which encourages and increases levels of business investmentî
Certainly, the evidence is that this government has comprehensively failed in this objective.
When the business community in Chaguanas was asked whether they will be investing in expanding their businesses over the next 12 to 18 months a whopping three quarters of them said a resounding ìnoî. Is this the enabling environment that vision 2020 refers to?
Far from being provided with the support to grow and expand, the business community of Chaguanas is being stifled to death by this government.
But it is not just Chaguanas. The same lack of confidence can be found throughout the private sector of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Corporate Confidence Index produced by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business displays a similar trend.
The CCI measures the business outlook as seen by executives and business leaders in Trinidad and Tobago on a quarterly basis. According to the second quarter 2007 results of the survey:
ìExecutive confidence in the local economy continued to slide over both the six and twelve month horizons. The Index fell from 44 to 28 CCI points over the six month period and from 54 to 27 points over the twelve month period. Over 85 percent of executives attributed their declining confidence in the local economy to perceptions of uncontrolled government spending, while inflationary pressure and crime remained the other most influential factorsî
(CCI Q2 2007)
Mr. Speaker every economic indicator assessing the performance of this country with regard to business shows that the private sector is collapsing and has been so throughout the tenure of this government.
This is reflected in the Growth Competiveness Index as well as the Business Competitiveness Index produced by the World Economic Forum.
In fact the last report revealed an even lower ranking than average in terms of our institutions, our infrastructure and our market efficiency.
The World Bank Group in its Doing Business Review has already reported that we continue to fall in our rankings rating the ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago.
These facts reveal the unfortunate truth that this government has been decidedly anti business for a long time.
The survival of the private sector thus far has been despite the inactivity of the government and the absence of any support structure or initiative.
You see much of the problems confronting the business community is known, and has been known for a long time - the absence of government support, the paucity of institutional arrangements, corruption, high input costs and a general lack of incentives for development.
The Commonwealth Business Council in its soon to be released Business Environment Survey 2007 ( as reported in Trinidad Guardian 18/08/2007. ìForeign Direct Investment Good for TT economyî) recognized the need for the government to provide a favourable environment for the development of business.
Interestingly, among the three recommendations promoted by the survey was
ìIncreasing measures to reduce corruption and imposing harsher sanctions on offenders.î
It is a recognition by the World Bank and other international agencies that corruption is rampant under this government and worst, that little is being done to stop it.
Yet Mr. Speaker, the current 2008 budget contains no measure to suggest that this government recognizes the need to go beyond the rhetoric of the Vision 2020 statement of objectives.
Indeed this governments manifested disdain for the business community is itself evidence of an absence of vision.
Mr. Speaker, the 1970ís and 1980s witnessed the migration of a substantial potion of the beleaguered business community of Guyana, encouraged by a obdurate government, from which that country has not fully recovered almost half a century after.
Consequent to this visionless budget and an equally obdurate government, this country can now look forward to a further contraction of the manufacturing sector in 2008 with a resultant progressively smaller contribution to the GDP, to employment, and to the domestic capital base.
In the 2003 draft National Strategic Plan the government considered the private sector as the engine of economic growth. By its own actions, the government is strangling the life out of the community.
Soon the business community may be consigned alongside the agricultural sector as in the graveyard of this PNM government.
The result will be an increased polarization of the economy and an emergent absolute dependence on the energy sector.
This country is rapidly regressing to the days when the survival of one product dominated the life of the nationÖ..and we all know how that ended.
CEPEP WAGE INCREASE vs MINIMUM WAGE
I want to state categorically that I am happy that CEPEP workers have received a pay increase. It is five years over due and it is still too low.
15 per cent raises the CEPEP salary only to $1,725. So after feeding a family of four, the CEPEP worker will remain with only $25 extra per month.
The monthly increment is only $250. Under this government, $250 can buy very little because everything is expensive. The CEPEP worker only has to go to the market and the grocery once and they will realise the truth that the increase is almost as good as nothing.
The retroactive payment totals $3,000. What will they do with that grand sum? Upgrade their homes? Gravel is $2,000 per load because of the overheating caused by governmentís reckless spending.
Yet further, these workers are denied all the decent terms and conditions mandated by the ILO. They do not receive maternity leave or sick benefits for example.
Mr Speaker, the Minister proposes to increase the Minimum Wage by $1.
Firstly, I want to point out that the Minister did not say when this increase would take effect. He said the machinery would be put in place for it to be done. So it is another promise that like so many others may take forever to materialize.
Secondly, that increase, if it ever comes, would be worth approximately $8 per day more. Again, I am happy, that those on minimum wage will have more money ñ but that increase is too insignificant.
It is $160 more per month for a 40-hour work week, and will take the monthly salary up to just $1600.
Mr Speaker, it is clear that these salary increases were not well thought out in the context of the bigger picture.
The manufacturing and service sectors are already complaining that they cannot find labour because the CEPEP and URP programmes are paying more for less productive work.
The CEPEP salary is higher than the salary of a minimum paying job and therefore there is a possibility that the labour shortage can worsen.
The manufacturers and service providers have been forced to raise wages ñ with no additional productivity in return ñ to keep their businesses going.
This means that they will have to spend more money again to keep their operations staffed and these increases will be passed on to the consumers.
I am not against people making more money. But policy decisions like these cannot be taken just because you want to grease the wheels for an election.
CEPEP, MUST etc Failed
In their current forms, the 250-odd, conspicuously named make-work and social handout programmes have failed in every possible way to bring empowerment to the people whom they targeted.
CEPEP was introduced at a time when unemployment was around 10 per cent and declining as a result of the creation of sustainable, well-paying private sector jobs.
When the programme was introduced, it had no impact on the employment figures because the jobs were not sustainable. They were short contracts.
So in order to make the jobs qualify for being counted, the government simply extended the contracts to one year
Although the contracts were for one year, the jobs were not well paying and productivity was not at desired levels.
CEPEP and the alphabet soup of programmes such as MUST, HYPE and YAPA, have not taken the participants on to better. CEPEP workers have remained in CEPEP where the highest they may reach is the level of a gang supervisor. They cannot own a CEPEP company; to do that you have to be a PNM financier.
MUST, HYPE and OJT has created another form of exploitation. It is a well observed phenomenon ñ OJT trainees have complained of it ñ that when their training is over, they are not hired on. They are sent home to make way for another batch of trainees whose stipends are subsidized by the government. It is an avenue for cheap labour.
And all the while, the youths are afraid to speak out because they may face victimization.
The Prime Minister, according to the Guardian of April 13, 2006, said that while many trainees of the governmentís HYPE and MUST programmes were not fully certified, they are being used as apprentices in many of the housing projects. ìApprenticesî, Mr Speaker, is code-speak for ìcheap labourî.
An inspection of these sites will find individuals performing tasks for which they do not have the qualifications and for which they are not fully remunerated.
While these programmes have created an artificial illusion that the unemployment problem has been solved, the truth is that it has tremendous damage to the labour market.
Interviewed by the Guardian, in an August 3, 2006 article, National Canners Limited Managing Director, Jeremy Matouk said labour shortages are preventing him from increasing his production capacity by 50 per cent.
ìI canít meet demand, locally or abroad. I could expand production in my company by a cool 50 per cent and sell everything,î Matouk said. ìI could take on 50 ñ 60 people tomorrow morning.î
Matouk said the difficulty in sourcing reliable, skilled labour is artificial and said:
ìThe problem wonít be that bad were it not for governmentís ëmake-work programmesí.î
He said HE had workers who left full time jobs for the make-work programmes. He said this was causing wages to increase without increasing productivity.
Kiss baking Company director and then TTMA President, Paul Quesnel, in the same article, said employers are being forced to ìsweeten the potî to keep workers.
ìThat is causing the cost of doing business to escalate. The cost of producing what you produce goes up and when you have to sell it, you become less competitive.î
That, Mr Speaker, is how the governmentís mismanagement of the labour situation and their politically expedient tactics affected the price of BREAD!
Perhaps the only way for the private sector to remain competitive and raise productivity is to do like the government and hire foreign scab-labour. But while that may bring down the price of goods and services, the population may find itself unemployed and broke!
Mr Speaker, one of the stated aims of the CEPEP programme when it was introduced was that it would create entrepreneurs.
Since 2002, there have been arguments from all quarters that the method was not consistent with the concept of entrepreneurship. It leaned more towards profiteering.
The evidence is here and is buttressed by the findings of the Auditor Generalís Special Report on the CEPEP programme and documents sourced through the Freedom of Information Act.
The general theme is that not many new entrepreneurs were created. The majority of CEPEP contractors were established in some form of business before joining the programme.
Most of them were not involved in environmental maintenance or landscaping. And a significant number of them have been identified as PNM supporters, activists and financiers.
As I have said in the past, I believe that all our children are capable of learning.
However, I recognize that they will learn at different rates. This, Mr. Speaker was the UNC governmentís rationale behind revolutionizing the education system.
We wanted to change reality that children are excluded from the secondary school system if hey did not fit into the narrow mould defined by an archaic approach to education.
Instead of placing pressure on a child to scramble to reach fixed levels of education, we resolved to meet a child at their own level so that they can comfortably develop at their own pace.
Therefore we trained remedial teachers; developed a special curriculum and built additional schools so that we were able to cater to the needs of every single child at every level of learning.
We abolished the traumatic Common Entrance and introduced the Secondary Entrance Assessment and established the Form One Specials.
For the first time, Mr. Speaker, under the UNC government, children at lower performing educational levels were being specifically targeted and a framework for improving their abilities had been put in place.
We worked hard to realize our policy that no child must be left behind by the education system.
However, this backward, wrong-side, upside-down government took the retrograde step of reversing our modern policies, and casting a significant percentage of our children out of the education system.
The Minister of Education does not understand that sending a child back to repeat in the same system and under the same conditions that failed them in the first place, does not make any sense!
Their learning capabilities are not as developed compared to some of their more successful peers; and that is okay, because not every child is the same ñ they all develop at different stages.
But that does not mean that you abandon them if they do not live up to your ascribed standards. You lead a child from where they are; not from where you think they should be.
And that was our raison díetre for our policy of inclusiveness. Unlike this PNM government which seems to favour a policy of ìnatural selectionî.
Mr. Speaker, when the UNC Alliance claims victory in the upcoming general election, we will continue from where we left off, in our drive to make sure that every single child gets the opportunity to learn.
The government has set itself the target of 600 ECCE by 2010. I have already spoken of the broken promises to build 393 out of which only 7 have been built.
The question remains as to the cost of each centre. The Public Sector Investment Programme for 2007 indicated that an expenditure of $63.2 million was incurred for the completion of 6 centres, an average cost of $10.5 million per centre. (Pg 6 Item 17 PSIP)
This figure is inordinately high considering that six years ago, the UNC government was paying the relatively small sum of 250,000 per centre.
The Minister of Education must explain why construction cost of the schools has increased by 52.5 percent.
Mr. Speaker, one of my colleagues will present the state of the educational sector as the debate goes along.
Suffice it to say that under this government the sector has grown progressively worst in terms of results and discipline.
The health sector is in crisis. Plain and Simple.
ìThe worst in the western hemisphereî is how the Oxford Policy Management Group, who assessed health sectors in various countries including Africa, India, and Pakistan, has described the pathology department at the San Fernando General Hospital.
The crisis in the health sector and the accounts of the plight of sick and suffering citizens are numerous, well documented and undeniable.
Hospitals are overcrowded; understaffed; infested with rats, flies and mosquitoes; and lacking basic equipment despite colossal government expenditure and glib assurances from the Prime Minister and his health Minister;
There are long waiting lists for basic surgery and patients are made to wait for hours before being treated at the public health institutions;
Hospitals are without medication
The infrastructure is antiquated and poorly maintained;
Patients sleep on the floor
And I can go on
Why has it come to this? Consider the view of the Minister of Health John Rahael.
ìWhen questioned as to the number of deaths of children in the public health sector, Rahael in defence said that the system is functioning well.î
- Trinidad Express, Friday, May 25th 2007
Functioning well, Mr. Speaker?
An innocent child, a baby, had to suffer for six hours in the Eric Williamsí Medical Sciences Centre, before dying. From an asthma attack?
Jonathan Belix died because our health system could not treat his broken leg!
Little Faith Williams died because our health system could not treat her for umbilical hernia!
Baby Shawn Ganness had his collarbone and left hand broken and his cheek burnt during a forced delivery at the San Fernando General Hospital.
Innocent children are suffering, pleading for help and are dying?
But the system is functioning well!
At San Fernando there is also a water problem.
We have been told by MPATT that a senior anaesthetist who was "found partly responsible for the death of Faith Williamsî was promoted!
But the system functioning well, Mr. Speaker!
Psychiatric Ward of the Scarborough Regional Hospital is being flooded when it rains.
But the system functioning well, Mr. Speaker!
Now let us look at the strange case of the Sangre Grande Enhanced Health Centre.
Sangre Grande Enhanced Health Centre
In the 2003/2004 Budget Statement the Prime Minister said: ìconstruction of an Enhanced Health Centre in Sangre Grande will be completed in 2006î.
But then in the 2006/2007 Budget statement, he contradicted his earlier statement when he said:
ìThe construction of the Sangre Grande Enhanced Health Centre and the Toco Maternity Unit are scheduled to commence in 2007î
So according to the Prime Minister, the Sangre Grande Enhanced Health Centre will be completed in 2006, the year BEFORE its construction is scheduled to begin.
That may make sense to him, Mr. Speaker, but it sure as hell doesnít make sense to me.
The PAHO/WHO Country Strategy Report 2006-2009 laments that the implementation of the Health Sector Reform programme ìhas been slow and challengingî and further states:
ìAt this time, the Ministry of Health has been unable to effectively assume the leadership role and transform itself into an effective policy, planning, and regulatory organisation.î
There is insufficient evidence-based planning and decision-making in health due to the lack of an integrated health management information system.
There is an inadequate system for drug utilisation, outdated national drug policy and formulary, and a lack of drug utilisation reviews.
The laboratory system has been unable to adequately meet service needs due to many factors, including limited financial resources, an inadequate physical plant, insufficient professional and technical leadership, outdated regulations, and poor dialogue with clinical services.î
(Pan American Health Organisation 2006-2009 Trinidad and Tobago country cooperation strategy report)
In this very report, PAHO presents a SWOT analysis of its activities in Trinidad and Tobago.
PAHO lists as a weakness:
ìSupport staff provided by Ministry of Health do not always meet competencies required by country officeî
Under threats to their work, PAHO names:
Lack of strong leadership in the Ministry of Health, Minister of Health
Limited technical, managerial and implementation capacities of the Ministry of Health
Lack of technical counterparts in the Ministry of Health
Technical matters being influenced by political decisions
Lack of preparedness for a major disaster/emergency (natural, man-made, health emergencies such as pandemic influenza, etc.)
Increase in cost of living/inflation affecting purchasing power within decreased budget
Deterioration of social environment
I ask again Mr Speaker, how did things get so bad?
The answer comes from Minister John Rahael in his Budget presentation last year said:
ìIndeed, we are proud today of the tremendous success achieved through the implementation of some of our current initiatives and that we are bringing quality and quantity care to the more vulnerable in our society who are unable to meet the enormous cost of private health care.î
- Budget 2006-2007, John Rahael
In other words Mr. Speaker. He knows not, and he knows not that he knows not. ErgoÖ.he is a fool.
Mr. Speaker when the Prime Minister reshuffled his cabinet in 2003 he signaled his governmentís intentions thus:
ìWe shall now place greater emphasis on Tourism and shall establish a separate Ministry for this sector.
Tourism must now be brought to the centre-stage of economic development.î
The sector however continues to suffer from neglect by the central government. In recognition of the enormous potential of this sector, the UNC Alliance has prepared a detailed Tourism Development Plan which shall be presented to the national community in due course for public comment.
You see Mr. Speaker this is how we consult. We ask for dialogue!
Let us look at how government consults so that you may judge for yourself how much of a farce it is, how the Prime minister thinks he is fooling our citizens when he pretends to consult them.
The fact is that he has already made up his mind what he is going to do, and has done it before he comes to pretend to listen to you.
Last year after much protests the PM has a consultation on the smelter issue ñ problem was that he has already signed the MOU with Alcoa, and had already begun preparing the site for Alutrint. What then did he come to you for? The deal done make!
Next he had a crime consultation or a series of them. This is after he spent the last six years throwing money behind blimp, spyware, foreign consultants and English retirees. What he coming to ask you about? He done do what he wanted already!
After that he had an energy symposium timed to coincide with the bad news they knew they were going to get from Ryder Scott.
At the meeting Minister Saith advised that agreements had already been signed with this gas producer and that, and the PMís friends sang from his pagebook that all was well. What did he come to consult about? The deal done make!
Recently we had the joke of the food prices consultation.
Again he came to tell you that superfarms were coming, agreements done sign with the Cuban etc. ñ they coming since last year and that a set of committees will be set up. You really think he listened to what you had to say?
Look at this!
This was the Prime Minister at the food consultation!
This gentleman really seems to have convinced himself that nationals are stupid!
Where was the consultation when he bought the blimp?
Where was the consultation when he agreed to spend almost a billion on a tsunami stadium?
Where was the consultation when he decided that he was going to bless himself with a two hundred dollar playhouse?
Where was the consultation when he traveled to Africa and agreed to help them fight poverty?
Where was the consultation when he raised his salary and that of his wife?
Where was the consultation when he made her Minsietr of education condemning that Ministry to underperformance.
Where was the consultation when he and his wife decided that 30 percent of the children writing the SEA must be failed?
Where was the consultation when he signed the MOU to build aluminum smelter here?
Where was the consultation when he gave preferential gas prices to Alcoa, condemning future generations of this country to keep his commitment.
Where was the consultation when he met with know criminal gang leaders and renamed them community leaders, offering them prime jobs in URP and CEPEP contracts?
Where was the consultation when CEPEP contracts were being shared among PNM party groups and friends?
Where was the consultation when he supported the Chief Magistrate and launched an attack on the Chief Justice and the administration of Justice generally?
Where was the consultation when he shut down Caroni, BWIA, NBN and so many other companies sending hard working citizens on the breadline.
Where was the consultation when he began persecuting employees of the Casino industry?
Where was the consultation when he laid the Gafoor report showing the collapse of the health sector but chose to keep the Minister responsible.
For five years this Prime Minister consulted nobody, except for Benny Hinn and we all know how that worked out.
For five years he spent OUR money. For five years after he spent $200 billion he comes to pretend he is consulting!
Our people are not fooled.
Even in the case of this budget, the PM boasted that he had not even consulted his Ministers of Government.
His consultations are a fraud. He fools no one because we know that he has not listened to the pleas of the people for the last six years.
We know that it is an election gimmick ñ he did not care then and he does not care now.
That is not performance Mr. Manning. That is ole talk!
PACKAGE OF CHILDRENíS LEGISLATION
Mr. Speaker the Prime Minister fancies himself a religious virtuous man.
How then can he justify the fact that the Childrenís Authority Bill is still outstanding. For the past 3 years the Minister of Social Development has promised to bring the childrenís legislation package to the Parliament and again in 2007 at the end of their term they still have not brought it up for debate.
In October 2006 Minister Roberts advised this House that ìthe package of legislation is expected to be presented for the consideration of the Parliament by the end of 2006î. (HANSARD Oct 27th 2006 HOR)
The Prime Minister in his budget presentation in 2006-2007 stated ìthe Government is determined to address the scourge of child abuse in our society and to protect those vulnerable children who are most at risk of facing a myriad of negative outcomes including neglect, exploitation, malnutrition, and even death.î
Sadly when he had the opportunity to prove it, he did not.
Again this year the PM promises to establish the Childrenís Authority.
Mr. Speaker, A UNC Alliance government will move decisively to establish the Childrenís Authority following the requisite amendments to the legislation. The Childrenís Authority will, in effect, function as the guardian of all the children of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr. Speaker nothing has been done to protect our children .
The Family Support System
The family as the core institution in society has been singled out for special attention by the Government.
ìthe National Family Policy will be a blueprint for creating and promoting a family-friendly society and for mainstreaming family issues into wider sectoral policies. In order to ensure the broadest possible consensus on this most fundamental of issues, the draft policy document will be presented to the public at a series upcoming public consultations.î
These were the words of the Prime Minister in September of 2006 to date nothing has been done, no public consultations on the issues, no draft policy, no anything
. But yet he repeats the same promise in this yearís budget presentation. So what is going to be the difference; the government is still not going to implement any of it because they simply do not care. To them just another recycled cut and paste promise.
There are few people trained in recognizing child abuse in T&T. Our National Family Service, the main government agency responsible for supporting and counseling families, has a total staff of 12!
Our Ministry of Health has 25 social workers to service all the hospitals and health centers in T&T, a ratio of one social worker per 50,000 citizens! Our education system has 50 guidance counselors for a school population of over 200,000 primary and secondary students!
Even if all these people were well trained in childrenís affairs, and given what is known of some of them that is doubtful, it would still be a heroic task to expect them to be able to do their job and simultaneously change the publicís attitudes towards child abuse.
A recent piece of literature appeared on the Trinidad Guardian on Thursday 18th May, 2006 entitled Clinical child psychologist. It stated
ìI have been thinking carefully and I have realised that there are both laws and rules about our children in this country. The laws tell us that we must not mistreat, injure or kill our children. The rules tell us what actually happens. As far as I can tell, the rules are as follows:
You may kill your child in T&T. You may not commit murder, which involves planning and forethought, but a sudden act of violence will almost certainly be pardoned in law. This is particularly so for children five years and under.
You are more than welcome to kill your stepchild in T&T. This applies especially for men who are subsequently forgiven by the childís mother. And any fasí ìquenkî who wants to interfere afterwards better remember this is your family and your business
You are allowed to interfere with children in T&T, either your own or someone elseís. The latitude here is somewhat greater than with killing, so many more children are available to you. If you do not have a child or stepchild of your own, a victim will be provided to you free of charge, preferably from your own socio-economic level or a lower one. If you should wish to kill this child, it should definitely be one of lower status. Girl killings will attract less publicity than boy killings, but the publicís interest in either one will be strictly limited.
Beatings, injuries and general damage short of killing are allowed with no penalty attached. This applies to children of any age.î
This is a true and real representation of what happens in our society whether we want to admit it or not. The only issue is if we admit it and deal with it sooner we might be able to save a lot more of our nationís youth.
But Mr. Speaker again we come to the point where is the package of childrenís legislation ? How many more Sean Lukeîs ?
How Many more amyís?
How many more Parmanand Persad?
Has the killer of Akiel Chambers been brought to justice?
Have they found little ten year old Vijay Persad?
These are the questions that haunt parents like Pauline Lum Fai every day of her life?
And yet government does not provide any answers.
Once more the Prime Minister has failed to effectively deal with legislation that protects our children all he does is promise and promise and there is no delivery.
Criminal Injuries Compensation
After much pressure from the Opposition UNC the government was forced to establish the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Through my office I was able to submit the first ever set of applications for compensation on behalf of victims and dependants of crime. This was on May 4th 2007. To date there has been no response to these applications.
To date Mr. Speaker the Prime Minister has done what many would call Flip Flop; he agreed with us when we had our crime talks at Whitehall that the ceiling figure for compensation for victims of crime would be $250,000.00. Then he came to say that the government cannot pay such a high figure and he has decided to put the ceiling figure at $50,000.00.
This is unacceptable. Is the Prime Minister saying that the woman who lost her leg in the bomb blast in port of Spain in July 2005 is suppose to live on $50,000.00 till she dies.
Is the Prime Minister saying that the children of a firefighter who was murdered in Couva is supposed to survive on $50,000 till they are eighteen whenthey are now only two years old .
No one can put a price on the lives of our loved ones. But the issue is how do we survive on $50,000 for the rest of our lives when we are maimed and sick and cannot work to take care of our family.
You see the Prime Minister does not have to worry about that because when combined he and his wife take home salaries amounting to over $100,000 a month and his son has now gotten a 9 million dollar contract.
Mr. Speaker when the Equal Opportunities bill was before the House we warned that the government will send it before a committee for it to die.
So said so done. We have heard very little if anything at all about the progress of the Equal Opportunities bill.
in this yearís budget presentation the Prime Minister stated î The Government is also reviewing a Draft National Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS in an attempt to curb discrimination on the job.î
While the Prime Minister pretends to be a fighter for equal opportunities he and his government have bent over backwards to ensure that there is no justice and equity for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Yet, land mark judgments keep coming the way of the government illustrating to the nation that this government does not treat the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago with equality and merit.
The recent decision in the case with Devant Maraj and the Prime Minister illustrated the lengths this government will go to get the people who they perceive to be enemies of the PNM out of state companies and boards. All the PNM are interested in is YES men.
This is reminiscent of the cases of Feroza Ramjohn , Marlene Coudray and others.
The World Bank produces a periodic index called Governance Indicators which measure a governmentís performance by rating six indicators with a percentile rank, which translates into the percentage of countries worldwide that rate below the selected country. Higher values indicate better governance ratings. The latest 2006 ratings were released in July 2007 and reveal that government has continued to slide on every one of the six indicators.
The first indicator, ìVoice and accountabilityî, measures the presence of democracy processes.
In 2000 when the UNC was in office, Trinidad and Tobago was given a 65.4 per cent rating. However, in the latest 2006 rating, TT declined to 62 per cent. This suggests that under the PNM, democracy is being subverted.
The second indicator rates our ìPolitical Stability and Absence of Violenceî. This measures the perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including domestic violence and terrorism.
In 2000 we were ranked at 48.1 per cent. In 2006, we were ranked at 41.3 per cent.
Under the ìGovernment Effectivenessî indicator, Trinidad and Tobago fell from 68.2 per cent in 2000, to 63.5 per cent in 2006.
Accordingly, the results show a reduction in the quality of the public services and the civil service and a fall in the degree of its independence from political pressures.
The results also point to a reduction in the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the governmentís commitment to such policies.
Perhaps one of the most instructive indicators of governance is the one which measures ìRegulatory Qualityî. This indicator examines the ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development.
The results show that since the PNM came into office, the indicator has fallen consistently from 75.6 percent to 71.2 per cent between 2000 and 2006.
A stinging indictment against this governmentís touted performance on crime was revealed by the assessment of the ìRule of Lawî index.
This measure assesses the extent to which individuals have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, in particular the quality of contract enforcement, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence.
The results show a steady decline in the rule of law since this government came into power. Trinidad and Tobago went from a respectable rating of 62.4 per cent in 2000 to an all time low of 48 per cent in 2006.
I shudder to think about what our 2007 rating would be!
The final indicator speaks for itself.
ìControl of Corruptionî measures the extent, to which public power is exercised for private gain.
The UNC in its last year in office (2000) received a credible rating of 62.1 per cent. The measure revealed that having assumed office, the PNM increasingly utilised its political power for private gain, resulting in a fall in the index to 54.9 per cent in 2006.
Essentially, what these indicators reveal is a falling standard of governance by the PNM. Democracy is increasingly under threat and corruption and abuse of public office have increased since the party has been in office. This has resulted in a loss of confidence in the government and in the administration of justice as well, and reflects badly on the country.
These are the facts Mr Speaker!
A UNC Alliance government will observe the three rules of good governance.
First service to the people first.
Second service to the people first.
Third service to the people first.
The issue of crime is a political one. Frankly this government lacks the political will to adequately address the issue with any serious and significant action.
Itís crime reduction policy is essentially a public relations exercise, waffling between bouts of blaming the public, the opposition, international factors and the police service.
The Minister of National Security has fluctuated between trying to convince the population that crime in Trinidad and Tobago was not as bad as crime in other parts of the world; and the manipulation of statistics to demonstrate a 5% decrease in specific types of crime configured to last year or last month.
The Newsday Editorial of May 13th 2006 hit the nail on the head precisely, chiding National Security Minister Martin Joseph for trying to pull a fast one on the people of this nation.
Let me put this issue to rest once and for all. Let us look truthfully at the figures.
This government has spent billions on crime since they came to office.
We have had a plethora of crime plans, anti-crime initiatives and all inundated in public with great pomp and fanfare.
Millions have been spent on cheap PR for full page press ads and at every turn.
But all these so called anti-crime plans have not worked, despite the enthusiastic assurances of the prime Minister and his Ministers of National Security: past, present and junior.
Mr. Speaker, the UNC has proven that once you have the political will to bring criminals to justice, no matter how influential the may appear, crime can be controlled.
The UNC government gave the Police Service the necessary tools: including new and refurbished police stations and introduced an E-999 Rapid response system.
Before this, all citizens knew of Police emergency response was what they saw on that American TV show, ìRescue 911î.
The UNCís record for fighting crime and bringing criminals to justice is undeniable and the Police Service was able to successfully operate in the environment created by the UNC government.
The Newsday editorial of Friday, July 20 2007, entitled ìTT free for allî endorses my point:
ìNational Security Minister Martin Joseph may well boast about a 20 percent drop in murders, but the crime detection rate is now at 20 percent, down from 74 percent a decade ago.î
- Newsday editorial, Friday, July 20 2007, ìTT free for allî
A decade ago, the UNC was in government, Mr. Speaker and the total amount of murders committed in 1997 was 101.
The year is not even finished yet and already we have over 200 murders committed to date.
And I assure you, if we had just a fraction of what the PNM has now ñ I guarantee, crime would have been almost non-existent because we could have afforded to give more to the law enforcement agencies.
In the year 2001, when the UNC demitted office out of the 151 murders committed, 70 were detected ñ a 46% rate.
In 2005, the worse year for murders to date with a whopping 386 death toll, a mere 94 of these were solved, the detection rate slashed to a pitiful 24%.
Clearly, Mr. Speaker, by all the empirical evidence presented and even on occasions, by their own admission, this PNM government under the direction of PM Manning who perhaps is under the direction a more mystical lady, is unable, unwilling or uncertain about how to tackle crime epidemic that is now plaguing our nation.
Be that as it may, we are no longer satisfied with mere criticism of the PNMís failure on crime.
Over the past few years, the Opposition UNC has listened to the pleas of stakeholders: business organisations, NGOs, victims of crime, law enforcement officials and citizens; based on what they have said ñ the Opposition UNC has formulated our own anti-crime plan to attack both the cause and symptoms of crime.
Therefore, the Opposition UNC has coined its own crime plan, which contains initiatives that can be immediately implemented.
With our Crime Busting Strategy, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago do not have to wait and hope that they survive until the year 2020 to live in peace.
Mr. Speaker, Since they have no idea what to do, how to do it or when allow me to present some excerpts from the UNC crime Plan.
UNC ALLIANCE BUDGET
Merge SRP force into conventional police service and Increase the number of fully trained and equipped police officers to 15,000.
Increase use of paralegal-trained staff for taking of complaints, reports, answering telephones
Utilise Strategic Services Agency ñ the organisation which acts as a central co-ordinating agency for the development, collection, processing and dissemination of information from all relevant agencies;
Police Salaries should reflect the risks, hours of work and stress of police work.
Enhanced insurance coverage for police officers
To deal with extortion, we will establish of an extortion unit
use of body mounted mobile communication for foot patrol officers
use of close circuit cameras at city centres.
Introduction of computers in police cars capable of accessing data from various sources;
Computerisation of records of Police Service and harmonisation with computerised records of Prison Service, Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue Division
Restoration of full force E999
develop a Victim Services Division complete with facilities and counselling services for victims of crime and their relatives as appropriate.
A Special Victims Unit for domestic abuse intervention and victims of sex crimes.
Corruption in Police Service
create a more aggressive Police Complaints Authority to be married with an effective internal affairs division.
Mr. Speaker, we propose to consider:
The death penalty for severe cases of rape, sexual abuse of children, and kidnapping;
Categorisation of murders by degrees with the death penalty for the most heinous of murders
Reintroduction of hanging for persons who have exhausted their appeals;
Review and revitalisation of the criminal injuries compensation board and increases in quantum of compensation to crime victims and members of the proatective services;
Fast tracking of passage and implementation of DNA legislation
Introduction of sexual harassment legislation
Implementation of the Childrenís Authority Act
Development of a Central Vigilance Authority to receive complaints, investigate and report to the parliament
Development of a witness protection programme in conjunction with the United States of America, Canada and the wider Caribbean.
For the children a UNC ñ Alliance will
Ensure that every school is outfitted with social workers and child psychologists.
Train teachers to detect early signs of deviant social behaviour in schools.
Offer parenting classes for all parents or guardians of minors convicted of anti social behaviour or displaying same.
Enforcement of money laundering rules. Increase efficiency, staff and power of Money Laundering Agency
Periodic forensic audit of suspect industries and enterprises;
Use of ìautomatic tripî close circuit camera and at traffic lights.
Increased penalties for reckless driving, speeding, driving under the influence etc. Introduction of three strikes rule.
Establishment of a formal motorcycle highway patrol and increased presence of police patrols, with stationary posts especially at peak times.
Construction of highway patrol police stations at strategic points along the highway.
Provision of training and apprenticeship schemes, mentoring and big brother programmes in schools.
Maintenance of records of inmates after leaving centre and requirement for periodic assessment.
Establishment of an aggressive system of monitoring former inmates in daily lives
Increase staffing at Forensic Sciences Centre
Construct additional sub-centres in South and Central
Mr Speaker, to stimulate and sustain agricultural activity as an engine for food production, a UNC Alliance government will implement:
a programme of infrastructural development to address the challenges posed to farmers by lack of access roads, flooding and water shortages.
develop markets and distribution mechanisms to keep agriculture profitable.
We will also review the package of subsidies and benefits to farmers and agriculturists.
The UNC Alliance will
fastótrack the construction of the Churchill Roosevelt and Uriah Butler Highways interchange and other complementary works;
expedite the development of a National Transportation Demand Plan for immediate implementation; and revisit the Mamoral Dam & Reservoir Project to alleviate flooding in the Caparo Basin and dry-season water shortages.
Mr Speaker, in defense of our natural environment, the UNC-Alliance will :
legislate and introduce an Environmental Protection Agency
institute an aggressive programme for reforestation and reviving the population of indigenous wildlife
undertake community-based initiatives will also be undertaken for development of green spaces. These will be executed in conjunction with the private sector and schools.
A UNC-Alliance government will improve efficiency at all major ports by addressing the deficiencies at the Customs and Excise Division, Ports of Entry and related agencies.
LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT
A UNC-Alliance government will restructure the CEPEP programme to protect the rights and welfare of workers. CEPEP workers will be given ownership of the contracting companies in the reorganized programme.
A job market database will be introduced to help persons find regular, gainful employment.
A UNC-Alliance government will resume the process of transforming the education system by working with all stakeholders to
construct schools to further the objective of universal secondary education. Under no circumstances will any child be left behind;
ensure that all schools are safe, productive learning environments;
revisit the Concordat and improve the working relationship between the State and the denominational boards;
revise the curriculum to equip all students with a broad base of relevant knowledge and skills to meet the demands of the job market;
increase the accessibility of graduate and post-graduate tertiary education by boosting financial assistance to students and creating more classroom spaces;
To resuscitate our flat-lining Health Sector, a UNC Alliance government will take steps for:
immediate refurbishment of all existing public health facilities in Trinidad and Tobago to bring them up to the acceptable standard for health care;
decentralization of primary healthcare by the upgrade and resourcing of existing district healthcare facilities and the establishment of new health centres;
top-priority construction of General Hospitals at Point Fortin and Couva-Point Lisas, both of which will be equipped to tackle industrial accidents;
expansion of the fleet of ambulances in the public health system to provide rapid response to emergencies;
implementation and execution of the recommendations of the Gaffoor Commission with a view to correcting the deficiencies of the health sector;
wideninng the scope of medications available under the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme and review the criteria for accessing this benefit;
Mr. Speaker, the cost of decent housing is still prohibitive to the person earning $1,440 per month when it is the view of the government that the cost of feeding a family of four is $1,700 per month.
The UNC Alliance prefers to implement a Home Ownership Savings Plan (HOSP) for first-time home owners earning less than $4,000, matching loan payments dollar-for-dollar.
To prevent the working poor from slipping out of the formal economic structure, we will implement an Earned Income Tax Credit to augment monthly salaries up to $3,000.
Under a UNC Alliance government, Trinidad and Tobago will be the first country in the world to implement a Public Sector Maintenance Programme (PSMP) supported by a computer database system so that preventative and restorative work can be performed before our public infrastructure is run down and broken
Mr Speaker, some of the priority areas of the UNC-Allianceís legislative agenda are:
Equal Opportunity and Gender Laws;
The Childrenís Authority;
increased compensation for victims of crime;
increased compensation for members of the protective services who are injured on the job
modern sexual harassment legislation;
reform of the laws governing election activities with particular emphasis on the issue of the reporting of campaign funding;
the development of a public procurement policy to promote greater transparency and accountability;
appropriate legislative amendments to ensure that ALL public officials are under the scrutiny of an independent Integrity Commission.
the swift implementation of the legislative requirements for Local Government reform to empower local government bodies to better deliver service to the people;
Overall and comprehensive constitutional reform based on widespread consultation with all stakeholders in the national community.
Mr Speaker to combat against corruption, particularly in Government agencies, the UNC Alliance will take the appropriate steps to establish an independent Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) within 90 days to advise and guide agencies in the field of vigilance. This is of the utmost importance in light of the following.
The Corruption Perception Index is an annual publication of the Transparency International group which ranks 163 countries according to the degree to which politicians and public officials are perceived by senior business leaders and non resident analysts to be corrupt.
Simply put, the higher the value of the index, the more corrupt the countryís politicians and public officials are believed to be.
The analysis reveals a belief that the PNM and corruption are intricately linked and that the longer the party stays in government, the more corrupt it becomes!
According to the CPI, there has been a significant increase in ìthe abuse of public office for private gainî since this government assumed office, and this is supported by the data.
In 2001, under a UNC government, Trinidad and Tobago was ranked 31 by 2006 we had dropped to 79th in the rankings after 5 › years of this government.
In the report for the year 2006, Transparency International found that following the establishment of the special purposes state enterprises and the refusal of the government to pursue public procurement legislation and the absence of any accountability structure for their expenditure, the CPI fell again to 79th in the rankings.
This was not only influenced by the arresting and charging of two of the highest ranking PNM Government Ministers and sitting Members of Parliament for corruption charges during this very term.
Transparency International revealed further that:
ìÖ it appears that large amounts of public expenditure are effectively ìoff budgetî, suggesting that there is an unpublished parallel economy.
This lack of transparency and accountability has given rise to the suspicion that corrupt influences may be at work in the decision making processes and practices of these huge projects, actual and planned.î
Needless to say the disclosure of this shocking indictment against the government created much public furor.
But we need to ask ourselves : is transparency international wrong? Is itís assessment that there is a local and international belief that our public officers are corrupt? And that corruption has thrived under this government?
Mr. Speaker the 2006 report of the FTSE provides the answer.
According to the assessment of FTSE, this country has now been placed on a High Risk List in the area of bribery. This list contains countries which have the highest levels of exposure to risk of engaging in bribery.
Mr. Speaker do you who FTSE is?
FTSE is an independent company owned by The Financial Times and the London Stock Exchange and is a world-leader in the creation and management of over 100,000 equity, bond and hedge fund indices.
The company does not give financial advice to clients, and this allows for the provision of truly objective market information.
It would seem logical that a government presented with this information would take immediate steps to criminalize corruption, especially given the fact that the previous PNM regime was famously corrupt and not a single PNM politician who had been engaged in corruption was ever charged or even chastised by the PNM leadership.
Instead, the government chose to turn a blind eye to its own failings, and to the widely held perception that public officers including politicians in government were engaged in bribery and corruption.
Government opted instead to focus blame on the business community to whom corruption and bribery are penalties.
Like so many years ago, PNM officials involved would be let free, and corruption would be effectively swept under the carpet and allowed to continue.
And this is what has in fact happened! And again the evidence is there for all to see.
Perhaps the most popular example of PNM government corruption at this time is the CEPEP.
Last year, after the Minister of the Environment finally yielded to the pressure by the Opposition UNC, an audit into the CEPEP was conducted by the Auditor General. The results were startling!
A total of $1.6 billion dollars had been spent during the four year life of the programme in a spending spree which implicated senior officers of the SWMCOL, the Ministry of the Environment and the CEPEP itself.
The Report pointed to serious problems of financial mismanagement, non existence of control mechanisms, performance standards, appraisal and audit procedures, and the absence of machinery for properly and effectively targeting communities for project identification and implementation.
There were secret bank accounts opened without proper authorization and evidence of the involvement of a host of PNM party members including the close relatives of several government ministers who were awarded millions of dollars in contracts.
Corruption, corruption corruption.
Do you understand why this government is perceived to be the most corrupt?
Well Mr. Speaker let me clear that up for you. Despite all the evidence of corruption, despite the public outcry and in spite of the demands from the Opposition UNC, this Government did what it always does when it is faced with corruption in its ranks.
To date not a single person has been held responsible for the 1.6 billion dollars of taxpayers money gifted to party friends and relatives of the PNM.
And just like its predecessors, state sanctioned PNM corruption will be allowed to fester.
I warn you Mr. Minister that a UNC Alliance government will not allow this robbery of the nationís treasury to go unanswered.
CEPEP is only one of a multitude of government make work programmes designed to enrich a few favored PNM friends by enslaving and exploiting the needy and the poor.
We will investigate every single one of these programmes, every one of the special purpose companies, every one of the multimillion dollar construction contracts including the contract to build the Tobago hospital and the Brian Lara stadium as well as the contracts to pave the PIARCO runway.
Those responsible for looting the treasury will be brought to justice whether he is the Minister of Finance or the Chairman of SWMCOL.
Mr. Speaker, even in the light of overwhelming evidence of corruption, and the belief exemplified by the Corruption Perception Index that corruption has gotten progressively worst under his government, this Prime Minister has offered no respite in any of his previous budgets.
We are now witnessing the unfortunate spectacle of state sponsored and state sanctioned corruption.
TRINIDAD RAPID RAIL SCANDAL
As I close, Mr. Speaker, I wish to bring to the attention of this Honourable House some disturbing information which has come to my attention in the last few days.
On Monday last, the Prime Minister announced the award of the contract for the $15 billion Trinidad Rapid Rail Project (TRRP) to the Trinitrain Consortium led by the internationally reputed French Bouygues Travaux Publics.
T3 Group Consortium led by Vinci Construction Grands Projects and including Bombardier, was unsuccessful.
The Prime Minister said:
ìÖ the government has been at pains to establish the highest standards of Transparency and Integrity in the procurement process...î
One cannot forget, the scandalous situation that obtained in September 2006 when it was revealed that the Prime Minister and other senior government officials had accepted a free jet ride on an executive aircraft at the invitation of one of the short-listed bidders, Bombardier.
Despite much public furor, neither the Prime Minister nor any other Minister has provided a satisfactory explanation of the purpose of that flight. There was speculation that the jet ride was some sort of inducement from Bombardier for the railway project.
Questions also arose over whether our free-spending government wanted to buy an executive jet as the Prime Minister pursued his ambitions to be Executive President and Emperor.
Both Bombardier and the government promptly denied that the free flight was in any way associated with the rapid rail or for the sale of aircraft either to the government or to the State-owned airline ñ Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL).
As that incident consumed public attention, fuelled outrage and prompted allegations of corruption, another puzzling event occurred.
The consultants for the evaluation of bids Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade Douglas (PB) was fired on September 13 for failing to disclose earlier that they were also working on a project in Israel with Bombardier Transportation.
Under a new consultant and amidst loud protestations, the government awarded the contract to Bouygues with an assurance from the Prime Minister that the contract is clean.
From research I have done over the past few days I have made some jaw dropping discoveries. And here in this file is some of the evidence to support what I am saying.
Bouygues Travaux Publics is a subsidiary of Bouygues Construction, owned by French businessman Matrin Bouygues who has interests in telecom, media and construction.
Bouygues is a close friend of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He was also very close to former President Jacques Chirac who, in 2005, was embroiled in a £60 million racket supplying government contracts in exchange for political funding.
It is alleged that Chiracís political party received millions of pounds from Bouygues in campaign financing in exchange for £2.8 billion in contracts.
Mr Bouygues has a reputation for romancing country leaders and then receiving public works contracts.
According to Transparency Internationalís June 1996 Quarterly Newsletter:
In December 1995, Bouygues was investigated and 24 of his high ranking employees were accused of corruption including:
a. Inflating costs on the Channel Tunnel and the construction of the Mitterandís Grands Projects,
b. Illicit party financing from the right wing to the socialists;
Bouygues received a license for all water works in Cote díIvoire after his television station gave former President Houphouet-Boigny a flattering documentary; and among even other scandals,
Bouygues was given the contract for the airport of Agadir in Morocco after a similarly flattering documentary was done on King Hassan.
Mr Speaker, you will recall that the Prime Minister has said that a cartel is operating in the construction industry and is responsible for artificial shortages of building materials, inflation and overheating of the economy. I am beginning to wonder if this is the rare occasion that he is right.
Bouyguesí Subsidiariesí ñ Shady Dealings
Mr Speaker, in light of the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister that the highest standards of transparency and integrity must be maintained to protect the national interest I believe it is important that I let you know that:
Bouygues has an international reputation for bid rigging.
In March 2003, Bouygues and 14 other French companies were fined a total of Ä48.5 million for collusion on contracts. (International Herald Tribune, March 23, 2006.)
The collusion caused ìÖ serious damage to the economyÖî according to the French Competition Council (FCC).
The fine was levied for ìÖ colluding on public contracts in the Paris region from 1991 to 1997.î
ìThe practice has kept prices artificially high,î according to the FCC.
ìÖ the builders created software that calculated an equal split of the government's contracts among them. The report by the regulator said the companies held up to 10 round tables where they divided the market, including a Paris subway line and regional highways.î
Bouygues was fined Ä10.5 million.
ìIn December 2005, Bouygues was sentenced by the regulator for colluding with other builders in northern France's highway markets. Its subsidiary, Colas, was fined Ä21 million.î
Mr Speaker, in January 2007, Bouygues, the leading foreign company of the Thessaloniki Metro Joint Venture ñ the contractor on the 220 billion drachma Thessaloniki Metro Project in Greece, was referred to the European Ombudsman.
Bouygues won the bid despite its tender not complying with specifications and conditions in the tender documents.
The Greek authorities were held responsible but no penalties were imposed.
In 1998, Mr Speaker, Bouygues was among three large construction companies at the centre of a major investigation by two judges, for operating a corrupt cartel over building work for schools in the Ile-de-France region (around Paris) between 1989 and 1996.
Contracts worth FF 28 billion (about $500m) were shared out by the three groups.
The system also involved political corruption: a levy of two per cent on all contracts was paid to finance the major political parties in the region (RPR, PR, PS, PC).
Bouygues also has a history of colluding with other big industry players to circle contracts. They form consortiums and joint ventures with a mix of each othersí subsidiaries and tender for projects.
This serves to thin the flock of bidders and provide opportunities for negotiating prices upward. The other companies pull out once their ìpartnerî gains enough advantage over the competing bidders to guarantee the contract.
Mr Speaker, information that has come to me suggests that this tactic was attempted in the railway bid. Further, I am reliably advised that three employees of the National Infrastructure Development Company were paid inducements to change the evaluations.
Mr Speaker, standard international contracts provide for the automatic voiding of the contract once the process is tainted with corruption.
Additionally, in Trinidad and Tobago, the offering and accepting of bribes is a criminal offence and anyone participating in such activity is liable to prosecution according to the Law.
I will leave that trail for the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Commissioner of Police and the Integrity Commission to follow.
Bouygues in Trinidad
It is difficult to comprehend how a company with a reputation such as Bouygues could get past the careful screening process that was employed in this railway project.
As you are aware, Bouygues is currently involved in a major, $1.7 billion construction project in Port of Spain ñ the International Waterfront Project.
Martin Bouygues visited the site in December 2006 and was accompanied there by the Honourable Prime Minister and Mr Calder Hart.
Mr. Hart is the Chairman of both NIPDEC and UdeCOTT, which are both involved in managing State construction projects worth billions of dollars.
The contractor on the Waterfront project is Bouygues Batiment T&T Construction company, a subsidiary of Bouygues Batiment International.
Bouygues Batiment is a joint venture of which Home Construction Limited (HCL) is a member, and Mr L Andre Monteil, Treasurer of the PNM, is a member of the Board of Directors of HCL.
We recall Mr Monteil was Chairman of the HMB up until recently when he made a controversial purchase of $100 million in shares in HMB. Mr Hart is a director in the Home Mortgage Bank (HMB) and served alongside Mr Monteil.
Mr Speaker, when Mr. Hart awards billion-dollar-contracts to the companies of his friends, this is a serious thing.
It is even more suspect when the constant figure who is always so providential that every way he turns, lucrative, million and billion-dollar deals just land in his lap, happens to be the Treasurer of the governing party.
It begs questions!
When the Treasurer of the party in government is linked to a company (HCL) that is involved in a joint venture with another company (Bouygues) that has an international record of bribery and political funding ñ in a billion dollar State project (Waterfront) - and that company (Bouygues) secures another multi-billion-dollar project such as the Rapid Rail Project which itself is a hotbed of controversy, alarm bells go off.
These are very important issues because we are being perceived by the international community as a haven for corruption and it will undermine the reputation of and confidence in our government when, for example, this contract for the $15 billion Trinidad Rapid Rail Project is awarded to Bouygues, who is in partnership with Mr Monteilís HCL, on the final approval of a Cabinet sub-committee headed by the Minister of Energy.
It is outrageous that conflicts of interest such as these are treated with such disregard by the government.
On behalf of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, I demand that:
the TRRP be immediately halted and the bids scrapped;
the International Waterfront Project be immediately halted;
a commission of inquiry be established to probe all contracts awarded by UdeCOTT, NIDCO, NIPDEC and the Ministry of Works and Transport; and
the Auditor General, Commissioner of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Integrity Commission do their Statutory duty and immediately launch investigations into the award of contracts related to the International Waterfront Project and TRRP to determine if there exists collusion and corruption, and to what extent;
so that anyone who has breached the laws of Trinidad and Tobago in this matter can be brought to justice.
Mr Speaker, I give this Honourable House the guarantee that in the publicís interest, a UNC-Alliance government will immediately bring those projects to a halt, seek and provide the answers to the public and ensure the protection of the publicís interest in this matter.
Mr. Speaker, this government brings the same destruction as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Revelations chapter 6.
The first horseman brought conquest in election 2002.
The second horseman brought war as we witnessed spiraling murder and mayhem.
The third horseman brought famine as we witnessed decline in the agriculture and astronomical increases in food prices.
And the fourth horseman will bring death ñ political death to this government as the UNC Alliance will form the next government.
Goodbye Mr. PM.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.