Rowley: This is a ‘panic budget’
By CLINT CHAN TACK Saturday, October 6 2012
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iPad viewing: La Horquetta/Talparo MP Jairam Seemungal uses his iPad to view the Budget debate yesterday although he is inside the Parliament Chamber....
OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday accused the People’s Partnership (PP) Government of engaging in “panic budgeting” to stay in power, divert attention from the Section 34 fiasco and win next year’s Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and Local Government Elections.
In delivering his response to the 2013 Budget in the House of Representatives, Rowley slammed the PP for being “steadfastly and myopically concerned with their ‘ship of partners’.”
Accusing Government of being, “concerned only with the Partnership”, Rowley argued, “The economy has yet to perform even close to any of the projections of this Government.” Repeatedly saying throughout his contribution that the PP could not be trusted to be truthful on any issue, including the economy, Rowley observed, “Invariably, skullduggery is carried out by two or more people acting in concert. Bonnie had Clyde; Jesse James had Frank James and Cole Younger; Butch Cassidy had the Sundance Kid; Thelma had Louise; Volney and whoever!”
Reminding the House that Finance Minister Larry Howai told the nation the Budget would have austerity measures in it, Rowley quipped, “One march in Port-of-Spain and in a matter of days, the plan changed to increases in total expenditure from $54.4 to 58.4 billion and the deficit from $6.7 billion in 2012, to $7.7 billion in 2013. It is called panic budgeting!!!” PNM MPs thumped their desks as Rowley said this was why the 2013 Budget, “is so short on details and without connectivity.”
Arguing that Government was basing its budget on how to stay in power and not to strengthen the economy, Rowley rejected the objectives which Howai said the Budget would achieve. “This is just a bluff as there is no way that this administration, which has fallen in love with contracts, food cards and other handouts will reduce welfare and other expenditure in the face of elections scheduled for 2015, an election that it is scheduled to lose,” he declared.
Rowley questioned why, in a so-called “austerity budget,” Howai proceeded “to cut the meager allocation of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.”
“We requested for 2013, $4.5million and received $2.8 million.” He recalled that in 2011, the same sum was requested and then Finance Minister Winston Dookeran allocated $3.5 million to the Opposition Leader’s Office.
Opposition MPs gasped in surprise when Rowley said the $2.5 million sum which is needed to keep the Parliament Channel functioning has been slashed to $500,000. “The Minister obviously intends to minimise or silence the Parliament Channel,” Rowley charged.
Wondering whether Howai’s idea of austerity is curtailing allocations to perceived enemies as described by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, “at the Mid Centre Mall party” on September 29, Rowley said, “Unfortunately the Parliament has been so betrayed by this Government that the broadcast channel has been targeted by the new Minister of Finance.” He called upon all MPs to encourage Howai to provide Parliament, “with its necessary allocations in order to do the people’s business of monitoring and informing.”
On the Budget’s allocation to Tobago, Rowley said, “Three years of the PP Government have seen Tobago’s share of the combined national recurrent and development programme budgets fall below the peaks of 4.68 percent and 4.64 percent, set under the PNM in fiscal 2004 and 2007 respectively, to 3.98 percent in fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012; and now 3.99 percent in fiscal 2013.”
Saying Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) Tobago MPs Dr Delmon Baker and Vernella Alleyne-Toppin never uttered “a whimper of protest” about this, Rowley charged, “They cannot differentiate between their own personal contempt for the PNM and the UNC’s contempt for the THA and its duly elected executive.” Claiming the budgetary provisions for Tobago were nothing but a “veiled effort” to help the TOP win next year’s THA election, Rowley declared, “TOP or bottom, the PNM will win the election in Tobago.” Noting Howai resurrected the North East Tobago initiative mentioned in the last two budgets, Rowley said that initiative was “dead on arrival.”
Warning that persistent high crime levels and increasing perceptions of corruption in public affairs continue to erode confidence in the economy, Rowley scoffed, “Confidence in any criminal justice system was a major casualty in the face of the conduct of the Government, in relation to their perverted application of the now repealed Clause 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, a matter which this nation will keep constantly in focus.”
He questioned the manner in which National Security Minister Jack Warner interacts with law enforcement officers.
“The Minister of National Security is not the Commissioner of Police,” Rowley said.
On the construction boom which Government envisaged in the Budget, Rowley claimed Cabinet recently approached the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to buy a parcel of land in central Trinidad for $175 million. “The land, with basic infrastructure, was valued at $52 to $ 65 million, by well-known valuator Linden Scott. Surprisingly, an intervention was made by the Government valuator who claimed that the Scott valuation was too low and the owner claimed that somebody had offered him $200 million,” he said. Questioning why Government is pursuing a policy of “emptying out Port-of-Spain” by relocating government offices mainly to Chaguanas, Rowley asked: “What then is the driving force behind an incentive, behind this new announcement of tax breaks, to encourage the construction of commercial buildings?”
“Certainly this cannot be to the benefit of the capital city in its current state,” he added.
Describing the planned removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 7,000 food items as, “an act of desperation” by Government, after the Section 34 fiasco, Rowley claimed there is, “more in the mortar than in the pestle with this.” Saying many of these items are being imported in large quantities and businesses importing them, “will get a substantial break”, if VAT is removed, Rowley wondered if this was an attempt by Government to, “once more to use the power of the State to bring benefits to persons who may be benefactors of the UNC.”