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What the money for, Colm?

JULIEN NEAVES Sunday, March 19 2017

A FORMER People’s National Movement minister and a former People’s Partnership minister have both called on Finance Minister Colm Imbert to state exactly what the $1.7 billion from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) will be spent on.

On Friday Imbert announced the draw down, the second in under a year, yesterday and explained that it would be used for the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) but did not provide any specifics.

Former minister in the ministry of finance Mariano Browne, speaking in a telephone interview, said that after 2010 the expenditure profile of TT expanded significantly on recurrent expenditure which is very hard to reduce.

He said the Central Bank report last week demonstrated a precipitous decline in revenue and one which is likely to continue.

“So in those circumstances we are in a difficult situation of not being able to meet our recurrent expenditure and so as a result Government has cut back on any form of investment in the (PSIP). So it is literally, because we are on a slippery slope, one can expect that every year the Minister of Finance would have little or no alternative but to dip into (HSF).” “The critical issue is what is the money going to be used for.” He noted Imbert had said that it is going to be used for the PSIP but what the country needs to know is specifics.

“What part of the PSIP programme? How does that dovetail with private sector expenditures and how will it help us in the longer term?” he asked.

He said we also need to understand and know what the specific priorities are going to be in terms of cutting back our recurrent expenditure programme.

“It is impossible for the Minister of Finance to continue to survive with a projected expenditure programme over $50 billion.

It can’t happen.” “You can’t borrow your way out of this struggle and if you want to rely on the (HSF) the HSF would be extinguished in a very short space of time. This is the position we found ourselves in in 1986 and this is a 1986 moment.

And the longer we take to recognise it and to deal with the adjustment process it is going to become harder and harder.” Browne said Parliament would be the best place to give account of the draw-down.

“There is nothing wrong with him giving an accounting in Parliament or out of Parliament.

But he must give it.” He also said Imbert must tell how Government was able to replenish the HSF following the previous draw-down.

Former Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, speaking on i95.5FM yesterday, also said Imbert has a duty to say what the money would be used for and what specific projects would be supported.

“Explain to the population exactly what that US$251 million which is TT$1.7 billion, exactly what use it will be put to. He has said it would be used for the (PSIP) but we need to go a step further and say exactly what projects would be supported using that TT$1.7 billion.” He also accused Imbert of “decapitalising the country”.

“And I think the wider point is that by drawing money from the (HSF) the minister is effectively decapitalising Trinidad and Tobago and he needs to tell us how he is going to replace that capital from the (HSF)...

with new capital stock. By that I mean tell us what you are going to build using that money from the HSF.” Attempts to contact Imbert via telephone yesterday were unsuccessful.



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