PM’s ‘It’s Your Business’ Address (Part One)

Lay­ing his man­age­ment plan in the first part of his two-part ad­dress to the na­tion yesterday evening, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley said his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan for the coun­try would cost tax­pay­ers $12.5 bil­lion—less than half of what his pre­de­ces­sors wast­ed. The $29 bil­lion in wast­ed funds, he in­di­cat­ed, was cold hard cash which was on hand and this fig­ure ex­clud­ed oth­er forms of ex­pen­di­tures.

With­in his plan in­clud­ed ex­pen­di­ture on projects such as $2 bil­lion on re­pairs at the Port-of- Spain Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal, cre­at­ing a La Brea dry dock, and on hous­ing pro­grammes re­spec­tive­ly.

He al­so planned a $1 bil­lion ex­pen­di­ture on the Drag­on gas pipeline, re­sort tourism project, the To­ba­go air­port ter­mi­nal, pur­chase of two new fer­ries for To­ba­go, and the San Fer­nan­do wa­ter­front project re­spec­tive­ly.

Row­ley al­so put forth ex­pen­di­tures of $850 mil­lion for the con­struc­tion of the San­gre Grande Hos­pi­tal and $600 mil­lion for the pur­chase of two Coast Guard ves­sels.

“Look at the things that have not been done in Trinidad and To­ba­go and which now fall for this gov­ern­ment to do,” he said “and if we had ac­cess to this kind of cash, or to bor­row against it look what we could have done (point­ing at his list­ed projects and plans).”

Port-of-Spain Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal

In 2009, the main tow­er in the Port-of-Spain Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal was as­sessed by en­gi­neers to be struc­tural­ly un­sound and fol­low­ing last Au­gust’s 6.9 mag­ni­tude earth­quake which shook the coun­try. The Gov­ern­ment was forced to evac­u­ate the tow­er in or­der to tear it down and re­build it. “If we had built that, and that was deemed a pri­or­i­ty of the Gov­ern­ment of Trinidad and To­ba­go in 2009—it is now be­ing ad­dressed,” he said.

La Brea Dry Dock

Row­ley said this project is be­ing done to cap­i­talise on the coun­try’s ge­o­graph­ic prox­im­i­ty to the Pana­ma Canal so that ships that are tra­vers­ing the At­lantic to the Pa­cif­ic through Pana­ma could get ser­viced in T&T, cre­at­ing jobs and gen­er­at­ing for­eign ex­change in­come. “The Chi­nese are of­fer­ing to come in with us. They will take up 30 per cent, we would have to be good for 70 per cent,” he said.

To­ba­go

“For the last 36 months in this coun­try, the con­ver­sa­tion, the biggest scan­dal in my Gov­ern­ment ac­cord­ing to some peo­ple is the fer­ry, the fer­ry, the fer­ry, the fer­ry,” Row­ley said.

He said the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion mis­man­aged the two used fer­ries which pre­vi­ous­ly ser­viced the in­ter-is­land sea bridge, “run­ning them in­to the ground.” He blamed the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship ad­min­is­tra­tion for now forc­ing them to have to pur­chase two new fer­ries to help ser­vice the sea bridge. Row­ley al­so blamed the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion and naysay­ers for deny­ing To­ba­go a San­dals re­sort which they would have con­struct­ed to help di­ver­si­fy the econ­o­my and bring in much-need­ed tourists.

The To­ba­go air­port ter­mi­nal, Row­ley said, was nec­es­sary to bring the is­land’s tourism in­to mod­ern times. “As it stands now if a jum­bo jet lands in To­ba­go and starts to of­fload or is load­ing, peo­ple are out in the carpark wait­ing to get on the plane and if it’s rain­ing, you can’t get off the plane in­to the air­port—that is not how you do tourism in 2019. We need a prop­er air­port ter­mi­nal and we do­ing that now,” he said.

San Fer­nan­do Wa­ter­front project

The Prime Min­is­ter said this project is nec­es­sary to boost the city’s econ­o­my as, “San Fer­nan­do is the on­ly wa­ter­front city in the Caribbean and pos­si­bly the world where the wa­ter­front is a dump.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight at 8pm, the PM will address Part 2 of the National Report explaining plans to move Trinidad and Tobago towards a brighter future.

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