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.
“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.