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GOVT BURDENS = INCREASING PUBLIC COSTS

Published: 
Saturday, March 18, 2017

Perhaps it was because MPs were seeing each other for a second time for the week, that yesterday’s pre-Parliament mood had been light.

Past and present health ministers, Fuad Khan and Terrence Deyalsingh, walked in together, chatting. PNMites Marlene McDonald, Rohan Sinanan and Anthony Garcia, guffawed on a matter.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert was missing. However his ministry, still operating, had issued a statement regarding a second Heritage and Stabilisation Fund drawdown involving US$251 million.

Opposition MP Rudy Indarsingh also brought things back to reality, noting certain developments.

“Is like PNM don’t like anything with ‘Caroni’ in it—Caroni (1975) Ltd, Caroni Green,” Indarsingh added on impending closure of the latter company.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley who’d announced the company’s closure, appeared at Thursday’s weekly media briefing following negative developments in key national areas—crime, unemployment, the economy—but didn’t mention the HSF drawdown, Cabinet had agreed on. (Finance yesterday revealed.)

The drawdown follows Central Bank’s recent dismal economic bulletin, including low Government revenue in the non-oil sector, touted as alternative income. Nor did PM sugar-coat the situation, acknowledging Government’s unpopularity and the need for unpopular steps.

His appearance also, was to defend Government against criticism on the Tourism Development Company’s dissolution. His position that he heads the Cabinet which made the decision, indirectly challenges unions to take him on, rather than his embattled Tourism Minister who unions have panned.

The fracture in the National Tripartite Advisory Council resulting from TDC’s issue indicates how thin the relationship with labour is and may be increasingly become amid rising retrenchment, unless proper procedures are employed. How that plays out and how TDC’s closure impacts on future relations and—closures—remain ahead.

Particularly following more job losses over upcoming months from closure of some small state enterprises and non-renewal of contracts as Government’s confirmed.

Following TDC’s “review,” that term and “restructure” will set off alarms wherever heard. Including at Petrotrin where PM ordered review. Petrotrin’s future couldn’t be any clearer since his recent announcement was couched in the context of “falling revenues, mismanagement allegations and decreasing global oil prices.”

Despite mid-term unpopularity troughs traditionally affecting administrations, the upcoming year may be the only time to take actions that may be necessary.

But, however positive new Tourism agencies may be, Government is also in a bind concerning hopes for tourism to offset energy revenues.

Apart from what citizens sadly know of T&T’s crime problem, the US State Department’s 2017 Crime and Safety report was plain spoken with enough sound advice to also apply to all including locals, “Crime is the principal threat to visitors,” the report pronounced on T&T.

Details dispelled any view of T&T as a whimsical tropical paradise.

Tobago where Rowley’s signature legacy project—Sandals’ resort is planned—was described as having “...crimes affecting tourists including murder, home invasion, petty theft, swindling, fraud, theft from hotel rooms. Several violent home invasions targeted well-to-do homes and villas sometimes rented to tourists.”

The murder of policewoman Nyasha Joseph has forcefully brought home the disrespect and contempt held by some for women and authorities like the police service.

Joseph was the third female officer attacked in the last four months. A South SRP was raped en route to local government election duties last November. In February, a female constable and her tot escaped abduction during a Tamana home invasion.

Government’s reaction to the worsening threat to T&T’s profile is to access advice to expedite hangings. This, from former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj under whose tenure the Chadee gang was executed. How effective and whether it’ll be operationalised sufficiently to scotch T&T’s negative form (and Government’s increasing unpopularity) will develop.

Apart from revenue-raising energy paths being pursued, Procurement legislation assented to on Tuesday by the President will hopefully be proclaimed by Cabinet soon enough for project start-ups within the first quarter.

Government’s hopes are also on property tax revenues, implementation of which may be imminent, judging from recent business group workshops to sensitise and discuss the plan expected by April’s mid-year review.

Finance hasn’t responded to emailed queries on their feedback and if some of their assessments are accurate. Or whether Government will heed surveyors’ appeal for public consultations and further explanation. Or if banker’s forum views are true that the tax is ill-suited to residential properties. More confusion on the matter.

Since big buildings—banks, large businesses—could bear highest costs in Government’s formula based on annual rentable value, J Public may want to know if businesses will pass costs on to customers.

Certainly by Government’s two-year mark, six months ahead, they’ll also need to see conclusion of the “fire-fighting” approach so far used in managing national affairs. And beginning of a concrete path.