Ken Chee Hing
THE 2022 national budget was very long on rhetoric but very short on substance.
This was how Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar summed up Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s nearly four-hour long presentation in the House of Representatives on Monday. She said that contrary to Imbert’s figure of $9 billion, the country’s deficit is really in the region of $13.7 billion.
At a post-budget briefing at her office on Charles Street, Port of Spain, she said Imbert’s figures just do not add up, referring it to a scenario of the, “maths not mathsing.” She said there was no ideas to generate economic work, to put people back to work and to help thousands who are struggling to put food on the table.
She accused him of regurgitating years’ old promises especially about digitisation but lamented that thousands of school children have no laptops for online learning after the schools laptop programme was discontinued by the PNM. “Thousands have no access to education. What future will these children have? They are locked out of education,” she slammed.
“How can the country emerge from the crisis when your revenue is down? Our energy production under their watch has fallen. What are your plans to increase?”
She said the budget amount to “declaring war on the people.”
She hit the introduction of the property tax in the midst of a pandemic. She alleged that Imbert had just primed the population for a rise in utility rates and said now the cost of living will surely go up. She vowed to legally challenge the constitutional soundness of parts of the Property Tax Act, such as enforcement provisions.
“The budget pushes more people into the poverty zone,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“Instead of steering the country away from the edge, he (Imbert) has put his foot down on the accelerator taking us full speed towards economy catastrophe.”
Saying people are suffering and families are hungry, with thousands without jobs after 6,000 businesses shut down, she said Imbert had failed to give people any reassurance.
“No hope, no vision and no plan,” she said. His only recourse was, “tax, tax, tax; borrow, borrow, borrow; and spend, spend, spend.”
“Citizens wanted to hear what will ease their burden.”
In the question section, she said while the World Bank was reviewing its ease of doing business index which had given this country a low rating, she said anecdotally people here know how long it takes to register a business or to transfer a car bought in 2016. She said she was enraged by the budget on behalf of the citizenry.
Earlier, the media was kept waiting in a room in the Parliament with one television channel to interview a Government representative but after an hour of waiting, reporters were told that interview was cancelled.