Ex-UNC senator: People having to choose food or education

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Senator Taharqa Obika. –

PARENTS are sacrificing the education of their children in order to cope with rising inflation, according to economist and former opposition senator Taharqa Obika.

“The past seven years failed to do to prepare our children for the future they will inherit.

“By their policies the government has increased the level of joblessness in our nation. In the face of over 100,000 jobs lost, citizens are facing rising food prices because our food import bill is in excess of $5 billion.”

Pointing to the shortage of foreign exchange which has driven up black-market prices, he called on Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon to disclose what is the foreign exchange shortfall and to make use of the US$644 million IMF special drawing rights (SDRs) obtained last August to provide forex especially to importers of food to prevent their resorting to black-market suppliers and further driving the price of goods.

On Gopee-Scoon’s apparent contentment with US$100 million, when, to cover annual imports, this country requires just under US$10 billion, Obika said this was disingenuous without outlining what is the overall forex shortage and what will be done to address this.

With the food basket for the average consumer increasing by 22 per cent since the People’s National Movement (PNM) assumed office, parents are making the critical decision to sacrifice education over starvation.

With the increase in fuel costs, and an anticipated increase in water and electricity rates, Obika said parents who are on fixed income or no income see the deferral or discontinuance of further education as the only means of meeting their monthly financial obligations.

Accusing Government of creating a large mass of working poor, Obika asked, “If you are living on a fixed income where will you find the money to pay more for food? What will you cut to buy food?”

He said parents are now telling their children to hold back on education “because they cannot afford it, especially after this Government closed the GATE programme to many academic pursuits.

“Parents now have to choose to between starvation and education. This is the choice for parents as a result of the escalating price of food with the poor state of the economy under this government.”

At the United National Congress (UNC) meeting on Monday night, Obika said when schools reopened last week, many parents were unable to send their young chicldren for want of something as basic as a uniform.

Comparing the index of retail food prices from 2015, when the PP headed the Government, to January 2022, under the PNM, he said oil and fats increased by 33 per cent, fruit by 26 per cent, vegetables by 31 per cent and fish by 37 per cent.

“And your salary ent gone up.”

Obika said the absence of a policy to rescue households from poor dietary choices due to rising poverty and the food crisis represented a clear and present danger.

“If a parent wants to give their child fish, fruits, oils or green leafy vegetables, they must spend as much as 37 per cent more than in 2015, whilst at the same time their salaries are stagnant or have even declined.

“There must come a time in our national experience where we decide collectively as a people what will be our legacy. There comes a time in a generation where we decide as a grouping what we will leave for those to follow.

“Now is the time to take stock of what the past seven years have meant in terms of the decline of our economy.”