Mark, Maharaj: Why raise govt’s borrowing limit?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Senator Wade Mark – File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

OPPOSITION Senator Wade Mark and Independent Senator Sunity Maharaj asked Government to explain why it wants to increase the statutory limit of borrowings under the Developmental Loans Act from $65 to $75 billion.

They posed this question to Finance Minister Colm Imbert in their respective contributions to debate in the Senate on a motion to do this. Imbert opened debate on the motion earlier in the sitting. The motion was passed in the House of Representatives on March 15.

In his contribution, Mark claimed Imbert spoke about several issues but did not speak on the issue central to the motion.

“The minister has not explained what is the justification for seeking an additional $10 billion (to increase the statutory limit of borrowings under the Act).” Mark asked, “What are the details? Where are the plans? What are the projects?”

He also asked who would benefit from any projects that Government could use this additional $10 billion to fund. Mark said, “It cannot be the people. You (Government) are not doing anything to help the people.”

He reminded senators that in May, all governments undertook a mid-year review where it could increase the expenditure already approved in the budget.

Mark reiterated the UNC’s claim that the PNM would call an early general election this year rather than in 2025 when it was constitutionally due.

He asked if the $10 billion increase which Government was seeking through the motion was to facilitate that money being “part of the (PNM’s) war chest to fund the next general election.”

Mark rejected Imbert’s statements about the PNM managing the economy prudently over the last eight years. He claimed the PNM spent $75 billion over that period and had nothing to show for it.

Opposition senators thumped their desks when Mark asked, “Isn’t that economic treason?”

He called on Imbert to apologise to the Senate for saying the public debt was in the region of 70 per cent when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Article IV report on TT last week, placed that figure at 73.4 per cent.

Senate President Nigel De Freitas disallowed a claim from Mark that the $10 billion increase being sought by Government was to fund the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) “to kill more people.”

Mark withdrew that allegation on instructions from De Freitas.

Maharaj felt that Imbert was not being as transparent as he could be about why Government wanted to increase the borrowing limit.

“We deserve not to be snowed over by smooth talk. This is the country’s money.”

Maharaj admitted that Government was working hard to develop the economy. But she suggested that it might not always be working smart to achieve this goal.

While acknowledging that Government was pursuing potentially beneficial projects such as the Dragon gas deal, Maharaj said, “We don’t know how the future is going to pay for the present.”