PM: Trinidad and Tobago economy has not collapsed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THE Prime Minister has rejected claims by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar that the economy has collapsed and Government intends to impose a series of punitive measures against the population to raise revenue.

Dr Rowley spoke during debate in the House of Representatives on June 7 on a motion to approve a report by the the House’s Standing Finance Committee to supplement the 2023/2024 budget by $2.3 billion.

In her earlier contribution to the debate, Persad-Bissessar claimed TT was bankrupt. She read from what she alleged was a Finance Ministry document that proposed the removal of value added tax (VAT), increased taxes and cutting of social assistance programmes as some of the measures government will take to increase revenue.

Rowley denied all Persad-Bissessar’s claims andreminded MPs of what he said were many of the ills which happened under Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership (PP) coalition government.

He said the government’s making the economy collapse had been the UNC’s mantra since 2016.

“They are projecting and hoping that the economy collapse and notwithstanding their best wishes, the economy of TT has not collapsed.”

Government MPs thumped their desks.

Rowley said when the PNM returned to office on September 9, 2015, “There were billions of dollars to be paid.”

Government, he continued, engaged those issues by paying off from revenues or rolling over debt.

Rowley said if this is not done, as the UNC is demanding, there is a consequence to that.

“The alternative is to default on the debt that you have already incurred. Is that what they are asking us to do?”

He suggested this was a case of the Opposition not understanding how refinancing a debt is done, or knowing this and deliberately misleading the population about it.

Rowley said, “It is good management in a difficult period that differentiates the people’s circumstances from collapse.”


Government MPs thumped their desks again when he added that the fact that the economy has not collapsed and this country had done well during a very difficult period was a high indication of good governance at work.

“Against that background, our political opponents have to find something to say.”

While he was speaking, Rowley observed Persad-Bissessar was leaving the Parliament Chamber,

“Do you know why the leader of the opposition is leaving? Because she knows her time, because my colleague from Siparia knows that her time is near.”

Rowley referred to the fact that Naparima MP Rodney Charles, who is aligned with the UNC Patriots slate that is challenging Persad-Bissessar’s endorsed Star slate in the UNC’s June 15 internal elections, sits to her immediate left in the House. Describing Persad-Bisssessar as “embattled,” Rowley said she ended her contribution “not daring to look to the left.”

He added, “I feel a tinge of sadness for her.”

Government MPs thumped their desks yet again as Rowley described Persad-Bissessar’s contribution as an “attempt to deliberately mislead the public.”

He said the document on which Persad-Bissessar based her allegations did not come from the government.

He debunked her claims of an increase in VAT.

“Where did the opposition leader get that from? I can tell you without fear of contradiction. Nowhere in the corridors of this government that I lead is VAT increase a discussion. Nowhere.”

He reminded MPs that the PNM had reduced VAT from 15 to 12.5 per cent when it returned to government in 2015, but retained VAT on luxury food items.

“We make no apologies for that.

“You want to bring in strawberries, you want to bring in caviar, you want to bring in so and so.

“Those are not priorities and therefore you pay VAT if you want to bring it in.”

He said no VAT is charged on any basic food item.

Rowley identified champagne, vodka, caviar and sturgeon eggs amongst a list of 7,000 items the UNC was trying to categorise as basic food items from which VAT should be removed.

He wondered how Persad-Bissessar could describe 2014 as a wonderful year for the economy under the PP.

“I know where I was – I was over there (in opposition) watching the government, and it was in 2014 that the economic decline had started, and by 2015, when the oil price had dropped from (US$) 100 to (US$) 45 (per barrel), the government changed at that time.”

Rowley said 2014 was no period of prosperity under the PP.

“That was when the flag started to be lowered.”

He said it was a fact that declines in global oil and natural gas prices would have a negative effect on the economy, and a natural consequence of that was declining revenues.

But he said government has been able to steady the ship in these circumstances.

“It falls to a government to address that situation, and we have done so, and done so spectacularly. It is too difficult for some people to understand.”


While he did not expect the opposition to sing from the government’s hymn sheet, Rowley said the UNC must refrain from misrepresenting the truth about the country’s circumstances.

He said this was reflected in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) country report on June 5, which said the economy was at its strongest level in a decade.

While TT continues to go through a very difficult period, Rowley said, this report “tells us that something good is happening in TT.”

After rejecting Persad-Bissessar’s claims that governnment plans to cut social assistance programmes, Rowley said, “This government’s record is, in the most difficult of times, we have maintained some of the best social programmes that is within the Commonwealth.”

He questioned Persad-Bissessar’s opposition to people receiving short-term employment contracts.

Rowley asked the opposition what policies it was following to employ people in the controversial LifeSport programme under the PP. He repeated that the only thing arising from that programme was a $400 million expenditure and “murderers galore.”

Under the PNM, Rowley continued, some things no longer exist in government.

“One, fake papers. Two, thiefing government money. Three, using public money to create crime in this country.”

Rowley advised Finance Minister Colm Imbert to withhold payment of opposition MPs’ salaries if they continue to claim the country is bankrupt.

He told Imbert should he do that, UNC MPs will reject their own claims and come running to his door begging to be paid.

Rowley said Persad-Bissessar had no idea what was the presumptive tax that she alleged government wanted people to pay. He advised anyone being told to pay such a fictious tax to do so with a presumptive cheque.

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