Black Immigrant Daily News
– Angelo Marcelle
THE Prime Minister’s address at the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) 50th annual convention took a mostly sombre, almost hostile tone.
Dr Keith Rowley spoke at length about the party and government’s achievements, recent and historic, Rowley also focused extensively on the opposition, and major problems affecting society.
While Rowley minced no words when describing the country’s reality, he said the government’s fight against the country’s number-one problem, crime, was not over.
“This year, we already have a record number of murders even though there is an overall decline in general criminal conduct,” Rowley said.
This year’s murder toll, 564 as of Sunday, had already surpassed TT’s worst year on record (500 in 2018), by November 28.
The murder rate, the PM said, “is driven by the too-easy availability of firearms, gang engagement, turf protection and revenge killings.
“The police and other security agencies are permanently engaged in crime detection and suppression but clearly the current methods are not sufficiently robust enough to bring the level of safety and security that the population demand and deserves.
He said some have suggested rotating ministers or have politicised the crime-fighting efforts.
“All this will do, as it has been doing, is to embolden the criminals who believe that the rest of the country does not have what it takes to bring the lawlessness under control,” Rowley said.
“This PNM government is not prepared to give up the fight against the criminal element,” Rowley said, repeating himself for emphasis.
“We will continue to improve and use the whole-of-government approach by resourcing the security agencies so they can perform more effectively.”
He said the government will also support the education system, community development, and sports programmes to “give people of all ages the opportunity to engage in positive activities for self-improvement and career development.
“We will continue to grow the economy so that job opportunities continue to become available, and we will encourage and support families to steer their siblings and progeny away from a life of crime and away from the clutches of the recruiters to a life of crime.”
Rowley said the government will invest in border protection and improve the quality of TT’s policing agencies “by weeding out corrupt and worthless officers from these various departments.
“(We will) resource and encourage the judicial system with more court and technical infrastructure and more judicial officers so that they can be more effective in dispensing justice on time as we take steps to improve the conditions and use of our prisons…”
Residential Youth Development and Apprentice Centres, Rowley announced, will be opened at old youth camps located in El Dorado, Chaguaramas, Wallerfield and other areas, where skills training will be available to at-risk and vulnerable youths.
“In short, youth camps are coming back,” Rowley declared.
Rowley boasted of the government’s social programmes and protection for vulnerable groups and reminded supporters of things they can look forward to, including the release of $260 million for healthcare workers “of all levels,” which he said will come before Christmas, as well as the $1,000 one-off payment for every pensioner or anyone on public assistance or receiving a disability grant and food support.
“This payment is to offset any anticipated rise in expenses due to the increase in fuel prices associated with the reduction of the fuel subsidy,” he said.
While the party’s accomplishments took the spotlight, Rowley also spared scathing rhetoric for the opposition.
“It is to be noted that during the difficult period, 2015-2022, that we completed and commissioned the new Couva Hospital, we built the Arima Hospital, the Point Fortin Hospital and the outstanding Diego Martin Health Facility.
“We also constructed the Roxborough Hospital and we are constructing the long-awaited Sangre Grande Hospital.”
Many, Rowley said, played a pivotal role in delivering healthcare to covid19 patients.
“This was a time when the PNM government and our public health officials were saving lives and creating thousands of job opportunities for the construction workers who built these facilities and others.
“How welcome it would’ve been if we could have received tacit support from our UNC parliamentary colleagues. Even if not in deeds, even a kind word would’ve contributed…
“We know that they have an overflowing reservoirs of negative vibes to draw from. There is also a copious stream of disrespect, vulgarity, insults and invectives, but where are the useful alternatives?
“(One) shudders to think where the ship of State would be if they were at the helm.”
Rowley celebrated the recently revealed budgetary surplus and the ability of the government to allocate funds to the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF).
“From 2009-2021, the facts are this country operated without a budgetary surplus. Even with oil prices at well over $100 a barrel in the period 2012-2014, no attempt was made to balance the budget or to put the fiscal account into surplus.
“Instead, what we saw was that every effort was made to spend every cent that was earned and even when the law required that the sums of the surplus be put into the HSF, to the extent that deposits were made into that fund, it was done by borrowing to meet the legal obligation.
“In short, they borrowed to put money into the savings account.”
The HSF was hot topic at the UNC’s Monday night virtual forum. Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar accused the government of “hiding and lying” to avoid questions concerning a lack of contributions to the HSF.
“Today, from the purgatory of the Opposition benches, they have appointed themselves heavyweights of fiscal and monetary policy, who are constantly crying down everything in the country, and how everything should be done.
In fact, the government has saved the country considerable sums, he said.
“We had the Spotlight on Energy where we exposed value leakage in the energy sector and we set out to negotiate with the major companies to get better returns for TT without breaking contracts or litigating a single existing contract.
“We have earned since July 2018 to July 2022 $11.4 billion in additional revenue which we would not have earned had we not initiated and successfully completed these negotiations.
He highlighted the 97 downstream gas supply contracts and extensions secured by NGC between 2015-2022.
“We have been working tirelessly to restructure Atlantic LNG and on Tuesday of this week, a formal announcement will be made on the outcome of this initiative.
“We moved the singular reference selling pricing of LNG from Henry hub to a basket of LNG prices which are consistently more lucrative. This has had the desired effect of generating significant increases in our unit pricing and billions of dollars for you.
“That is how the PNM does it,” he told hundreds of supporters at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.