Rowley reiterates: No discussions, decisions about VAT in Cabinet

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister says Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar should be more responsible and stop spreading false information that the government plans to increase VAT. He said she had been using an out-of-context document to push that agenda.

At a UNC rally on Monday night, Persad-Bissessar said she has evidence, in the form of a document, of the government’s plans to raise VAT from 12.5 to 15 per cent.

“I do not engage in fraud or (providing) false documents,” she said. “Remember the fake e-mails in Parliament?”

Dr Rowley has since denied this.

He sought to address the issue again at a post-Cabinet press conference at Whitehall on Thursday afternoon. It began at 2.42 pm.

Just as he began speaking about it, electricity cut off in the room the press conference was being held in. Surrounding rooms still had power.

Rowley apologised and told reporters, “We can’t function like this, can we?”

Checks were done and electricity was restored.

The cause remains uncertain. Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi said a “hard restart” was done and that some tests would be done before the press conference resumed.

The conference resumed at 3:05 pm.

Rowley resumed by saying he was about to say the same thing again and hoped this time, it “doesn’t trip the breaker.”

He said taxation is a touchy subject as it causes people to react in different ways and “brings out all kind of emotions.” But, he added, it is a management tool.

“I want to make it very clear, notwithstanding anything you’ve heard from the Opposition, especially the Opposition Leader, there was no discussion in the Cabinet about adjustment, either upwards or downwards on VAT.”

He said if that were the case, the government would inform the public.

He said Persad-Bissessar got access to “working documents of the Cabinet” that began with a Cabinet note and contains an appendix.

Reminding the public that depending on the increase and decrease of global oil prices, TT’s economy will be affected, he said the information contained in the document simply speaks to that fluctuation.

He said to take this out of context and “go off on a campaign” is “quite disturbing…

“Our circumstances can be influenced for the worst by statements like that coming from officials of the nation.

“There are people in the financial sector (and) business sector who will hear it and would be inclined to say, ‘Where there is smoke, there is fire,’ ‘I don’t believe the government,’ ‘I don’t believe the minister of finance and, therefore, I will organise my business against the background that there are tax increases to come.”

Rowley added, “The last person who should be trying to provide proof to this nation that somebody in my government is lying to the country is the Opposition Leader.”

He said he did not want to go into details about Persad-Bissessar’s conduct and record, “but I could tell you it’s not good.”

He said she must remember she is an officer of the State with serious responsibility, adding that the PNM “does not behave like that.”

The Government, he said, has nothing to hide, regardless of whether Persad-Bissessar felt she “will buss a mark.”

He said the Government took decisions and held itself accountable, despite not all of the decisions being popular. He said they had all been in the best interest of the population.

Asked if the source of the leak was identified, Rowley said leaks in Cabinet operations were not anything new and were an “integral part” of it.

“The Cabinet is the only ship that leaks from the top.”

He said while he did not give anyone Cabinet documents, they “passed through a number of levels of contact” and Persad-Bissessar was “not a lady without resources…

“I was in Opposition too.

“We have nothing to hide. So if documents of the Cabinet end up in the hands of people in the Opposition, we have nothing to fear. So I’m not really worried about that.”