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Commentary: Government by extempo
Published on January 12, 2016 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Capil Bissoon

The much maligned “No Rowley” campaign may prove to be prophetic since we are now in an extempo country in Trinidad and Tobago where policies are developed on the fly, as crises evolve, as events arise and the global economic crisis continues to influence our fortunes.

Capil Bissoon is a Trini-Canadian looking on at Trinidad and Tobago politics from a distance
It is like spinning a wheel and finding out today it is swine flu, tomorrow it is three or four gang murders, next day it is mothers dying in childbirth in the country's maternity wards and doctors being suspended, the following day it is chronic shortages of pharmaceuticals and yesterday it was four government ministers pathetically outing fires of outrage in La Brea.

As the wheel spins, the government appears to be in reactive, crisis management, ad hoc modes.

Their strategic plan cannot be discerned, remains a mystery and probably does not exist.

We were told the PNM spent five years in opposition developing plans to take this country forward. They were red and ready to hit the ground running from day one if elected. We were led to believe we would be dazzled by the level of strategic thinking, planning, first-world research and data driven analyses that we would behold after their victory at the September 7 polls.

It was all a mirage. Today, more than 100 days into this new government, the country is slowly waking up to the realization we are being led by smooth talking OJTs learning the job at taxpayers' expense.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the ministries of health and finance.

The ministry of health is in crisis. To put it mildly, this is not a time for anyone to get sick and, if you are in mother in childbirth, your odds are probably better if you mortgage your property, head for a private medical institution and end up penniless.

Meanwhile the ambulance service operates sub-optimally. The Children's Hospital, though fully equipped with state of the art equipment, seems headed for white elephant status. We are not aware whether the RHAs will remain or will be centralized. We are not told about the true state of the swine-flu epidemic nor whether we have adequate supplies of vaccines for all at risk citizens. All we are told is that shipments are on the way from this place and that.

It is each man for himself as we slowly come to realize that something is amiss with our health ministry.

It is the same with the ministry of finance. It is as if the PNM came to the table of governance without a clue that there had been a global economic crisis for months preceding September 7. It is as if they were blindsided by this occurrence and knew of it only after September 7. How else does one explain Dr Rowley's comment in his address to the nation that some of his colleagues advised that this was the worst election to win.

Was he unaware before September 7 that energy prices were in free fall, that government revenues were significantly reduced and that any government will have to address that issue? We recall former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's address to the nation early last year when she announced revisions to the national budget in the context of reduced revenues.

If no allowances were made in economic plans while in opposition for a scenario involving significantly reduced revenues, then we must ask how rigorous was the planning in the first place?

So we are in extempo land.

Today at its first sitting for 2016, Parliament will increase taxes on the business levy and the green fund. Parliament will also reduce VAT from 15% to 12.5% but reintroduce the tax on a range of items in a bid to raise a $4 billion.

Government's plans for dealing with the financial crisis involves cutting costs across agencies by 7% which begs the question, why should agriculture, trade, investments and tourism be subject to these arbitrary cuts?

Their plans also include raising taxes, increasing the borrowing ceiling by $50 billion, firing the governor of the Central Bank (completed), hoping energy prices will rebound by 2020 and raiding the stabilization fund.

Nowhere are we seeing investments being prioritized to diversifying the economy and bring in new revenues. There is nothing about encouraging entrepreneurship or about creating an innovative workforce. We are not seeing an awareness that’s so obvious to many economists who are advising energy prices will remain low for a long time.

This government's approach to confronting its problems seem to be typical of running a parlour -- borrow, reduce expenditures and raise taxes.

And while they carry on like Alice in Wonderland, we are left wondering if procurement legislation would ever become a reality to help us spend the borrowed $50 billion better.

Originally published in the Trinidad Express. Republished with permission
Reads: 4526

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