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UNC, Others Want ‘People First’ Budget

UNC, others want ‘people first’ budget

People first.

Government’s 2024 Budget must assist citizens with improved security, lower fuel prices, a higher minimum wage and give answers on NiQuan Energy’s predicament.

This was among recommendations from Greater San Fernando Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Kiran Singh, Opposition UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, UNC deputy leader David Lee and the Joint Trade Union Movement yesterday.

This after Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday announced that the Budget statement for the financial year 2024 will be presented in Parliament October 2 at 1.30 pm.

It will be presented in the House of Representatives, which will debate the package for a week. Opposition MPs in the House’s Finance Committee will then grill Government on Budget details. The Senate will later debate the Budget. It has to be passed by the end of October.

Yesterday, Lee said, “T&T’s earned significant revenue due to high energy prices in the last two years, yet citizens haven’t seen benefits. We hope the minister adopts a ‘people first’ approach and spends that revenue so citizens can see tangible immediate effects in their lives. We particularly hope he considers increasing the minimum wage. Many are struggling daily.

“Government must explain in the Budget why they’ve failed to lower fuel prices despite the oil price drop. We hope Budget 2024 lowers the fuel price since the average oil price is significantly lower than in 2023.”

Lee said priorities should include energy and the state of production.

“We hope Imbert presents an accountable transparent Budget with the true state of affairs and that it’s pegged on realistic energy prices unlike the 2023 package, whose prices weren’t attained and seemed geared to produce a smaller 2023 deficit. We want to know true 2023 deficit and onwards.”

Lee urged attractive energy sector incentives.

Both Lee and Persad-Bissessar spoke of NiQuan as looming large for Budget attention.

Persad-Bissessar said she intends calling on Imbert for full disclosure on NiQuan’s predicament, since the plant—in limbo —lacks both natural gas and permission to operate.

Citing her calls and warnings on NiQuan since 2016, Persad-Bissessar added, “I told the country that this deal was nonsensical. Rowley must answer on what is the value of those preferential shares that Petrotrin was supposed to receive. Who’s now going to pay the almost $150 million owed by NiQuan for the natural gas used?”

Persad-Bissessar, whose Budget reply will be delivered on October 6, said there are many other points she will address.

“In particular, rising debt levels and clarity on the selection of certain entities for financing contracts. Mr Imbert’s boasting about raising almost T&T $4 billion through a bond on the debt market and that it was oversubscribed, he should be ashamed that after eight years he’s still borrowing money because the economy has contracted by about 20 per cent.

“It’s like a broke man wanting to borrow money, then boasting that banks are willing to lend him—but he’s still broke and has to borrow. Borrowing is now an achievement for Rowley’s Government,” she said.

Meanwhile, Greater San Fernando Chamber’s Singh said, “The major budget item must be national security. The TTPS needs more resources to combat the crime scourge. Complaints have come to our offices of police having insufficient vehicles to patrol. Police mobility is a major component of crime fighting. Drone usage can aid in detection of criminals. These tools are comparatively much cheaper than helicopters.”

He added, “More body cameras can assist officers and members of the public. A nationwide security surveillance camera system must be implemented. The business community is ready to network their cameras into the national grid to create a complete coverage of the nation. Of course, emphasis would be placed on crime hot spots.”

Singh recommended diversification to ensure economic survival, prioritisation of foreign exchange earners in agriculture and tourism, incentives for eco-tourism, cruise ships and yachts and greater emphasis on the La Brea Dry Dock Shipping facility.

Starlite Group CEO Gerald Aboud said in T&T’s current situation, people’s interest demands Budget solutions on foreign exchange supply, confronting imported inflation, removing duties on food, building materials, automotive and air conditioning parts and expediting state agencies’ processing rate.

Account for 2023 Budget

Progressive Empowerment Party leader Phillip Alexander added, “The 2024 Budget should begin with detailed accounting for what was done with the 2023 funding for areas. Taxpayers are against the wall and further taxes are being contemplated and piled on an already weary population.

“The Budget should focus almost solely on the social architecture and stewarding of the economy, safeguarding society, and creating hope and opportunity for all. If the Government has a plan for the people, then the Budget’s the tool by which that plan is executed.”

“Maga dog really bite Govt”

Speaking on NiQuan’s dilemma, UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said, “Who’s going to repay Republic bank? NiQuan’s in debt to almost 2 billion, as reported by the media – taxpayers will have to foot a chunk of that bill. This entire NiQuan scandal, including some of its financing arrangements and the actions of Allison Lewis and Ainsley Gill, deserves great scrutiny. It’s a matter of time before this NiQuan scandal is referred to police for investigation.”
UNC deputy leader David Lee added, “Now that the ‘love affair’ between Government and NiQuan is clearly over, the Prime Minister has a duty to say what steps would be taken to ensure NiQuan repays the $127 million owed to taxpayers as a result of the debt incurred with the T&T Upstream Downstream Energy Operations Company Limited (TTUDEOCL).
After years of “sweet hand deals” with NiQuan, Lee said Government must say when and how would the $127M be recovered from NiQuan, especially since it’s caused a debt burden on NGC.
“We’re still awaiting the Energy Minister’s explanation on why NGC is owed for gas when the supply of gas for NiQuan was supposed to be sourced from the Minister’s share and not NGC.”
Noting the Prime Minister’s boasts about NiQuan’s possible benefit for T&T and now quoting Peter Tosh’s Maga Dog song, ‘Maga dog turn around and bite you’, Lee said this vindicates the Opposition’s recent statements that the relationship between both went bad.
“Taxpayers have been heavily cheated on this project, with NiQuan gaining a billion-dollar plant at a peppercorn rate, initial fixed supply of gas, and a take-or-pay agreement from the state while T&T’s yet to see benefit. As a result, citizens cannot lose these hundreds of millions owed.
“Given NiQuan’s other massive debts and inability to function, how would this affect the financial institution that provided them with significant loans? Given this major failure in such a short time, was proper due diligence done to fund NiQuan, or was it based on the reputations or positions of a few individuals?”
On the upcoming Budget, Lee said, “We need to offer incentives to return oil production to a minimum of 75,000 barrels, as opposed to the current 57,000 barrels, while returning gas production to 3.5 mcf compared to the 2.7 mcf. The Finance Minister must look at the great success the Guyanese bid rounds produced last week due to strong incentives, and replicate this.”
Lee suggested incentives and a plan to protect the downstream sector and a plan for the Petrotrin refinery.…/unc-others-want-people…

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