In a budget contribution titled “No prosperity without safety and security”, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday lambasted the Government, labelling it the “architect of pain”.
In her wide-ranging response to the Minister of Finance’s budget presentation in the House of Representatives, at the Red House, Port of Spain, Persad-Bissessar described a nation in pain—physical, mental and economic.
“How can you say ‘prosper and enjoy’ when the Government’s mantra is suffer and destroy?” she asked rhetorically.
After almost half a trillion dollars had been spent by the Government, there was nothing to show but pain, she said.
She said the economy was awash with drug money, fuelling violent crime, as “some members of the fake elite funded by narco money have embedded themselves into parts of the economy”.
A large portion of the economy, mainly the underground economy, is financed by drug money, she said.
“This narco-funded crime is an inflictor of great pain,” Persad-Bissessar said.
She spoke about the pain experienced by the Peterkin family and the chilling effect on the society of having four children “too beautiful for words”, tucked in their beds and then “zipped in body bags before sunrise”.
The average citizen was angry but “there was silence from the ‘eat-ah-food’ oligarchy to which some in this Government pander…those wannabe elites who grovel for contracts, State briefs, rents and national awards,” she said.
“A whole nation is being kept awake, not by noise but by thick and dense pain. A whole village in Guanapo (where the Peterkin family live) can’t work…because there is burning pain every time they move. Many can’t eat. Their bellies are bloated with pain and grief. Pain (that) is stabbing, stabbing and stabbing,” she said.
And amplifying “the pain of mass murder” was the “disrespect” to the Peterkin bodies which were left to decompose, she said.
Persad-Bissessar also referred to another “beautiful innocent” murdered in her sleep, 13-year-old Andrea Lallan, whose sweet dreams turned into murder in an “ongoing saga of the nightmare that is overseen by this Government”.
“How do you all (in the Government) live with yourselves, buying more body bags than book bags for our children?” the Opposition Leader asked, adding in a dig at the Prime Minister: “The favourite bags of other world leaders are computer satchels and briefcases, yours are golf bags and body bags.”
Saying there were more murders than cultural events being held in Trinidad and Tobago, the Opposition Leader declared that the new culture of this country was murder and pain.
“Pain is our culture…everywhere is pain and everybody’s in pain,” she said. “This paralysing pain did not fail from the sky. And to say, like the Prime Minister said, that we are a violent society is to think that violence is like pollen, it spreads in the wind.”
Only Pm has
confidence in Hinds
Persad-Bissessar said the only person in the country who appeared to have confidence in the Minister of National Security, Fitzgerald Hinds, was the Prime Minister.
Hinds was not even mediocre or average but “was bluntly incompetent”, she said.
Apart from his claim that he is not responsible for citizens’ safety, Hinds had failed in his statutory and constitutional duty to file a list of reports in the Parliament—including the Trafficking in Persons Report and the Administrative Report of the Ministry of National Security (the last one being laid in 2016), Persad-Bissessar said.
She said there were also outstanding SSA reports for the Interception of Communication, outstanding reports of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and outstanding reports of the Police Service Commission.
“We live in an unprecedented state of emergency with self-imposed curfews. Only the gun-toting bandits and gangs can roam the streets at night,” she said, adding that citizens were forced to barricade themselves behind burglar-proofing, high fences and barbed wire were still not safe.
“This budget ignores the realities facing citizens. The brutal, violent crime crisis was mainly ignored…. As we are here comfortably ensconced in this Chamber, talking highfalutin talk about the economy, some innocent citizen will be robbed and murdered,” the Opposition Leader said.
She noted that the Police Service had confirmed that out of every 100 murders, only 13 are solved.
“That means 87 murderers out of every 100 are never caught,” she said.
On the economic front, Persad-Bissessar said the Government, over the past eight years, had done everything to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Government’s sins were that:
• it had destroyed the foreign-used industry which had benefited the working man
• it provided foreign exchange to their financiers while starving the SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and regular citizens into bankruptcy
• it passed laws to force citizens to cede control of their money to the banks, which then extorted high fees in return
• it put VAT on 7,000 food items
• it refused to raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour.
“Shamefully, the minor increase (of $3) is being celebrated by some businesses…. Security officers must guard the wealth of the rich while at the same time being unable to feed themselves and their families,” she said.
She said Government, which had the habit of repeating its broken promises (such as pension reform), year after year, was detached from reality.
This was why it could send two ministers, Faris Al-Rawi and Brian Manning, “who from birth lived exceedingly privileged lives paid for by the taxpayers of the country”, to speak on TV6’s budget forum.
“How much more detached from reality can this Government be to send a man whose family is collecting hundreds of millions in rent to justify a $20.50 per hour (minimum wage) for the working man?” the Opposition Leader asked.