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Govt wants higher borrowing ceiling for election, says Kamla

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar says she is not fooled by the Government’s attempt to increase the borrowing ceiling by a further $10 billion, claiming this is meant to facilitate the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) election finances.

Responding to Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s proposal to increase the borrowing limit from $65 billion to $75 billion, Persad-Bissessar questioned why Government wanted to increase the borrowing limit for the fourth time in over eight years.

“This is the fourth time you are coming to raise the ceiling. In 2015, in 2020, in 2021 and again now. Over the past eight-and-a-half years, this Government has increased the debt ceiling by $45 billion,” she remarked to loud desk-thumping.

She added, “This is a 151 per cent increase. Where is that money going? There are other debt ceilings. There has been an increase in the statutory limit from $25 billion to $45 billion.”

While she admitted that the People’s Partnership had also increased borrowing by $30 billion, Persad-Bissessar said the country could “touch, see and feel” the projects which the Partnership achieved.

She then outlined a range of projects which were built under the Partnership with the borrowed money. Persad-Bissessar also questioned whether the borrowed money was for the benefit of the elite.

“Give us ideas on what this money will be used for. What projects?” she asked.

She noted that over $300 billion has already been spent and the Government must explain how this money was spent.

“Anytime a general election is around, you raise the borrowing ceiling. It took 47 years between 1964 to 2011, a total of 14 governments to reach the debt ceiling of $30 billion. But in eight-and-a-half years, this Government has increased it by 45 billion. That is a dangerous gamble with our nation’s future,” she said.

She said under Development loans, the PNM increased the borrowing ceiling from $30 billion to $45 billion.

“Under the External Loans Act, this Government increased the ceiling from $15 billion to $30 billion and an increase in statutory limit under the Guarantee of Loans Act from $25 billion to $45 billion and again, another increase for Development loans,” she said.

“We are not fooled by the fact you telling us you will not borrow the $10 billion. You will borrow it!” she exclaimed.

She also said there was nothing tangible to show after the Government had spent $500 billion.

“We are a nation under siege by criminals, people get shot while they having a bath, while they driving. It’s like a war zone we are in after all these billions have been spent,” she said.

She also said over 50 per cent of the population does not have an adequate water supply.

“People have to keep their children at home and not send them to school because we have no water to bathe or cook. Still, in the hospitals, we have people sleeping on trolleys and corridors. The quality of life has worsened. People cannot access basic surgeries and hospitals are like virtual killing fields. Children are being forced into churches and mosques because there are not enough schools, and people are protesting for better roads because of rural neglect,” she said.

Responding to questions, Imbert revealed that for the quarter ending in December 2023, the total Central Government external debt was US$5.184 billion, while the total external debt of state enterprises and other State agencies was US$2.105 billion. He also said the total debt to GDP ratio was 70.8 per cent and external debt to GDP was 18 per cent.

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