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Kamla: Where is government spending loan $$?

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has opposed the Government’s latest efforts to increase the country’s borrowing limit, citing a lack of tangible evidence of proper spending since this government’s first limit increase in 2015.

The Government brought a motion to Parliament on March 15, seeking to increase the borrowing limit under the Development Loans Act to $75 billion, an increase of $45 billion since the current administration took office.

Opposition members, led by Persad-Bissessar, the MP for Siparia, firmly rejected the proposal.

The Government was successful in raising the limit three times since last taking office – in 2015,2020, and 2021.

By contrast, Persad-Bissessar noted, “It took 47 years…right up to 2011, when we increased the ceiling, (it took) 14 governments, (for the debt ceiling) to reach to $30 billion.

“So where is all this money going? That is a very dangerous gamble with our country’s future, and that is only one statute, you know.”

She described the attempt as “conmanship” from the government, a comment deputy speaker Esmond Forde asked her to withdraw.

Persad-Bissessar highlighted previous legislation brought forward by the PNM in 2015 under the External Loans Act and Guarantee of Loans Act to raise other debt ceilings and increase the overall borrowing limit then to $50 billion.

Persad-Bissessar shut down Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s assertions that the government cannot spend the large headrooms (undrawn funds) under the acts if not appropriated by the Parliament.

“How many times have they come in a mid-term review and change everything…that’s why I say you cannot believe a word,” she said. “Are you the same Minister of Finance who comes here every year under midterm reviews to increase, supplement, add, take away, whatever it is?

“We are not fooled by the fact that you’re telling us, ‘Hey, we’re not going to borrow this $10 billion.’ You will borrow it; you will come back and appropriate (it).

“You know why? Because we are in an election year.”

She suggested there were ulterior motives behind the timing of the past increases, noting the Government’s efforts to increase the limits ahead of elections. She recalled the previous increases months before the 2020 general election and again in 2021, ahead of two Tobago House of Assembly elections. She said there is little to show for the money spent from loans under the current administration.

“In spite of the minister’s boast of sustainable and positive outcomes for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, there has been nothing.”

After spending nearly $500 billion of taxpayers’ money, “We have regressed to one of the most backward states in our existence at this time,” she said, adding that entire villages are currently without a water supply.

“In 2024, after the government spent nearly half a trillion of taxpayers’ money, over 50 per cent of the population do not have a consistent, safe water supply. People all over the country are protesting for better roads.

“It’s as if we’re in 1924, under the time of colonial neglect.”

Persad-Bissessar said crime has turned Trinidad and Tobago into a war zone, experiencing rising poverty and unemployment.

She said the large turnout of people applying for jobs on cruise ships and as prison officers in the recent past was indicative of rising unemployment.

“So we are failing in every sector. We are suffering (from) oppressive, dictatorial, incompetent, wasteful, corrupt governance.

“And today, guess what? That same government now has the unmitigated gall to come back to this Parliament to get authority to raise the ceiling to $75 billion.

“My question is this: for whom are we raising this debt ceiling? The Government tells us it’s for development, but development for whom? It is for their privileged elite groups and friends, neighbours, financiers, family. Their track record shows, clearly, that it is not for the development of the majority of the people of our country.”

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