Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is not impressed with the 2021 Budget presented by Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
The fiscal package was delivered in the Parliament yesterday and shortly afterwards, Persad-Bissessar ripped into the measures announced by Imbert.
In fact, she said while Imbert spent a lot of time blaming COVID-19, given the numbers presented “it is clear the economy crashed before COVID… So we in a kind of twindemic (sic) if you want to call it that.”
She explained this newly-coined terminology to mean that the financial situation facing the country was brought on by COVID-19 coupled with “mismanagement” on the part of the Government.
As she delved into the fiscal package, Persad-Bissessar accused Imbert of implementing measures that would create more hardships for citizens, even as he offered some relief.
“So you basically giving with one hand but taking far more,” she said.
One of the initiatives announced was a $50 million spend for the acquisition of laptops for school children.
But Persad-Bissessar admitted that when she heard it she was happy but after doing calculations was left disappointed.
She said if a device cost roughly $3,000 each, the allocated money will only be able to purchase 16, 666 laptops.
“So that would mean there is still 48, 333 children who would be without laptops,” she added.
She lamented that procuring laptops for students should have been a priority in this Budget. She pointed to other projects that could have been put on the backburner to get all the devices needed, among them the construction of the new ANR Robinson Airport in Tobago.
Persad-Bissessar also expressed concerns with the plan to sell all National Petroleum gas stations to the private sector. She questioned what will happen to the state-owned company and the current dealers running these gas stations. Although Imbert said these dealers will get first preference to purchase the gas stations, she questioned what will happen if they can’t afford it. Persad-Bissessar went as far as to say that the move could see the formation of “cartels” in the gas retailing industry.
“Who will work together to price the gas and see how much is the margin you could get at the pumps?” Persad-Bissessar asked.
In the area of an increase in tariff for water and electricity, she said “this is a nice way of saying you going to increase the price of water and electricity.” She said this will impact on the cost of living seriously.
Persad-Bissessar also expressed her displeasure with Government intention to start collection of the Property Tax in this fiscal year.
“Property Tax at this time is totally unacceptable,” she stressed, adding many people are still unemployed because of COVID-19 and will be unable to pay.
On that note, she also said she can see more job losses ahead.
She added that measures like tax on luxury foods items and increased taxes on the importation of vehicles was taking the country back to before the 1980s. However, she said she is awaiting the list of luxury items.
Saying she didn’t hear anything in the budget specific to how new jobs would be created, Persad-Bissessar said the Government was operating like it was business as usual while the country was in crisis.
“We needed to see innovation, we needed to see business unusual,” she explained, adding that she “can see nothing that gives hope” and brings “stability.”