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Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar speaks during last night’s VirtualRally.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has slammed Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s claim that a conglomerate wanted “tax breaks” to bring in COVID-19 vaccines.

At last night’s UNC virtual meeting, Persad-Bissessar referenced Rowley’s statements at last Thursday’s “Conversations with the Prime Minister.”

She slammed the PM’s “arrogance” in seeking vaccines.

“He cannot find it in his heart to do what he calls ‘begging’ and he’s branded all Caricom prime ministers (whose countries got vaccines) as beggars,” Persad-Bissessar said.

“Would you beg to save your daughter or son‘s life? If you don’t do that, you’re not a father,”

Accusing Rowley of “buffing” US officials, India’s High Commissioner and local business people, she slammed his claim about a private sector organisation wanting “tax breaks” to bring in vaccines. She said that wasn’t what happened.

Persad-Bissessar held up what she said was a statement from the ANSA McAL Group, excerpts of which she read.

“This is a slap in the Prime Minister’s face,” she said.

She read parts referring to the group honouring Government’s request to pre-pay its taxes, recognising disruptions caused by the pandemic would severely hamper government finances. The group said accessing vaccines was about saving lives.

It was also noted that at a February 17 meeting, the Health Ministry asked top business leaders to fund vaccines and public vaccinations of citizens. She said it was stated that the next day, an ANSA McAL team had a conference call with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and top health leaders and he described an urgent situation where Government had negotiated direct purchase of 351,000 doses from Pfizer for US$8.4 million and was required to confirm the order the next day or would lose it.

She said the group was told any contribution from ANSA McAL would be appreciated.

“So the private sector didn’t run to them—Government requested, they asked ANSA McAL among business groups to find vaccines,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Persad-Bissessar said the Group, acting on the situation, got board approval in an emergency meeting to make an offer. She said the group stated it would fund the entire cost of the 351,000 doses. All would be used to vaccinate citizens and none was to be retained by ANSA McAL.

Given the foreign exchange situation, the Group asked that Government allocate sufficient Forex for them to pay for the vaccines in a timely way. It was also requested that the contributions of all private sector entities buying vaccines for use to vaccinate the public be credited against tax payments for 2021.

Persad-Bissessar added, “(The PM) said they wanted ‘tax breaks’ but they said credit us against the taxes, that’s different from a tax break. If you’re credited against the taxes you have to pay it. But a tax break will mean no taxes paid.

“They didn’t ask for tax breaks, they’d said they were paying their taxes upfront—prepaid. Government wanted the vaccines but had no money to buy, so they beg!”

She said the group also noted the minister made the same request to energy companies in a February 24 letter. She said the group noted a February 26 letter from Deyalsingh in which he thanked ANSA McAL, including acknowledging their unconditional generosity to go beyond the call of duty.

Persad-Bissessar queried if Deyalsingh and Rowley didn’t talk (or if Rowley didn’t listen), since Deyalsingh wouldn’t have made the request without his knowledge.

“Did he tell you, PM?”

But Persad-Bissessar said the group’s statement indicated two weeks ago it alerted the Health Ministry that it secured access to doses of another approved vaccine and planned to buy 100,000 in the first instance. Fifty per cent would go to Government and the other 50 to group employees/immediate families, some sold to private health systems and there were also plans to partner with other consortiums who wanted to vaccinate their people.

She said the group was aware Government help was needed to consummate the plan and required documentation for entry of vaccines. It was stated they were awaiting information from the supplier to present to Government.

“(Government) will put people’s lives in jeopardy? Why this ego trip? Talk with ANSA McAL! After this I don’t know if they will still be your friends,”

She said she was happy T&T will get vaccines from India.

“That’s one thing I’ll take ‘blame for.”

On Friday, the Opposition will debate a motion of no confidence against Finance Minister Colm Imbert.