Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is calling on the Government to “come clean” about who really benefits from Customs exemptions.
During her contribution to the House of Representatives debate on the motion on exemptions from import duties yesterday, Persad-Bissessar named the mining industry as one which benefits financiers of the People’s National Movement (PNM) and called on the Government to name the companies which would benefit from this extension of the 2017 exemptions.
The motion before the House was to exempt from import duties of Customs, for the period beginning 1st January, 2021 and ending 31st December, 2023, classes of goods imported and entered for use in T&T “for Approved Industry; for Approved Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Fisheries; for Approved Hotels; for Approved Mining Purposes; and for Other Approved Purposes.”
“Which PNM (People’s National Movement) financiers have benefitted from exemptions in the mining sector?”
The passage of the motion will grant exemptions to mining companies as well.
“Which financiers have been given the benefits in the mining sector?” she asked.
Persad-Bissessar called on the Government to come clean about who received and therefore financially benefitted from the existing exemptions so that there would be a better understanding about who stands to benefit from these exemptions being debated.
“The country needs to know that,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar said that the Jamaat Al-Muslimeen raised that issue in an affidavit that went to court.
“Has any State lands, recently gifted to persons earmarked for mining activities?” she asked.
She argued that the Minister of Agriculture “removed” lands from their purview, therefore giving it to someone else.
“These are larger questions that the public would like to know because whilst the engine of the economy is grinding to a halt, there are PNM insiders which seem to be laughing all the way to the bank,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar did not call any names or hint of whom she was speaking but insisted that the Government owed the country more information on the beneficiaries of the exemption as often non-local companies benefitted while local companies did not.
Persad-Bissessar also called for more data on how the exemptions worked for people.
“If you have no details, no data, no quantifiable data, then it means nothing.. what is the dollar value of those who benefitted,” she said.
She said that according to 2017 information, only eight farmers benefitted from the exemptions.
“You talking about growing the agriculture sector? Eight farmers. Who are they? Is it the sheep and goat man who is a best friend to one of your officials? Who benefitted? Eight farmers? Shameful,” she said.
According to Persad-Bissessar’s information, only one hotel in Trinidad and three in Tobago benefitted from the customs exemptions from 2017.
“Who are they and how much did they benefit from the exemption?,” she asked.