Anxiety over presence of officials in T&T…
Finance Minister Colm Imbert is under pressure to explain the visit of International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials to Port of Spain.
Was it to get the IMF’s sanction to dip into the rainy day Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF)?
Questions are also being asked about the role of an economic advisory team which was previously set up by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.
Imbert flew to Washington following his recent tough mid-year financial review, and IMF officials followed him on his return home.
The IMF’s visit has led to widespread anxieties especially among people who recall stringent prescription measures introduced by that agency in the late 1980s.
Interestingly, Rowley has stressed his government’s commitment to keep Trinidad and Tobago away from the IMF’s clutches.
He told Parliament on April 8: “I will do everything that is required to ensure that this country does not end up in the arms of the IMF again.”
Why, then, the presence of IMF officials in this country?
Former Planning Minister Dr. Bhoe Tewarie noted that there is now at least 10 months important cover, in addition to HSF.
Tewarie called on the government to “determine unequivocally what they are going to do…
“They cannot send mixed signals and hem and haw and play politics with the future of the country.”
He questioned: “What is the strategy? What is the plan of action? Why do they need the IMF to tell them what to do?”
Former government minister Ralph Maraj suggested that the main reason for Imbert’s visit to Washington was because he wants to “raid” the HSF “to say the economy was kept afloat under his watch, using the IMF as facilitator and fig leaf.”
But Maraj stressed that Imbert must not remove US $1.5 billion from the HSF “without presenting a persuasive road map for new foreign exchange earnings.”
He said the IMF must ask the Finance Minister, why after eight months, “there are no plans for diversification toward new export earnings…”
He added that the international agency “must insist the government develop the cojones for the tough measures needed…”
Economist Dr. Ralph Henry has also questioned the role of the IMF.
“Maybe you are looking at the IMF and World Bank to bless what you know you need to do,” Henry was quoted as saying.
Mariano Browne, former Minister in the Ministry of Finance, said: “Why bring them in?”
Browne theorised that Imbert wants to dip into the HSF “immediately.”
He wondered about returning to the IMF “when we said these were the people we did not want to go to at all.”
He said that “the country’s back against a wall.”
Former Finance Minister Winston Dookeran has called on the government not to access the HSF at this time.
Without going into details, Imbert said the World Bank and IMF were providing “advice on a number of pressing matters.”
In the midst of this, the role of the Dr. Terrence Farrell-led National Economic Advisory Board is being questioned.
Farrell recently made strong pronouncements and ran afoul of the labour sector, which called on him to apologise.
Professor Karl Theodore, another member, has also spoken out, as has labour man David Abdulah, who was critical of the mid-year fiscal measures.
The team was mandated to provide short and long-term economic policies.
It is not known what work – if any – has been done by the Farrell team.
The major anxieties, however, centre on the unexplained role of the IMF at this time.
Many people are troubled about a possible return to the dark days of high taxes, soaring unemployment and steep costing of living.