Will 2019 herald ‘good time’ budgeting? – Part II

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The TTWhistleblower has undertaken a review of the Keith Rowley PNM Administration’s past three budgets and current state of the nation as the Finance Minister prepares to deliver his fourth budget since taking office in September 2015.

The dismal record of delivery and keeping promises does not bode well, but with a general election due in 2020, it leaves one to wonder whether the cash squeeze in previous years was a deliberate attempt to ensure that there can be a ‘free for all’ – a normal PNM strategy.

The statistics and facts delve deep, but it is for readers’ benefit to ensure that they have all the facts; we at TTWhistleblower will ensure you do.

The Petrotrin Fiasco

The mismanagement of State oil company, Petrotrin, and the sudden realization after three budgets have been delivered that the company’s accrued losses and debts could tear a hole in the national economy are issues that have been discussed exhaustively. The problem is that only passing mention has been made of the impact the closure of Petrotrin and the new unemployment status of almost 5000 employees will have.

In terms of the impact of Southern communities in Trinidad, as well as the national impact, little has been discussed with similar exhaustive detail on how this one decision by the Rowley PNM Administration could literally collapse social order and strangle any possibility of economic recovery.

One wonders whether Finance Minister Colm Imbert will give any thought to the effects of the Government’s ad-hoc and unfocused decision making on 01 October when the budget is delivered.

On a simple scale, almost 5000 employees would have been part of the core customer base for food, fruit and vegetable vendors; mini-marts and supermarkets; restaurants and recreation facilities; clothing, and home furnishing stores. All of these small businesses would have been depending on the Christmas season to shore up revenue that a stagnant economy denied them throughout the year.

As of October 2018 and beyond, these small business could face closure, or their own staff cuts because of drastically decreased income.

This would also mean that suppliers that have kept these retail businesses providing goods and services will also face decreases in revenue with multiple businesses needing to cut back on what they purchase for resale.  These suppliers may be in a larger business category and may be forced to either close, or cut their own staff in order to remain afloat.

The ripple on the chain goes further as raw material suppliers will find themselves in a similar position, with huge sections of their markets and clientele being forced to take pre-emptive measures to protect their financial health.

The question would therefore be, is it really just 5000 employees facing the axe, and has any part of the Ministry of Finance attempted to quantify the ripple effect Petrotrin will amount to in both unemployment and financial losses?

One might also ask whether Imbert has plans for a feel good budget where giveaways begin, even amidst vast increases in unemployment, business closures and economic stagnation, which will all take place on the back of higher energy output and prices.

More Price Increases and Hardship

At Petrotrin’s website, the company states:

·         We employ more than 5,000 people directly and several thousands more indirectly;

·         We pay over 6,000 pensioners;

·         We provide medical services and facilities for about 20,000 employees, retirees and dependents;

·         We provide an annual subsidy of TT$200 million to keep the local price of cooking gas low;

·         We provide our local market (Trinidad and Tobago) with LPG, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel and bunker fuel;

·         We support, sponsor and partner with organizations in many areas including sport, culture, education, environment and community empowerment.

The questions, as we approach a fourth PNM budget, are quite obvious.

Is the Petrotrin Pension Fund secured by management through an investment or financial institution?

Is the Fund part of Petrotrin’s operations or is it an entity on its own that will continue to operate and service pensioners?

If not, what will become of the 6000 plus pensioners currently serviced by Petrotrin and what arrangements are being made to either secure the Pension Fund, or ensure fair settlements for all 6000 people?

More than that, with the company’s health facilities, what arrangements are being made to ensure that employees who require ongoing care directly because of job related conditions will be secure?

Or is the Rowley PNM Administration firing persons in need of ongoing medical treatment and telling them to find treatment elsewhere?

More important to households across Trinidad and Tobago, what will become of the price of cooking gas as it seems the removal of $200 million in price support will mean price increases for consumers.

The Rowley PNM Administration has made no secret of its habit of continuously passing economic burden on the population; not once has a policy or strategic initiative resulted in the Government absorbing a hit so as to minimize the hardship experienced by citizens.

As a major, if not the only supplier of LPG, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel and bunker fuel, will Trinidad and Tobago now have to import these commodities to keep a stable supply to the local markets?

What will this means in terms of transport and fuel costs for families across Trinidad and Tobago?

Rough Ride

Whatever the spin and PR orchestration, the PNM will not be allowed a free ride with a fourth budget delivering nothing more than economic decline, poverty, unemployment and labour instability.

The unfortunate reality is that the people of Trinidad and Tobago may themselves be in for a rougher ride than the past few years.

Four budgets in, even an incompetent Government should by now have established an economic direction and strategic focus that tells the population, of the direction this country is being steered towards.

All we have are complaints, whines and sneers at the Opposition, ad-hoc decisions that bear no resemblance to having a strategic plan, and a general decline in most business sectors, even as prospects for the world economy and Caribbean and Latin American economies improve.
In the next of this series, the TTWhistleblower looks again at capital expenditure and the failure to drive a strong economic diversification strategy, as well as the views and concerns of the business community, issues that once explored, could rain on Imbert’s hopes for a ‘good times’ budget.

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