Vasant Bharath

With weeks to go before the 2021 budget is presented, former Trade and Industry Minister Vasant Bharath called on Finance Minister Colm Imbert to be honest with the population about the true cost of the COVID-19 pandemic on T&T.

Speaking on CNC3’s the Morning Brew yesterday, Bharath said for the country to move forward as a collective, the failings of the government to diversify and boost the economy during their first term in office from 2015 to 2020 must be “put behind us.”

“The minister needs to be honest with the population, everyone knows what is going on, there needs to be a level of honesty with the ministry between now and the budget or on budget day with regard to a number of business closures, the number of people who have become jobless, the number of grants and loans that have been given out, the amount of VAT that was paid out or was promised to be paid out. There needs to be a level of honesty as we go forward as we put what has happened in the past behind us but move on as one collective organisation, being T&T into the future,” he said.

Bharath estimates that the budget could see an estimated expenditure of about $60 billion.

He was speaking on the Recovery Committee’s recommendations to boost this country’s agricultural sector and ensure food security.

Bharath said the problems facing farmers in T&T have not changed over the past 50 years.

But he said the introduction of a $500 million loan, as recommended by the committee, to boost the agriculture sector could kick-start the industry and finally bring diversification to the economy.

“Farmers generally over the last 50 years have been really producing what are called cash crops, they go from crop to crop, so they aren’t able to go to the bank and get a loan to fund their businesses or to expand it,” Bharath said. “We can actually grow five or six or possibly ten times as much as we do today if we were utilising science and technology to its full potential and we are not, so, therefore, it makes it very difficult for us to compete with imported products where our competitors are actually using science and technology.”

He said T&T faced a serious issue with food security in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when countries around the world began limiting exports to ensure their own food security.

Bharath repeated his call for an implementation committee to be assigned to the Office of the Prime Minister to ensure the recommendations of the Roadmap to Recovery committee are implemented.

“It is imperative that we have an implementation committee to implement not only the recommendations of the agricultural sector of the Roadmap Committee but all of the other aspects because it is so easy for these recommendations to become lost in the day to day running of each of the ministries, so the recommendation for the agricultural committee and I’m certain for other aspects, is that there is a specific implementation committee that implements these recommendations or if not all of them, a significant number of these recommendations and the implementation committee will actually reside and sit in the Office of the Prime Minister, reporting to the PM directly.”

He said this committee should comprise of those in politics who were successful before entering the political arena.

“We need people who have succeeded in life prior to getting into government, whose intent and intention is simply to get the job done and that is what this country needs at this time, a group of such like-minded individuals who are solely focused on implementing these projects in a timely manner,” Bharath said.