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Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC MP, during her response to Budget 2021, on Friday 9 October 2020. (Image courtesy Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago)

Government’s 2021 Budget was an anti-people package of rehashed PNM promises where the “devil” in the details – including on property tax and reduced allocation for police – shows the real situation which will pose challenges to the public.

This was Opposition Leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar ‘s warning yesterday as she backhanded Government’s 2021 Budget presentation.

“Some people are saying the Budget wasn’t so bad but the devil is in the details – they gave a false sense of feel-good to the people, ” she added in her Budget reply in Parliament today.

“The Minister of Finance named this Budget – ‘Resetting the Economy’ but it should be called what it is: ‘Business as usual’. Because it’s shocking how much of this budget is simply a rehash of old policies and ideas. Same old, same old. Nothing new or innovative….no vision to take us into the economy of the 21st century.”

She added, ” This budget was outdated before the ink dried after it was printed. And it’s all been covered with a cloak of deception. They came with misinformation, conflicting figures, and a convoluted narrative – intended to hide the true reality of our situation.”

Speaking for three hours, Persad- Bissessar detailed economic and other statistics and information supporting her view that the COVID-19 virus didn’t destroy the economy but PNM mismanagement over the last term did.

Persad- Bissessar also noted that Finance Minister Colm Imbert at last week’s Budget forum admitted the economy hadn’t been going well generally in the last few years. “If you couldn’t grow the economy before COVID, you can’t grow it after,” she asked.

Calling again for Government to hold its hand on property tax which she said would affect tenants as well as landlords, Persad- Bissessar questioned if the tax would be retroactive from October 2017. She also hit what she said was Government’s curbside assessment of properties, “…. Standing outside of buildings and taking pictures- mako curbside assessment.”

Persad-Bissessar asked Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to say what changed between his 2009 resistance to the tax and having his Government do it now,:” Was he only on a rampage against then Prime Minister Patrick Manning and didn’t care about the people?”

She also noted several tax exemptions for large multi-storey dwelling. Noting Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s construction of a Picton Street multi-storey building, she called on Imbert to say if he recused himself from Cabinet talks on such tax exemption law.” Did he do so?! We need answers on this..!”

Noting increasing home invasions, she also slammed reduction of allocation to police which went from $515m in 2020 to $ 334m for 2021 and holds no allocation for funding for vehicles.

“Zero! How will police get to people who call now – bicycle?!” she asked, noting that best practice involves having 20 per cent new vehicles.

Persad- Bissessar warned it could cause a shutdown of the TTPS.

Expressing deep concern about increasing home invasions she added, “Within 48 hours this very week three home invasions were reported in south Trinidad. In one case an 87-year-old retired medical doctor was confronted by armed bandits at 3 in the morning.”

“However, the Minister like Rip Van Winkle has not yet awoken to this grim reality which citizens face on a daily basis. There’s neither empathy nor urgency from the government.

” But for the Prime Minister hell hath no fury like a peacock stolen. They commandeered the elite hierarchy of the police service to hunt down those miscreants responsible for stealing the Prime Minister’s peacock dead or alive!!!”

Persad- Bissessar called on Government to hold its hand on privatisation and sale of several entities including the Port Authority, NP gas stations until Procurement law is in place.

Persad- Bissessar slammed several Budget offerings including and digitalisation which she said was the new buzz word – but which involved a digitisation thrust which was started by PNM since 2016 but never got off the ground

The UNC leader scoffed at the PNM government’s focus on agriculture which she said was unbelievable since the PNM had turned it back on this sector since Independence and more recently had said there was no land for agriculture and had laughed at bhagi farmers.

She said the Budget was also a litany of broken promises, projects that were not implemented yet claimed as “achievements – such as the Toco ferry port – and projects completed by the PP Government claimed as “PNM achievement.

Speaking after her in the debate was National Security Minister Stuart Young who said Persad- Bissessar was speaking from a script done by handlers responsible for 11 election losses.

He sought to correct some issues she confronted the Government with.