Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo makes his way to the Red House on Wednesday for the Budget debate.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and other ministers labelled the Opposition “hypocritical” on vehicle tax exemptions in a bid to distract from the fact that Rowley failed to explain why he received an executive travel grant in 2017 which was backdated to 2016, says United National Congress MP Dave Tancoo.

Tancoo made the comment yesterday as he responded to criticisms in Wednesday’s Budget debate by the PM and other PNMites. The Government had accused the Opposition of being hypocritical to complain about the tax exemption when other UNC MPs used the exemptions.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert noted UNC MP David Lee had purchased a Mercedes Benz for just over $2 million and obtained tax exemptions of over $1 million. Imbert was also critical of UNC MPs’ Budget debate performance.

In concluding debate on Wednesday, Rowley proposed to take a cap on the vehicle tax exemption of $350,000 to Cabinet.

However, there was no statement from Government yesterday on whether the cap was discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. However, several Government officials said they had no problem with the cap.

Lee didn’t respond to calls and text messages yesterday

But Tancoo, UNC’s economic shadow minister, said, “I’m not paying attention to what they said. They’re talking as if an offence has been created by what Dr Lee did. But he acted within the law concerning the tax exemption. If they know that something unlawful has been done they should act. But ministers used the concession so it’s legal.

“So accusing people of hypocrisy was just a smokescreen to shield the PM from the fact he didn’t explain why he received that executive 2017 travel grant which was backdated and made retroactive to 2016 when he did a lot of travelling.”

Tancoo was referring to the executive travel grant for the Prime Minister which UNC MP Roodal Moonilal revealed in Wednesday’s debate. Moonilal had chastised Government for a March 2017 Finance Ministry circular which allowed Rowley an executive travel grant for 450 UK pounds (for Europe travel) or US$450 for US or other places. Moonilal queried why the 2017 circular was backdated to 2016, a time when he said Rowley was travelling to the UK, Ghana, Jamaica and other places. He said it was shameless and scandalous to have such an allowance when the economy was bad.

“But the Prime Minister never responded on this or tried to explain it,” Tancoo noted.

“Yet they’re talking about ‘Opposition hypocrisy’ to try to distract from that and to try and score points.”

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who posted a congratulatory message on her MPs’ performance on social media yesterday, didn’t address the “hypocrisy” issue in it. However. she defended her MPs against PNM criticism.

“We will never stop fighting for our citizens. I wish to congratulate all our Opposition MPs on their brilliant contributions in the Budget debate, which displayed our commitment to development, dedication to bettering the lives of our citizens and a thorough demonstration that we will continue to fight for the people of our nation,” Persad-Bissessar wrote.

“I believe in the talent, skills and dynamic ability of every citizen and that is why I put this Government on notice – we will not allow you to burden our citizens, crippling their true potential.”

Also contacted yesterday, former public service head Reginald Dumas said he was in favour of the cap, especially in light of the country’s circumstances. He knocked MPs ostentatiousness with their high-priced vehicles in the “…face of what they say to people when they come to seek your vote.”