PORT-OF-SPAIN: Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley has criticized Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s address to the nation on the state of the local economy in light of a decline in oil prices on the world market.
“Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister did what I expected her to do, which is to not come clean with the population, feed the population with a campaign speech full of praise for herself, her Government and her Minister of Finance while not addressing the problem at all,” said Dr. Rowley.
In her address last week, Persad-Bissessar announced a revision of her administration’s 2015 national budget but insisted that the twin-island republic can withstand lower oil prices.
Oil prices have dropped from a high of over US$100 a barrel in June 2014 to less than US$50 last week. The coalition People’s Partnership government had based the 2015 fiscal package on an oil price of US$80 a barrel and US$2.75 per mmBtu of gas.
Persad-Bissessar, who faces a general election this year, said she is confident that the “adjustments in our priorities will continue to create greater harmony between social progress and economic advancement and we will successfully manage the challenges and emerge stronger, together.
“I am of the firm view that this is no time for sudden changes in the direction of economic development policies. Such an approach will negatively impact your comfort, investor confidence, business expansion and employment.
“I am also of the firm view that using a period of challenges to promote fear and panic will be irresponsible, and will have the impact of creating problems where in fact no such problems exist.
“We can withstand the lower oil prices and the right Government is in place at the best possible time,” she told the nation.
However Rowley told the Trinidad Express newspaper “it is clear that what the Prime Minister has decided to do is to push the problem down the road hoping that it will not influence the election and the real undercurrents will become an issue for the next government, whoever that is”.
Rowley said the country needed an honest assessment of the situation.
“What was required was an honest assessment of our problems of income and our response at expenditure. The Prime Minister has failed massively in her attempt to respond to this, what we got was a campaign speech for the purposes of the election ahead,” he said.
Rowley told the newspaper that Persad-Bissessar is probably the only world leader of an oil and gas economy that is not concerned by the growing development in the energy sector.
“Our Prime Minister in an oil and gas economy must be the only one in the world that sees nothing but good circumstances which are easily adjusted in the face of this huge collapse in the revenue side of our accounts,” he said.
Persad-Bissessar said her administration will intensify the advance of Initial Public Offerings IPOs), a program which has experienced success with the First Citizens Bank Limited IPO, earning approximately one billion dollars for the treasury of Trinidad & Tobago.
“This program will continue with the National Gas Company of Trinidad & Tobago Limited offering to the national community 49 per cent of the shareholding of the Trinidad and Tobago NGL Limited, which holds the 39 per cent shareholding of the National Gas Company in Phoenix Park Gas Processors Limited,” she said. “This will be the first ever listing of an energy stock on the local stock market, giving citizens a direct stake in our energy sector.”
However, Rowley criticized the plan, calling it a precursor for a fire sale of State assets.
“In other words, we are going to sell our assets and consume it in the current account,” he said.