While Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday expressed delight with Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s proposal to increase the minimum wage from $15 to $17.50 an hour for 194,000 low income workers across the country, she feels the pay hike was insufficient as it should have been $20 an hour instead.
This was how Persad-Bissessar responded at a press conference at the Parliament Building, Port-of-Spain, minutes after Imbert delivered his $53 billion 2019/20120 budget presentation in the House of Representatives.
Having listened to Imbert’s three hours 21 minutes budget, PersaBissessar described it as a repeat of promises from previous budgets he had delivered.
“This was a mishmash, hudge pudge of his same policies coming from several budgets before. It is clear that he demonstrated in a very boring manner the cumulative failures of four years.”
Insisting that the economy was dead, Persad-Bissessar said Imbert’s presentation showed exactly that.
“The honourable minister performed the final rites to bury the economy. I don’t think the population is going to be fooled by the gimmickry or the PR gimmicks or stunts. It is like Hansel and Gretel politics....you know...you throwing crumbs. They throwing crumbs with these purported increases when the majority don’t have jobs.”
She said the majority of people who have been feeling the pinch was the most vulnerable.
“They throwing out crumbs...telling them to take that! take that! 15 per cent here. “
Persad-Bissessar said many remained bored to tears, while Imbert came across like “a snake oil salesman with his smooth talk” to soothe aches and pains.
She said Imbert showed no new initiatives to create revenues streams and jobs.
Instead, he spoke about increasing expenditure to the tune of $3 billion.
Persad-Bissessar said it was obvious that after spending $223 billion since assuming office, the Government showed they have no plan, policy or idea to manage the country as they continue to borrow massively and consume reserves.
“The budget is like the bread the devil knead. It is a continuation of a bitter pill that the country was asked to swallow. It is clear more than ever Government is not interested in or is incapable of restoring or resurrecting our country.”
In Imbert’s usual style, Persad-Bissessar said he continued to blame the UNC for his Government’s lack of performance.
“You can’t come in your last year to blame Kamla. That blame game will not work.”
As citizens prepare to face the polls for this year’s local government election and next year’s general elections, Persad-Bissessar said Imbert added a “spoonfuls of sugar, spice and condensed milk” by increasing the stipends for 8,000 On the Job Training (OJT) trainees by ten per cent, raising the minimum wage for 194,000 workers from $15 to $17.50 an hour and hiking the wages of Cepep and Unemployment Relief (URP) programme workers by 15 per cent which all go into effect from December 1.
While she was happy with the initiatives, she said the minimum wage should have been increased to $20 an hour, given the rising cost of living.
The Opposition Leader predicted that local government election would be called in December, that same time the increases for Cepep and URP worker would receive their increases.
“Coming soon, coming soon, stay tuned in a cinema close to you. This has been a screenplay brought from Balisier House. It was not a budget. It was basically an election advertisement. Man, you were there four years. You had no plan. And you come at the end of it now to tell us here is my great plan. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”
The good out of the budget, Persad-Bissessar said was the increase of salaries for the low income workers.
However, she said persons collecting the new $17.50 minimum wage would be receiving more than Cepep and URP workers.
This, she said does not make sense.
Persad-Bissessar said last year Imbert quoted from Frank Sinatra’s song “I did it my way”
This year, Imbert pulled a line from one Bob Marley’s song “Get up, stand up for what is right.”
Persad-Bissessar said in that very song, Bob Marley warned that “all that glitters is not gold. There is no gold in there for the ordinary citizen. They want jobs they don’t want bulbs. They don’t want light bulbs.”
She asked if this was the “brightest idea” the PNM Government could have come with.
“Are you for real?”
Imbert proposed to remove taxes from LED light bulbs for the next five years.
Persad-Bissessar said she has empirical evidence that over 63,000 people were put on the breadline since the PNM came into office in 2015.
“Anecdotally we know (job losses) have been more. I don’t think the public is going to be fooled by this, It’s an electioneering budget. But you know what happened? When is enough..enough? They basically admitted they haven’t done enough to deal with healthcare...they have not done enough to deal with creating employment and creating new revenue streams. That is what we should have heard today...how to create jobs and new revenue streams and foriegn exchange.They have hidden once and for all the unemployment data.”
Persad-Bissessar said the year 2020 seemed like the magic year as Imbert promised to open this, that and the other by painting a rosy picture of the economy under their Government, when the truth is people are no longer safer in their homes, daily there are horror stories at public hospitals and people can no longer buy food.
“Hey, listen! what you could not do in four years? 2020 is just three months away. There is no more....there is no way that you are going to get all of this done. What you are doing here is what you should have done in your first year and you would have had five years to make it happen.”
Persad-Bissesar said Imbert could not fool her.
“In fact, some of the projects he told us about he did not even give a date as to when it would happen. So we wait to see.”
She said T&T was not a real place, describing it as Fantasy Island.
After four years of promising to continue the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway which started under the UNC regime, Persad-Bissessar this was another promise of “coming soon.”
She said while Imbert urged the country that we should never let a good crisis go to waste, Persad-Bissessar said the biggest crisis facing T&T is the PNM Government.
“The Rowley Government that is the biggest crisis in Trinidad and Tobago.”