No surprises


PORT OF SPAIN – Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley has accused Government of fooling the country over the promises it has made in the 2012-2013 budget.

“There is a lot of fooling people. There has been nothing surprising in the budget. It has been a little confusing, a little repetitive of the previous prescriptions.

“A lot of the budget is merely a rehashing of Dookeran’s budget and talking of successes that we have really not seen. He said we are awash with cash and that sounds good but the reason the banks are awash with cash is because there is no confidence in an investing climate,” Rowley told the media yesterday after the budget was read.

Minister of Finance Larry Howai had earlier made his maiden budget presentation in Parliament.

Rowley said there were many contradictions in the budget.

He said: “They talk about relieving VAT on food so as to stimulate local agriculture production and to reduce significantly the food import bill. But the items on which VAT will be removed are imported items so if they remove VAT so as to lower the price, that should have the impact of increasing consumption but it is consumption of imported items. So that should not in any way see a reduction in the food import bill.”

Rowley is not confident about the Government’s projection of 1.2 per cent economic growth for 2012. He said: “No, I am not optimistic about the Gross Domestic Product projection. The revenue prescriptions are very meagre but the expenditure side has not changed. “Very quietly they are now slipping the idea of a revenue authority which is what they were campaigning against. The bottom line is I do not expect improvement in the tax collection. “What is worse is the Finance Minister is talking about a construction boom without a single mention of a Government prescription which was putting in place procurement legislation. “Any construction boom fuelled by borrowed money will see an explosion in Government corruption of award of contracts.”

He does not believe the increase in premium gas to $5.75 a litre will have a domino effect on raising prices in other sectors of the economy. This increase will be effective from today. “The increase has been confined to premium fuel and this will affect private transportation and privately-owned vehicles. The public and goods transport are done with diesel use and until that is affected we would not see a major effect,” he said. In the budget Howai said as part of the overall solution, the Government would incorporate a new insurance company into which traditional policies and other assets would be transferred from Clico and that new company would continue to manage the traditional policies. Rowley said Dookeran had given the country the impression he had solved the Clico issue and accused the Government of being dishonest.

Story incomplete

He said: “If you listen to Dookeran you would have gotten the idea that the Clico issue was dealt with so to hear the Minister of Finance giving himself the task tells you the Dookeran story was not complete.

“Also one of the reasons why we are having problems in having the economy flat or stagnant is one of growth. The Government has been dishonest in treating with our circumstances so when they speak of the situation they try to make themselves look good and do not give the population the facts.”

Rowley also questioned the Government’s claim there was full employment. He asked: “They talk about full employment, but where? Where in the country is full employment? There is a lot of contradiction. But they are talking about construction is down so where is the full employment coming from? Nothing significant will change in the next year,” he said. Effective yesterday, the taxes paid on gaming tables and other devices by private members’ clubs were increased.

Rowley said the Government, as well as the national community, was “hypocritical” on this issue. He added: “That is part of the national hypocrisy where we pretend we are against casino gambling, when in fact we have a roaring casino gambling industry in the country which does not have legislation governing it.

“However, the state is taxing it while not admitting it exists.” (Guardian)

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