Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 30th 2014 Contents JANUARY 2014 • WEEK FIVE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG3
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Editing and design: NATASHA SAIDWAN
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As T&T enters the 2015 general election
cycle, the electorate is going to start
asking the Government the following
• Where has the money gone?
• Have I, as an individual voter, benefited
from the stewardship of the People s Partnership
• Has the PP been a good steward of the
country s patrimony?
• Is T&T more or less able to manage the
volatility of the international economy than
before May 2012?
Given this country s history, it is to be expected
that the opposition party (or parties) will argue
1) The administration has squandered billions
of dollars in wastage
2) Members of the Government have siphoned
off hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars,
into secret, foreign bank accounts as a result of
3) The only real beneficiaries of the PP s time
in government have been the party and its
friends and family
4) The PP s management of the economy
has been below par
5) The economy is in a more precariously
vulnerable position at the upcoming general
election than it was at the last general election
Of course, it is also to be expected that the
PP administration will stoutly defend its stew-
ardship of the economy, arguing that the majority
of the population has benefited from its policies.
Government officials will, no doubt, point
to "evidence" of corruption in the last People s
National Movement (PNM) administration,
while denying that a single dollar has been
sequestered by their side as a result of corruption.
The current administration s officials will
argue that while the PNM wasted billions in
constructing high-rise buildings in downtown
Port-of-Spain, the PP has focused on building
hospitals and schools, repairing the country s
potholed roads and generally improving the
quality of life of the population.
As can be imagined, both of these pro- and
anti-government positions are extremes, and
while both positions contain some element of
truth, it will become clear to the non-aligned,
independent voter that the reality lies somewhere
between the extremes.
The reality is that in four budgets, the People s
Partnership has spent, or allocated to spend,
about $225 billion, according to the 2014 budget
and the 2013 Review of the Economy, which
provides a provisional amount for expenditure
Fiscal 2011---$51.49 bn
Fiscal 2012---$52.80 bn
Fiscal 2013---$59.47 bn
Fiscal 2014---$61.39 bn
It is noteworthy that of this estimated $225
billion, about $121 billion has been spent or
allocated on subsidies and transfers. That means,
by my calculation, that 54 cents of every dollar
spent by the PP administration was allocated
to the subvention of subsidies and transfers.
On the other hand, in the last four budgets,
the Government spent an estimated $32.56 bil-
lion on personnel expenditure, which is about
14 per cent of the total expended during the
In its last four budgets, according to the 2012
Review of the Economy, the PNM is estimated
to have spent a total of $186 billion:
Fiscal Year 2007---$39.79 bn
Fiscal Year 2008---$53.87 bn
Fiscal Year 2009---$45.73 bn
Fiscal Year 2010---$46.70 bn
Of the $186 billion in expenditure by the
PNM, my calculation is that the party that now
forms the official opposition spent $91 billion
in subsidies and transfers, which is equal to
about 49 per cent of total expenditure.
In terms of wages and salaries (also called
personnel expenditure), the PNM spent $26.49
billion during the period of fiscal years 2007-
--2010, which is about 14 per cent of the total.
It is noteworthy that the Review of the Econ-
omy document categorises Gate (Government
Assistance for Tertiary Education) as part of
T&T s capital expenditure and net lending.
What do these numbers tell the non-aligned,
The numbers should tell the independent
voter that if one adjusts for economic and polit-
ical exigencies (see sidebar), there is little dif-
ference in the structure and trajectory of expen-
diture in T&T between the two major political
Both political groups have allocated about 50
per cent of their budgets to spend on subsidies
This is something that few citizens of T&T
grasp: for the last eight years, cutting across
both administrations, about half of government
expenditure has been allocated to improving
the quality of life of the average T&T citizen.
Subsidies and transfers are spent paying pen-
sions, ensuring that parents do not have to pay
(official) school fees to send their children to
primary and secondary schools, and ensuring
that a wide range of pharmaceuticals are free
for thousands of people. And while the PNM
may have started the Gate programme, both
political groups have spent billions of dollars
to make tertiary education more affordable to
Billions of dollars in subsidies and transfers
have been spent by both parties to construct
HDC houses and to ensure that TTMF mort-
gages are affordable to citizens of lesser means.
While the policy of heavily subsidised houses
and subsidised mortgages may have been estab-
lished by the PNM, both political groups have
seen the value in the State using its tax dollars
to ensure many citizens have a place to call
Billions more are also spent to ensure that
gasoline is sold at a fixed price that is way below
the market price and that the cost of travelling
between Trinidad and Tobago, either by fast
ferry or by aircraft, remains both fixed and
Both political groups have spent billions of
dollars a year subsidising the cost of electricity
and water to ensure that utilities do not become
a burden on the average working man.
Both political groups have spent hundreds of
millions of dollars a year on Cepep, a make-
work programme that has its roots in DEWD
and previous programmes started by the PNM.
It seems to me that both political groups are
committed to ensuring the wealth being gen-
erated offshore is used to improve the quality
of life of the onshore population.
One may argue that the PNM was more com-
mitted to placing surplus revenues from the
energy sector into the Heritage and Stabilisation
Fund. But then one would have to give the PP
marks for promoting a programme of divestment
of state enterprises, which has the prospect of
adding wealth to T&T s middle class like nothing
else apart from, perhaps, the State s subsidised
housing and mortgage initiative.
It is unusual that T&T s bipartisan approach
to State welfare has not received the recognition
and appreciation that this deserves.
This lack of recognition accounts for the fact
that the vast majority of T&T citizens do not
appreciate the fact that previous generations of
parents had to pay fees to send their children
to primary, secondary and tertiary education
The lack of appreciation of the fact that both
political groups support the continuation of the
welfare state that benefits each and every citizen
accounts for the question that many people
ask: What has my country ever given me?
It is as though the population is unable to
make the connection between the State s sub-
sidies in education, healthcare, mortgages, hous-
ing, transportation, electricity, water, training
and jobs and their own welfare.
If politicians on both sides were able to lift
the political discourse from the box-drain and
standpipe to the real benefits of being born a
T&T citizen, the sense of anger that many
people feel may subside.
Are the subsidies and transfers sustainable?
That s a question for another day.
How does PP score on
Economic and political exigencies
account for the fact that the PNM
administration increased expenditure by
35 per cent between the 2007 and
2008 fiscal years as an election was
held during the 2007 calendar year (it
would have been fiscal 2008) and the
2008 calendar year---also the 2008
fiscal year---would have been the 12-
month period of peak revenues with oil
prices topping US$140 a barrel and
T&T's natural gas exports averaging
more than US$10 a unit.
It would not be unexpected for a
similar ramping up of expenditure to
take place when the current Minister of
Finance presents the 2015 budget, if
there is no sharp decline in the global
prices of T&T's exports.
Memeber for San Fernando east,
Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar
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