Kamla lashes out at PM over handling of COVID-19 situation in country

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Trinidad and Tobago: “We are very concerned about our nation and where we are heading. Today, the Prime Minister came and announced more restrictions, but again, where is the plan going forward?” said opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar during a virtual report presentation. 

“They seem to be operating by vaps. There is no coherent, comprehensive plan.”

Lambasting Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for handling of COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Kamla said that after one year you were in charge – how can we believe you? We’ve gone back to square one. In fact we’ve gone back to minus square one. One year later, when other countries are returning to a semblance of normalcy, we’ve gone to minus square one.

“The Opposition supports measures to protect the health and wellbeing of citizens, of course. But we cannot support hundreds of thousands being left without the ability to take care of their families.”

The same people a year ago are still in charge and we are worse off now.

Our nation’s future is now even more uncertain, as Rowley has run out of ideas and is blundering his way through this crisis, she added. 

“When the Government had the opportunity earlier this year to move quickly to secure vaccines, they faltered and as a result, we were left behind. The only real answer in dealing with the pandemic is the vaccines. There is no other answer.”

Further, their failure to secure our borders has resulted in the entry of the Brazilian variant.

The restrictions announced today will decimate micro, small and medium-sized businesses, and lead to greater job losses. Most concerning is the revelation by the Chief Medical Officer that he first raised the current in March but no action was taken.

Kamla accused that this Government has found money to pay millions of dollars in rent to the families of Cabinet Ministers and finance contracts of the families of other senior ministers, but they do not have a single dollar to help the hardworking people of this nation during their time of need. Maybe it is because they all hold the view that we are all “little people” like Hinds said.

“What is the plan after the lockdown ends? Do we stay in lockdown until the Prime Minister “feels” it is safe to reopen? Or do we stay in lockdown until a friend of the PNM secures a vaccine contract? The public has a right to know how long these restrictions will be in effect and what to expect in the future.”

I want to speak to you on what we can do together to end this travesty that is the PNM, asserted Kamla. “Because the Rowley PNM’s actions over the past six years quite possibly caused greater damage than COVID-19. Lockdown without a plan.”

Opposition Leader made the following remarks related to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

PNM’s mismanagement brought us here

Today we face this massive crisis due to the failure of this Government to protect our borders and their failure to act early to procure vaccines.

Thousands of our loved ones have been blocked from entering yet the variants of this virus have still entered the borders.

Around the world when citizens are facing fewer infections and risks due to effective vaccination programmes, this Government has had to lock down the country because the virus is spreading and we don’t have enough vaccines. But we have syringes though. They simply do not have a plan. Yes we must save lives, but we must also save livelihoods.

Impact on business

We understand that there is a need to do everything possible to protect each other, to save lives and ensure we exit safely from this pandemic. However, those plans must encompass every aspect of our well-being from our economy to our human capital.

When other countries instituted new lockdown measures they were accompanied with an economic plan to protect jobs, protect businesses and protect the economy.

If we do not protect the economy, when we exit this pandemic, we will enter another – a pandemic of economic turmoil. So today I ask the Prime Minister, what are your plans to prevent mass business closures?

What was absent was the support that the private sector would have expected given the forced closure. Again, he gave just a few hours notice.

What becomes of all the supplies these vendors and businesses had? What support will you give to these businesses?

These fiscal measures should include:

1. Loan deferral schemes in coordination with the Bankers Association and the Central Bank.

2. Reduced bank rates for loans in place at the moment.

3. A debt workout scheme for companies that are deemed to now fall below “bank risk” as a result of the deleterious effect of the pandemic. This can place state-run bank FCB or other takers in the scheme to ensure that businesses get rescued

4. Renewal of SME fund accessibility via commercial banks for companies that are small and micro and may by nature fall below “bank risk” (unsuitable for bank loans in effect) via NEDCO, Development Finance and other state entity

5. VAT rebates. For companies that are going to be seeking financing to cover working capital cost during the lockdown a rebate of VAT at this time could have supported some enterprises.

6. There are several entities that are not going to be able to reopen. What would be in store for these companies? We heard nothing from the Government.

We are not saying do not lockdown or don’t take measures to protect our citizens – but do it with a plan that protects people.

Impact on jobs and income

Tonight I ask the Prime Minister, what about the vulnerable citizens who will not be able to put food on the table? They want us to forget, but we must never forget.

In the last lockdown, the Rowley Government spent billions on election gimmicks. They claimed billions were spent on Covid relief but where did the money go?

You withdrew from the HSF saying it was for COVID and then we found out it was to pay contractors. To pay your friends, your family and your financiers. Not one cent from those billions was spent on Covid.

Where has the $18 B gone?

Today, when thousands are unsure where their next paychecks will come from, where their next meal is coming from, the Prime Minister has simply abandoned them!

When you wanted to win marginal seats you sent in thousands of food cards and grants.

Today when thousands of our citizens exist in economic turmoil you have been silent on how you will help them.

Prime Minister I call on you to tell us now, what will you be doing to help the thousands who have suddenly lost their livelihoods due to this lockdown. Nothing has been done to create jobs.

While we must protect the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago from the Covid 19 virus we have a responsibility to protect them from starvation!

We have a responsibility to protect citizens from being thrown out from their homes, to ensure they can buy medication for a sick child or relative.

Tonight I am telling you to stop the ole talk and start working! Have a heart for mothers, have a heart for workers have a heart for businesses. Have a heart for the people of this country!

Mr Prime Minister, if you fail to act…if you continue only to abuse and blame the citizens for your incompetence and shortcomings as you have always done, our economy is heading for a catastrophic collapse.

Billions spent without transparency or accountability

Under the cover of Covid, this Government spent billions in marginal seats and campaigning at a time when our country faced a far less threatening situation. Where has the money gone?? We call for a full audit of the money actually spent on “covid relief” this far.

Today at a time when our citizens need their Government to have their backs, they are abandoned due to the past PNM corruption and squandermania.

The Government must stop playing petty political games with citizens’ lives and work with stakeholders INCLUDING the Opposition to develop a real, workable plan to address the issues affecting people. The Opposition calls on Govt to treat this NATIONAL issue with political maturity and bipartisanship.

Vaccine Vacuum

After one year of the Covid 19 pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago still has not tested 10 percent of our population. We have the lowest testing rate in the English speaking Caribbean. The Rowley regime never made testing a priority. Instead, they used testing as a political ploy and a wedge issue.

When you used a student’s study to promote that you were number one – fooling people. How many were you testing? You were not testing at that time. Fooling people because you had an election you needed to win.

Now, sadly, thanks again to this shambolic PNM regime we have the lowest vaccination rates in the Caribbean. Other fellow Caricom states made the procurement of vaccines a major priority. Today we are now forced to live in Rowley’s Vaccine Vacuum.

Today while the UK, the USA and Europe are beginning to reopen their economies, we are heading into severe lockdown with less than 2 percent of our population only partially vaccinated, and woulda, coulda, shoulda Rowley blaming everyone but himself for TT’s predicament. Today we still do not know when vaccines will arrive.

Yesterday the newspapers ran a story about the shortage of beds. Well, thank God they at least finally opened the Couva Children’s hospital. It took a pandemic for them to do so, but imagine if the PNM didn’t keep it closed for all those years before out of spite?

Perhaps it would have been able to hold more people today and provide more beds for Covid patients.

We are also hearing about shortages of valuable life-saving medication and other supplies at our hospitals. This is completely unacceptable. How is it that Rowley can always find taxpayers money for Faris’ rent, or for a million-dollar zipline in Tobago but our hospitals are struggling for medication during a pandemic?

No wonder we don’t have vaccines? If this PNM government can’t even manage to supply the health sector with basic supplies and medication, we really expect them to source vaccines?

The people of Trinidad and Tobago will have to wait until a Minister’s wife gets a vaccine contract before we start seeing vaccines arriving into the country.

Airports closed but Borders Wide Open

Illegal guns, drugs, migrants continue to pour into TT through our unchecked and unguarded borders.

Every day under this PNM Government is another day our borders remain unchecked and open. Drugs, guns, ammunition, humans and even parrots and goats are being smuggled across the border.

Think about it, just imagine how much contraband is entering our beautiful nation not even on a daily basis but on an hourly one.

We don’t manufacture arms and ammunition here. That is smuggled in. Even violent and criminal Venezuelan gangs have been reported to have been present and operating within T&T.

But the Prime Minister threw out a wild accusation about the Opposition, which I categorically deny. No member of the Opposition is involved in any illegal activity as the Prime Minister claimed. If, Prime Minister, you really had information, then you should’ve taken it to the police. But we know you just say anything to distract from your own incompetence.

Where are our National Security assets?

While all of this is happening we are left to wonder what is being done about it. Well, Hinds called a press conference yesterday to talk about what he is doing but in short, it was nothing but the same tired excuses. Stop crying about the OPVs. You have been there 6 years , you haven’t bought one vessel.

What about our naval and aerial assets?

The PP Government acquired in 2015, 12 state-of-the-art Damen Vessels that were much more superior than the OPV contracts that were cancelled – 4 Coastal Patrol Vessels, 2 Supply Utility Vessels and 6 Interceptors.

Rowley and the PNM were left with these state of the art vessels yet they sat by and allowed them to rot away. Pure spite and malice. The same thing they did with the Couva Children’s Hospital, the same thing they did with the vessels.

Then after six years in office, not one new vessel has been added to our arsenal by this PNM. Yet all they would come to talk about is the OPVs. Then they wonder why the borders are non-existent.

National Security

On Sunday, Hinds came with more excuses and lies for his and his government’s complete failure in securing our borders.

He talked about why so many illegal immigrants continue to enter our nation. Commissioner Griffith said there might be very well over 120 thousand illegal immigrants in T&T today.

Can you imagine that? Over 120 thousand. That is almost double the population of Tobago. Where did they come from Hinds?

From the way he spoke, the Minister expects citizens to do their jobs for them.

On top of that, the Chief of Defence Staff Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel said that only 62% of all the border management assets are functional. Imagine that, on top of the woefully insufficient air and naval assets, only 62% are functional.

He also pointed out that parts for these vessels must be ordered from the manufacturer and the problem they are facing is accessing forex to order these parts. Unacceptable.

Minister Hinds cannot even get Forex for the Defence Force to buy vital spare parts for our air and naval assets. Hinds, you should be ashamed!

No Forex for equipment repairs but Forex for the PNM.

Rowley clueless about the law

Now we all know the Prime Minister is not a lawyer. But the Prime Minister should leave the law for those who didn’t take 10 years to complete their law degree.

Rowley made a bold and absolutely incorrect and, I must say, reckless statement by indicating that the police can enforce Covid-19 Regulations on private property. And then he and his AG doubled down on their false and misleading statements.

What the Prime Minister said is disturbing. It is tantamount to the police coming on your property and telling you who you can have on your property.

You are the owner of that property- you purchased it, you have the Deed for it. Now it doesn’t mean that you should be acting irresponsibly. I urge all citizens to abide by the laws and measures put in place, as these are in the public interest.

But the Prime Minister was wrong and the Law Association had to come out and clarify what the law says.

The Police have no power to enforce these Regulations in your private homes. There is nothing in Section 133 of the Public Health Ordinance about police being able to enter your homes. It is about inspections by health officials. Prime Minister, tell us which lawyer gave this advice! Interference in So-called Public Institutions

UWI extended the appointment of a political appointee at the University of the West Indies.

The Minister went further and halted the interview process for a new principal. The Minister went down to threaten and intimidate members of the UWI council during a meeting to get their PNM puppets in positions of influence within the UWI.

The Minister was insisting that the Principal be renewed for 2 years. But she was badgering so they gave him one year. PNM has a long habit of interfering in UWI jeopardizing the education of the entire region!

Equal Opportunities Commission- the non-renewal of an executive officer without any reason.

However, the reason is clear – the Government wants to bring in another PNM person to do the PNM work.

Tax Appeal Court: A former Government Minister sitting on state boards is tipped to be a judge. A UWI lecturer who has been lobbying the AG hell hard for the job is tipped. Interference with the judiciary. They say she has Manningitis…

BIR – failure to promote an acting commissioner (case)

UNC’s plan for recovery and growth post-COVID. Now, I have heard calls and questions being asked – so what is the UNC’s plan? Unlike the PNM, we are prepared. The UNC is prepared and ready to take over the management of Trinidad and Tobago right now!

We had a plan for recovery and growth post-COVID.

Just about a year ago, on May 4th, 2020, I presented our plan, in which we put forward five “economic booster shots” for resilient recovery and growth:

• Reduce the tax burden

• Jumpstart food security

• Restart a reformed oil refinery to regain fuel security

• Invest in renewable energy

• The creation of 3 innovative funds to mobilize financial resources

• Reduce the tax burden

We placed special focus on restarting and supporting small and medium-sized businesses affected by the pandemic.

We believe reducing the heavy tax burden on our citizens and businesses most affected by the pandemic will help our citizens start to regain their footing.

Our plan included a reduction in personal and corporate income taxes, a simplified VAT regime, the removal of basic food items from the VAT net, and improved efficiency of the tax system by strengthening the Board of Inland Revenue, VAT office and Customs and Excise.

Jumpstart food security

Noting that a protracted pandemic will disrupt the global food supply chains, making it very difficult to move food from the world’s “breadbaskets” to the places where the food is to be consumed, the UNC placed agriculture and food security at the centre of our economic recovery plan.

We believe there must be a jumpstart to our agriculture sector by leasing 25,000 acres of former Caroni lands to create agricultural parks. I am asking you Foster Cummings are you a recipient of Caroni Lands? I am asking you Avinash Singh, are you squatting on Caroni lands? I am asking?

At the same time, we proposed spending at least 10% of the PSIP to develop agricultural access roads, irrigation and drainage for these agricultural parks, and incentivizing the private sector to establish agro-processing plants.

Further, we acknowledged that fuel security is critically important to a thriving economy, and we proposed to restart a reformed Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery.

By re-opening Petrotrin, we will have greater fuel security, save foreign exchange, provide meaningful jobs and ensure the company continues to contribute to the Treasury.

Our fourth economic booster is for the government to invest in renewable energy. The UNC proposed initiatives in renewable energy and recycling such as the establishment of a solar energy park at Tamana and industrial recycling parks across the East-West corridor.

The 5th economic booster which we proposed was the creation of three (3) innovative funds to mobilize financial resources: a National Food Security Fund, a National Infrastructure Fund, and a National Climate Trust Fund.

The National Food Security fund would invest in land, farms, forestry and agricultural businesses abroad to give us greater food security. This Fund will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF).

This Fund can be capitalised by allowing the HSF to invest up to 10 percent of its total assets in alternative investments. This will mobilise about US$500 million in capital for the National Food Security Fund.

The National Infrastructure Fund would support strategic investments in public transport, solar, water and wastewater facilities, climate-resilient infrastructure, and green housing.

The Green Fund would be repurposed into a National Climate Trust Fund which will finance new green technology start-ups and provide the financial backing we need to create a low-carbon economy.

We propose the Government use the $5 billion in cash balances of the Green Fund to capitalise the Climate Trust Fund. This would attract international grant funding and private sector capital, substantially boosting the pool of funds available for climate-smart investments.

Up to now – elections have come and gone – and the PNM cannot tell this country what they plan to do to fix the mess they created over the past six years culminating in the present crisis.

 

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