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‘Good news’ review, ‘fake news’ rebuttals

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Even after almost 12 hours of review debate in Parliament’s Lower House from Thursday—until around 2 am yesterday—Finance Minister Colm Imbert was back in the Upper House yesterday.

This time for Property Tax debate. He ceded wrap-up to Finance colleague Allyson West. But there he was, occupying the lead seat, as senators began final discussions of the tax.

Heated exchange in the Senate yesterday extended as far as Education Minister Anthony Garcia reprimanding UNC Senator Taharqa Obika: “You need to listen before you open your mouth!”

But fireworks aplenty occurred during Thursday’s Lower House marathon when Imbert delivered his “good news” mid-year Budget review.

Obika’s Lower House colleagues did their level best, countering. But by end of debate early yesterday, Imbert wasn’t prepared to let anyone rain on what was his most positive economic parade of statements since the PNM assumed office.

“…They don’t have a clue what they talking about…panic setting in on that side,” he declared.

“If we reach mid-term and the economy stabilised– what will happen for the 2019 Budget?

“They’ll get heart attacks. You’ll have to bring Limacol and Panadol for dem. You go have to sap their head—they’ll get jigirry (sic).”

Imbert beamed throughout his earlier delivery on a slew of figures and increased returns supporting his economic turnaround announcement.

Increased revenue and other positive projections apart, most notable though was his signal that Government’s depending for 2018 fiscal outurn on the sale of shares within the new National Investment Fund Holding Company—and his admission that T&T “wasn’t out of the woods yet.”

While J Public’s income may be directed to the more pressing matters of recent years—food, shelter—NIF’s offering will likely attract the interest of more than one per cent of the population.

And if Government’s seeing its financial way—enough for Imbert to mouth Jimmy Cliff lyrics in joy—the level of trickle-down effect to the public is yet to be quantified.

What impact the “good news” will have on businesses which, in the downturn restructured/cut staff, also remains ahead. Indeed, Digicel’s recent confirmed impending staff cuts were part of their global restructuring.

Whether an accident of higher oil prices and global movements (though Imbert has made the case for Government design), the positive outlook comes (unsurprisingly) at a crucial political juncture.

Two by-elections are ahead. Plus Local Government, general polls and Tobago House of Assembly elections, next year into 2021.

Imbert’s “news” was therefore expected—at some point—in order to prep for the polls, which in turn will help test public faith in his announcements. Whether a by-election’s needed in PNM’s La Horquetta/Talparo seat also remains ahead. MP Maxie Cuffie came out of his required surgery in the US just before 7 pm Thursday, relatives confirmed, adding he’s “good” and doctors are happy. He’s expected to remain for observation a couple weeks. The Opposition seeing Imbert’s “good news” more as “fake news,” countered with their picture of J Public’s realities resulting from austerity measures which assisted his economic turnaround.

Not only does the Opposition have to deal with the external political challenge to its position, presented by Imbert’s review, but also with possible entry into the political landscape of former UNC leader Basdeo Panday and heir apparent Mickela. If there are fears a party arising from the Panday’s May 20 meeting (apparently to assess possibilities) may split UNC’s vote, it may be because there are also concerns about UNC’s strength.

Panday’s former lieutenant Vasant Bharath says he’d have attended the meeting out of curiosity but would be overseas.

“I called Mickela and wished her well,” he added, “What they’re doing is born of frustration felt by many UNC supporters. The meeting may test frustration levels.”

“I think they’ll shake up the party—but not completely. Facebook posts show concerns about division. I’m not interested at this point in joining anybody beyond being a UNC member. I still listen to members’ concerns. I think it may reach a point when people will want reformation. I simply watch from the sidelines.”


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