‘RACKET RAIL’: Minister of Sport Anil Roberts makes a point yesterday during his contribution to the 2013-2014 national budget debate in the Lower House, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. Flanking him are Naparima MP Nizam Baksh and Princes Town MP Nela Khan. —Photo: micheal bruce

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PNM of the future same as PNM of old, says Roberts

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

The People’s National Movement (PNM) is going down the road of the “Racket Rail”. 

That was the response of Sports Minister Anil Robert to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s statement that a PNM Government would give priority to the construction of a rapid rail system.

“The PNM of the future is exactly the PNM of the old. I thought you (Rowley) was coming with something fresh,” Roberts said.

He said Rowley’s announcement of Vision 2030 and the rapid rail system guaranteed PNM  “probably zero” seats in the Parliament.

Speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday during the 2013-2014 national budget debate, Roberts said while Vision 2020 was a brilliant plan, the PNM never implemented one thing in it. Furthermore, it was rejected by the electorate in May 2010, Roberts said.

He added that after fighting against (Patrick) Manning, Rowley was now bringing his (Manning’s) vision as the PNM’s alternative.

Roberts said another problem with Vision 2020 was “Calder Hart”, who was charged with implementing it. 

 Citing the Tarouba Stadium which still needs $185 million to be completed, Roberts said he could not understand how Rowley could accuse the People’s Partnership Government “with a straight face” of corruption.

“The new PNM is coming back with the old Hart, the old Uthao Rao, the same Garcia, the same Lok Jack and the same 2020 policies,” he said, to desk thumping.

Roberts said Rowley forgot that Rao gave himself a salary increase.

“Rao had $28 million of car rentals from a firm that was his (Rao’s) firm, but which had no cars,” Roberts said. “John Rahael and Guillen get outline approval from a former minister to build up high in Renaissance Towers (in Shorelands) when the codicil says no higher than three floors, and he (Rowley) is talking about corruption.

 “The same Rahael sells  land to the Tobago House of Assembly for $12 million and then lease it back to them for 99 years at $1.2 million a month. And (Rahael) get $26 million on top of that and he (Rowley) is talking about corruption,” Roberts stated.

On more than one instance, House Speaker Wade Mark had to caution Roberts about imputing improper motives.

 Roberts, for example, in reference to Rowley, said he could not understand how a man “who works nowhere could buy an X6 BMW”. 

On the issue of property tax, Roberts said people were “excited” to pay their land and building tax.

He said the People’s Partnership was never against property tax, but objected to the unfair process of land and building valuation which the PNM sought to implement.

 “The problem was the rate,” said Roberts. “If you had two toilets and two air-conditioning, they (the PNM)  planned to jack up the tax.”

 Roberts  pledged that the PNM’s property tax would never rear its head again.

Roberts said when the PNM left office there were four consecutive quarters of negative growth. He said the budget deficit was decreasing under this administration, from a high of 7.6 per cent under the last PNM Budget to the current level of 3.6 per cent. There was also growth of 1.8 per cent in the economy.

He said Rowley presented an “Early Childhood Budget” contribution.

Roberts said Rowley did not devote much time to Tobago in his two-hour presentation, even though he was from Tobago and even though Tobago had given the PNM 12 seats in the last Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election. 

Roberts’ contribution was punctuated by references to the Independent Liberal Party’s growing strength. He said the promises being made by Rowley would come to nought.

 “The PNM wouldn’t be there. Green (Independent Liberal Party) coming too. Yes, green coming Point Fortin, too,” he said, as MP for that area, Paula Gopee-Scoon, made a remark.

 “On the highway, coming down (it would be) green,” Roberts said.

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