A revised development plan—Vision 2030—and the return of the $10 billion rapid rail. That is part of the People’s National Movement’s new “road map” for the resumption of economic and social development of Trinidad and Tobago, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley told the House of Representatives yesterday.
As he pledged a PNM government would implement this new pathway to growth, he slammed the People’s Partnership for throwing out “lock, stock and barrel” the Vision 2020 development plan, conceived and formulated under the stewardship of former prime minister Patrick Manning.
“Vision 2020 was replaced by voops, vaps, vikey-vie, missteps, mistakes and Cabinet reshuffle after Cabinet reshuffle,” Rowley declared.
“It is against this background that we have been working diligently and have almost completed a comprehensive review of Vision 2020 documents in order to hit the ground running with an updated set of policy prescriptions called Vision 2030,” he stated forcefully.
The Government MPs were cackling with laughter, while the PNM members desk-thumped.
“They were laughing the same way in Chaguanas West and Tobago. I heard that laugh in Scarborough on January 20. I heard that laugh in Chaguanas,” he said. “Where you lost!” Government MPs rejoined. “Laugh yourself into irrelevance,” Rowley shot back. “Mr Speaker, what they just laughed at was PNM under new management with Vision 2030.”
Suggesting a new PNM administration would take up from where the last PNM government left off, Rowley said a PNM government would return to the construction of the billion-dollar rapid rail system, for which the last Manning administration had spent $545 million on a feasibility study. “Compare the $10 billion cost for a nationwide mass transit rail system with the $7 billion highway which may not reach Point Fortin from Debe,” the Opposition Leader stated.”
Rowley said as the Government discarded the rapid rail, it made a “sneaky attempt “ to invite proposals for a rail system from Port of Spain to Arima. “We assume it was driven by an intention to give a friend a contract. When caught and exposed, they abandoned the idea. What has the country achieved to solve the traffic problem so far? Zilch! Nada (nothing)! More cars, more traffic, more pressure!” he thundered.
Rowley said a PNM government would “give the highest priority” to building the rapid rail from Diego Martin to Sangre Grande, with a southern component as far as La Romaine. Rowley, said a PNM government would seek to obtain IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) long-term concessionary funding to finance the mass transit system. He said once the system was constructed, a PNM government would begin the “phased reduction of the intractable billion-dollar fuel subsidy”.
Rowley also committed a future PNM administration to “an immediate return to the Urban Renewal programme in East Port of Spain”. Noting the plan was initiated in 2006 with the purchase of over $50 million in private commercial property, Rowley said the PNM would execute and complete the urban renewal programme.
Rowley was delivering his reply to the budget presentation. In contrast to previous three budget contributions where the Opposition Leader only attacked the “reckless, no-plan, pick up side”, “the People’s Partnership put-together”, this time he gave some attention to disclosing the PNM’s proposals.
Rowley spent time naming some of the people involved in shaping the Vision 2020 programme. Included in the team were Nan Ramgoolam (former People’s Partnership minister, now New York Consul General), David Abdulah, Dr Rolph Balgobin (now Independent senator), the late Pat Bishop, Robert Riley, Dr Ronald Ramkissoon and University of the West Indies principal Clement Sankat. But when the Opposition leader mentioned Calder Hart as one of persons involved, government MPs jeered .
Rowley called for an end to the “wilful waste” of the Government. He referred to two buildings constructed during the PNM’s tenure, which have been empty for four years. “This Government had been paying millions of dollars a year to rent a building at the corner of Abercromby, creating traffic jam and having customs officers crammed, while the spanking new multi-storey Customs Building is standing empty. “He said another example of the “woeful waste” was the rental of the building at 1 Alexandra Place on Tragarete Road. “And the reason why they have not gone into the Customs Building and the building on Tragarete Road is because the PNM built the Customs Building and the PNM rented the building on Tragarete Road.”
On the issue of crime, the Opposition Leader said the PNM was recommending the immediate abolition of the cumbersome arrangements for the appointment of a commissioner of police. He said the PNM had also proposed a standing committee of Parliament with responsibility for oversight of security and crime suppression.
The PNM would also propose legislation, he said, to deal with witness tampering and the use of anonymous witness evidence. He said the PNM proposed to substantial increase in the strength of the municipal police bodies across the country by 100 officers in the short-term in each municipal region to achieve greater saturation of foot and local mobile patrols.
Rowley said the issues on which the People’s Partnership Government won its mandate were crime, property tax, excessive expenditure, the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd (UDeCOTT) and the perception of corruption, procurement and the use of Chinese contractors over local contractors in government-to-government contracts and internal problems in the then ruling PNM, where “Rowley and Manning were arguing over UDeCOTT”.
“Compare then and now, Mr Speaker. On all fronts, it is tea party versus World War III, on every count. “All the hope and promise of an improvement have turned out to be an illusion, a mirage. We jumped from a warm frying pan into an expensive hell fire, where, political sniping, open guerrilla warfare, Cabinet instability, incompetence and corruption are the hallmarks of our ‘new politics’, Rowley stated.
He said while there were “patent visible signs of development for all to see” from the $43 billion the PNM spent each year, there was nothing to show from this Government, which has spent on average $60 billion each year in office, $13 billion more than the PNM annually. In fact, he said, the PNM left the economy on such a strong footing that it gave this Government the fiscal space to do their borrowing and spending. “And boy have they spent!” he said. • Full statement in Section 2