THE Prime Minister admits that when he gave his address to the nation, he already felt Sandals would withdraw.
He also knew their leaving could be a fatal blow to his administration. For it has brought greater gloom over his government which has achieved little or nothing in three and a half years and faces stagnation for the rest of its term with an economy trapped in an obsolete paradigm, no new revenue streams, declining foreign reserves and mounting debt.
Indeed, in that address Rowley admits being “still in the borrowing business” since expenditure will continue to exceed revenue because “we have to maintain the country at a certain level”.
In other words, he continues his absurdity of borrowing “to maintain our lifestyle” which has seen us digging ourselves into an ever-deepening hole. Last week, the Finance Minister said the debt -to-GDP ratio was 62.3 per cent, with net public sector debt at $98.3 billion. The IMF sees this heading for $135 billion by 2022 or 70 per cent of GDP. We are heading for the debt trap under “Mr Turnaround” with no new foreign revenue for debt servicing or development.
To defend themselves, they have decided to attack, bluff, blame, criticise, improvise. So, Dr Rowley came with graphs and charts to address the nation, reaching for authenticity and gravitas but falling woefully short. Indeed, that performance revealed a creeping panic, confirmed by developments afterwards. Rowley held “Conversations with the Prime Minister” in Tunapuna, had to postpone one planned for Fyzabad and had a “conversation” of three hours with the media, all within one week. Even Colm Imbert deigned to hold a press conference to defend his stewardship. Panic has indeed set in.
This is abundantly evident in their explanation for the Sandals abandonment: “persistent negativity” from local activists and the media. But, to employ a “Rowleyian” reaction, that is “utter foolishness”.
The Chamber of Industry and Commerce points to the real reason, also advanced by others: “questions needing clarification.” The Express agrees and identifies “lack of consultation with the public”. The Chamber also highlights the “glacial” pace of negotiations—one year and three months—“exemplifying the challenges in terms of ease in doing business here.” Indeed, according to the World Bank, T&T dropped in its 2017 rankings for Ease of Doing Business, from 96 to 102 and deteriorated further to 105 in 2018. The Prime Minister should attend to this instead of castigating the media and citizens for demanding transparency.
Here is where this Government is becoming dangerous. They are now railing against the vigilance that democracy demands. Look at Dr Rowley in that three-hour “conversation with the media”, hurling imprecations at the Opposition and the media. And engaging in absurdity! He said his Government had been “almost at that stage” where “the legal process would have brought the consultation”. What does that mean? What legal process does the Government need to have consultations with the people? Such transparent dissembling! The Government was deliberatively secretive. Indeed, when concerns were raised about the environment, Dr Rowley, with trademark brusqueness, retorted “no crab with hairy legs will stand in the way of progress!” But now he complains about Sandals having to go on “Good Morning America” to defend charges of wanting to destroy Tobago’s environment. Observe, the Prime Minister is defending Sandals but questioning the rights of our people to ask questions. Where are we heading?
The question is why? It is obvious they wanted to keep secret what was in the MOU which the Government was forced to reveal thanks to Afra Raymond and which “horrified” Reginald Dumas when he read it. Dumas said “the privileges accorded Sandals suggest a new state is being created within the State of T&T” where the Government would extend benefits to associated and affiliated companies of Sandals and also to named non-resident consultants and contractors and others engaged by Sandals for the operation, expansion and maintenance of the resorts. Horrifying indeed!
Equally appalling, as pointed out by Afra Raymond, “they negotiated an MOU with all the capital being invested by our taxpayers, and yet Sandals would receive tax and duty concessions with no obligations for local employment or local supply of goods and services”. And worst of all, they inserted a confidential clause to prevent the country from knowing about this abominable travesty.
And this Government dares categorise citizens as “unpatriotic” when we criticise and ask questions. What is more unpatriotic than that “horrifying” MOU villainously disadvantaging Trinidad and Tobago? Is this Government in Sandals’ back pocket? What is more unpatriotic than an impertinent Government minister, with the approval of his Prime Minister, sitting with a foreign national and repeating, like some paltry chorus, his criticisms against our media and our citizens for demanding transparency.
Keith Rowley and Stuart Young should be ashamed! Their chiming in unison with Sandals against the people and the media is nothing less than a betrayal of this nation. And from our Prime Minister and Minister of National Security who should be in the forefront of the nation’s protection. Despicable!
And it does not end there. This same minister, again with the approval of his Prime Minister, accuses citizens of “treason” and “sedition” when they exercise their democratic right to criticise or seek information on Government’s activity. It is an ominous strategy to terrify citizens into silence. This is incipient totalitarianism, the way brutal dictatorships begin. Watch them closely, people. For, as their panic grows, they will become increasingly dangerous.