MSJ: T&T Budget should reveal a vision for our country and the society we want for our children

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“[…] Many people don’t believe their life will be better because of the Budget… An MSJ Budget would have been structured so that the man and woman on the street could understand, follow, see where we are and see where we are going and feel how the changes would make their life better.

“[…] It would answer the following questions: What do we want Trinidad and Tobago to be? What kind of society do we want our children to live in?

The following letter to the editor explaining how a budget as designed by the MSJ would be different from that presented by the Minister of Finance on Monday was submitted to Wired868 by David Abdulah, political leader of the MSJ.:

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert (right) speaks with Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis in Parliament on October 5, 2021.
(Copyright Office of Parliament)

Monday October 4 was Budget Day. The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) has not submitted any proposal to the Minister of Finance for inclusion in its budget. We also did not have a “wish list” for the media. However, the MSJ made a very significant contribution to the national debate by organizing two webinars on the theme “The budget, the economy, a population under pressure – Options and results”.

These webinars featured a cross section of panelists, highly respected professionals in economics, energy issues and the arts; a prominent businessman; a young defender and representatives of regional trade and an emerging sector, the scrap metal industry. Very informative, these webinars facilitated real conversations.

The MSJ was therefore demonstrating the kind of inclusive approach to decision-making that is absolutely necessary at this time. The MSJ was the ONLY political party to facilitate such conversations.

We do not intend to repeat the various comments and analyzes that have been expressed in the many public debates and in the media since Mr Colm Imbert’s budget speech. It must be said, however, that many people do not believe their life will get better with the budget.

Photo: Plowing the soil, planting the earth …
(President’s Copyright Office)

Instead, here we present what an MSJ budget would have looked like. It would have been structured in such a way that the man and woman on the street could understand, follow, see where we are at and see where we are going and feel how the changes would make their lives better.

And it would have been done in much less time than the over three and a half hours Mr. Imbert took to say much less.

Vision: A people without a vision will surely perish. Our Budget would therefore have identified a Vision so that everyone knows where we are going. It would answer the following questions: What do we want Trinidad and Tobago to be? In what society do we want our children to live?

We want a T&T where the nation’s resources serve the common good, not the good of a few; where it is possible for all to benefit on the basis of merit, not party affiliation, race or color or who you know or where you were born and live; where everyone can live a decent life in peace, be respected and achieve their aspirations; where there is justice for all; where the environment is protected and managed in a sustainable manner and where communities are truly empowered.

Photo: Can’t be too careful …
Iconic chutney singer Sundar Popo status in Debe receives face mask protection during the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed / GhanShyam Photography / Wired868)

The Covid crisis: Our budget would not have wasted time talking about vaccines or a parallel health care system. We hear that every day. It seemed that the Covid crisis exposed all our weaknesses, that our economy is not diversified, that too many of our people are in poverty; that most people live from day to day, that we need to become more self-sufficient in food, that there is a huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor and that we need to right this injustice, that the education system not give everyone the same chance to succeed in life.

Let us point out then that this crisis presents a great opportunity take giant steps towards realizing our Vision by making major changes in the economy, education system and state institutions so that they serve the interests of all citizens fairly and effectively.

Responsibility and transparency: Our budget would not have tried to list all the projects that the government has undertaken in recent years. We would however like to summarize how the money was spent last year, how much each ministry spent, how much went to state enterprises or citizens as support, how much was invested in major projects.

And we would have said if the plans that were announced in last year’s budget had started, if they were completed, and if not, why not. Simple accounting of taxpayer money. More details should be provided by line ministers in their contribution to the budget debate as they should be held to account. Of course, we should point out that all the details can be found in the various documents accompanying the Budget.

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (standing) speaks with Minister of Public Services Marvin Gonzales in Parliament on October 5, 2021.
(Copyright Office of Parliament)

Strategic targets: An MSJ Budget would have identified the strategic objectives that would allow us to achieve our Vision. These include creating jobs, lifting people out of poverty, earning new currencies and reducing unnecessary import spending, transforming the structure of the economy, transforming the education system, to maintain public assets, to develop our infrastructure for resilience in the face of climate change and natural disasters. .

Policy actions to be taken – Institutional reforms and fiscal measures; In this section, we would identify the specific projects, policies and fiscal measures that would form the 2021/2022 budget and that could be measured in terms of strategic objectives. For example, the creation of a biotechnology factory to produce vaccines as a first product, to be undertaken jointly with Cuba; the sale and restart of the refinery by Patriotic Energies and Technology Ltd; restarting the steelworks; support for projects by scrap dealers; create attractions for tourists and locals to visit, for example, eastern Port-of-Spain as a heritage town and a group of Pitch Lake, the Banwari Man site, the Oil Industry Museum and the information center and the park and museum of the heroes of work; manufacture of steel pans; 50% local content in the media; major priority on agriculture and food production; a Buy local, eat local campaign.

All of this would create jobs and earn forex.

Photo: A tourist tastes the merchandise at Pitch Lake in La Brea.

We would talk about how we could tackle high and rising food prices, deal with traffic jams and transport problems, work to ensure that everyone has decent and affordable housing.

Institutional changes would include full implementation of the Public Procurement Law, Party Finance Law, reform of local government to put power in the hands of the people where they live, the autonomy of Tobago, the start of a process of constitutional reform.

Strict deadlines would be set for the start of these reforms and actions so that citizens can follow the progress made or the lack thereof.

These are just a few examples of actions that we would have identified in our budget. There are many more, including immediate action to end poverty and give hope to our young people. Many of them can be found in the very detailed document titled Roadmap for T&T Takeover and Change which we produced at the beginning of May of last year, 16 months ago.

This document has been made public and submitted to the government roadmap for the recovery team, with the MSJ turning out to be the ONLY political party to prepare a roadmap.

Photo: MSJ political leader David Abdulah.

Citizen involvement: All of the above must be supported by citizen participation. No stakeholder consultation, no membership, but real involvement in the decision-making process.

Therefore, even before the budget was read to Parliament, we would have engaged the citizens of their communities — sectors, interests and geographic communities — to listen to their concerns and what they propose to do. This would have been the starting point for conversations where the different proposals and ideas could have been shared and debated, as not all proposals can work or be implemented.

Options and outcomes would have been discussed and consensus, not necessarily full agreement, would have been reached. The allocation of resources would be based on a needs or gap analysis so that each community can be sure of being treated fairly and not victimized because their party is the opposition party.

The current budget speech would reflect this consensus.

Gender-based analysis would help shape the budget.

Photo: A protester displays a slogan on her T-shirt outside the home of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on February 11, 2017.

Our final statement: These are things that we believe will lead to a positive outcome and give hope to ordinary men and women in Trinidad and Tobago: the worker, the single mother, the unemployed, the farmer, small entrepreneurs, students and young people. Our vision, our strategic objectives, all our actions are oriented towards social justice.

After all, we are genuinely concerned with the well-being of many, not just a few.


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