Opposition to probe cost of PM’s televised address

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 05:00

What was the cost of the show? Why was there no mention of crime-handling? Where was attention to the basics affecting citizens?

These and other questions have been raised by the Opposition, former head of the public service Reginald Dumas and economist Mariano Browne on Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s paid political announcement, which aired between Sunday and Monday night local TV.

The first segment was billed as an address to the nation.

The second, which was a continuation of the first, was prefaced by an announcement that it was a paid political announcement.

Both featured Rowley addressing a NAPA audience of unidentified people. The date of the pre-recorded address was not given. In Monday’s segment Rowley, continuing to chastise the Government’s detractors, also said he was sure people had not heard that 1,000 Petrotrin workers had been rehired in the industry.

Telling his story via graphs as he did last Sunday, Rowley stressed that, “Up (is) good and Down (is) bad.”

But UNC deputy political leader David Lee said Rowley’s second segment was simply rehashing the 2019 Budget speech.

“This entire show has prompted us to file urgent questions for reply in Parliament on Friday on the cost of staging the event, who’s paying, the location and who the attendees were. Did the audience sign a confidentiality clause that they would not disclose the meeting before the event was aired on television?”

“It’s important to clear the air especially since both his addresses did not add any value to taxpayers’ situation or household budgets or provide hope as it was a mere political charade, rather accounting to the people. Maybe he felt the Finance Minister did not do a good enough job with the Budget and he felt he had to reinforce it. We are entering PNM’s fourth year of office. But his statements only reiterated things they promised to do in the first year—San Fernando Waterfront, etc. The only tangibles he conveyed was confirmation that the private sector particularly was affected by job losses following some of the Government policies.”

Dumas said, “This (NAPA gathering) was a political gathering since I noted part two started by saying it was a paid political announcement. So the first segment which indicated it was an address to the nation was not entirely correct as the second segment revealed. It was really the PNM’s political leader talking to his people, rather than the country’s Prime Minister addressing T&T.”

“However, his attacking of the last government and things the PNM has done in the context of diversification are things we’ve heard before. The question is how far have they reached with projects. The Toco road for instance; as far as I know, construction hasn’t begun.”

“I’d say politely to the PM that he has to be careful of spending so much time attacking the previous government. This was the same path followed by the Robinson NAR and at one point Robinson was told by his own people that it was all well and good to lick up the PNM but the NAR was the government. I’d suggest Dr Rowley spend less time attacking the past administration and more time telling us what his plans as Prime Minister—not PNM leaderare.”

“He should be discussing plans with us, not telling us ‘this is my plan and this is what you must accept.’ This top-down thing isn’t working. He should embrace the people, conversations should be broad-based in a way it isn’t now. It’s becoming party meetings with wide cross sections though people may say things you won’t like. I was also disappointed not to have heard how Government’s going about dealing with crime since that’s intimately connected to social conditions—family life, education, etc. “It’s not the Police Commissioner’s job to deal with these aspects.”

Browne, a one-time PNM Minister in Finance, added, “This was a campaign speech. But while it was in the context of high sounding objectives, attention to the basics of life were absent. We didn’t have water for nine days in our (PNM) areas recently and much of the address was backwards-looking, with the kind of things he should do in the first six months of office. But if anyone didn’t understand the issues, I hope they understand it clearly now though I’m not clear on the PM’s prescription moving forward though he talked of a lot of activity.”

“We depend heavily more than ever on the energy sector and a lot depends on negotiations of positions and adequacy of prices that have been negotiated. The reality—and he didn’t put it on the table—is that revenue operations will be much tighter going forward and that means many projects have to be self-financing. If they’re not, and have long gestation periods, it means the crucial issue is prioritisation and how to get more with less. While the PM spoke of productivity there were no clear measures identified to ensure the state sector especially, is more efficient.”

“High on the list of performance is the new Petrotrin companies and that requires very robust management attributes, activities planned etc. How they pan out to address diversification issues and the timeframe for that is left to be seen. The bottom line is this isn’t a five-year exercise and there are only two more years in the term. So projects are being started at the wrong end of the term.”

On CNC3 Morning Brew show, Minister in Finance Allyson West did not explain the difference in descriptions between Sunday and Monday’s respective segments “address to the nation” and “paid political announcement.”

She said the presentations were not made because elections are coming up or because it was a PNM campaign launch. She explained people had complained the Government was not keeping the people involved and the presentations were about telling the public “where we are.”

She said several attempts to communicate with the public had been made as the Government went along with spotlight programmes on the economy and energy sector in the past. West confirmed the information presented this week was not new. She said all information presented was initially raised at the Spotlight sessions. West felt that adequate time was dedicated in the presentations to PNM’s vision for moving T&T forward and the presentations were to remind nationals of the 2019 projects and this year’s focus and how jobs will be created.

West assured 2019 will be a better year than in the past. On attacks on the Opposition which were made in the PM’s addresses, West said the Government has to set the stage with the public on how it was moving forward. She said the UNC had spent a total average of $6b more in its term than the PNM had. She advised people to examine statistics in Budget documents to clear the air on “UNC misinformation.”

- by Gail Alexander