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‘Honeymoon’ budget today


Rickey Singh

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THE FOUR-MONTH old People’s Partnership Government (PPG) will today present what could well be perceived as a “honeymoon” budget in its continuing political romance with the electorate of Trinidad and Tobago that marked its 48th independence anniversary last month.
And why not? The electorate had given the PPG, with its first ever woman Prime Minister in Kamla Persad-Bissessar, not only an historic landslide parliamentary victory over the incumbent People’s National Movement (PNM) on May 24, but by July 26, they had extended to the PPG control of the local government system.
The “no-new-taxes” budget, to be presented today by Finance Minister Winston Dookeran – also a first for him in his political career – has already driven the parliamentary opposition to further exploitation of the lingering controversial interpretation of a “promise” by the PPG to grant a TT$3 000 monthly pension to every pensioner.
This particular issue, over which the PNM’s new leader, Keith Rowley, has been chastising the PPG, was brought to the forefront this past weekend at the closing session of the government’s post-election retreat in Tobago that took the form of a workshop.
Persad-Bissessar chose to use her privilege as head of government not only to surprisingly take some of the political wind out of Dookeran’s “sail” by announcing the “no new taxes” in the budget.
She also passionately dismissed as inaccurate opposition claims that the PPG had committed itself to granting the $3 000 monthly pension in place of a grant.
The Prime Minister has stressed that she had personally made no such promise; nor was it a pledge located in the PPG’s manifesto.
She did not, however, explain why neither her United National Congress (UNC), as the dominant coalition, nor the PPG did not set about to correct the misunderstanding much earlier in the face of  Rowley’s fierce verbal broadsides to suggest “betrayal of a promise”.
Any independent reading of the coalition’s manifesto would confirm that there is no such pledge in that document. It is, after all, a ruling party’s manifesto that is traditionally used by its opponents to remind a government of real or perceived failures in honouring policies and programmes.
Those versed in party politics would know that, however tempting the ploy, it would be difficult to sustain the propaganda advantage of confusing an advertisement with a manifesto, as seems to be the case in relation to the $3 000 monthly pension.
The Prime Minister may have done well in the clarification offered, but why only now?
She also took time to sound a warning to cabinet colleagues against contradictory statements and postures as well as raising a “red alert” (her words) to ministers to ensure that the remaining seven  pledges of the 34 outlined in the general election manifesto for achievement in the PPG’s first 120 days in office are fulfilled.
Will the Trinidad and Tobago public witness less of propagandistic thrusts by a few high-profile cabinet colleagues from now as the PPG settles down to showing fundamental differences between its administration and those of the PNM under Patrick Manning?
Time will tell. For now ears and eyes will be open to what significant changes Finance Minister Dookeran will offer today to show the different approaches in social and economic planning to those of at least the last two PNM administrations.

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