In reviewing the one year anniversary of the PNM electoral victory, the obvious and expected analysis on the performance of the Government by all and sundry has been consuming the airwaves, armchair political discourse and the nation’s thoughts. A number of polls, scientific and unscientific have shown mixed results regarding the performance of the Government, the most notable by Nigel Henry showing a 51% approval rating when the Government only received 51.7% of votes cast a year ago. However in order to make a proper assessment of this Government’s performance, one must go back to September 7th 2015 and remember where we were as a country at that crucial time in our political, social and economic history.
With the benefit of hindsight we can only now understand where we were last year. We know now that there were a number of serious events occurring by this time last year that would have posed a perilous threat to our quality of life, irrespective of who would have won the General Election. From almost $100 per barrel, oil prices has plummeted to $45 a barrel and was to drop to the low $26 in coming months. We know now that by September 2015, the country had not experience economic growth for the entire year and was in fact contracting. Thanks to disturbing revelations by the current Minister of Finance, we know now that in September 2015, the Overdraft Facility at Central Bank was effectively maxed out at close to $9 Billion. The country was experiencing a Foreign Currency shortage and Unions were clamoring for their just dues.
The UNC government had effectively collapsed with about 25 Government members having either been fired, replaced or resigned in their five year and three month term. The foul stench of corruption was abound as the familiarity of sagas such as Lifesport, Reshmi and Prison Gate still left a sour taste in the Nation’s mouth. Yet despite all this, the UNC Government failed to acknowledge and blatantly ignored the economic woes and problems of the nation as its unrestrained election expenditure continued to sink this nation deeper and deeper into a fiscal and economic hole. Grasping to any straw, the UNC Government clung for dear life to the very end, almost pushing the boundaries of its constitution time limit and the country’s patience.
In came the PNM Government on September 7th 2015 and its first act was to reduce the Cabinet size from 33 Ministers to a more manageable 23 Ministers. The Government from early on was very upfront with the citizens about the economic challenges faced and the adjustment needed to confront such adversities. This was a very divergent policy from the UNC Government, who chose to ignore the problem and spend as if oil was still at $100.
The first Budget, presented within a month of assuming office, slashed VAT, increased the Personal Allowance to $72,000, increased OJT Stipends and removed fees for seniors for essential services. Savings were sought from Subsidies and the burden of this adjustment had to be balanced. Additional revenue raising measures were put in place seeing that oil revenue had fallen to $3.4 Billion from $10 Billion the year before. The Minister of Labour took decisive steps to assist workers in light of increasing retrenchment notices and the National Tripartite Advisory Council was set up to engage key stakeholders on issues of national development. Fundamental institutions such as the poorly functioning CSO and Local Government are in the advanced stages of being reformed. Unlike the UNC, this PNM Government has moved to complete ongoing projects and have seen the completion of the Aquatic Centre, Tennis Centre and the Cycling Velodrome with work commencing on the Brian Lara Stadium. In areas where wastage was apparent the government has moved to plug the holes and create efficiency in service delivery which will result in savings.
Other major accomplishments were the commencement of the housing programme, outfitting and occupancy of Government buildings to reduce rental fees, VAT decreased to 12.5%, cutting out wastage in the delivery of food cards while Caroni workers were paid outstanding money.
The hallmark of this Government in its achievements in its first year is that it had not acted as a populist government, as the UNC Government did but made the hard, unpopular decisions during a difficult time in this country’s history. Good Governance has been restored and there is an increased confidence in the Government. Decisive steps have been taken in International relations and the country has even seen a significant decline in it Corruption Perception Index.
As I write this oil prices still hover around $45 per barrel but the long term expectation are for increases. In the energy sector the expected increased production will auger well for the country and the Government has finalized a deal for the long awaited Mitsubishi and Massy project in the downstream, that hadn’t seen any new significant investment in many years. The Minister of Finance has announced the overdraft facility had been reduced to zero, removing us from the precarious position on which we once stood. As a sense of optimism grows in the country it is the hope that the achievements and decisions of the first year of this PNM Administration will lay the foundation and groundwork for increased delivery, reform and efficiency in its services in the following four years and beyond. This will surely redound to the improvement of the lives of all citizens and continued development of the country.