Imbert: PM’s speech, a campaign launch

It’s official—the Prime Minister’s televised presentations on Sunday and Monday have kickstarted the ruling PNM’s political campaign for the three elections ahead, starting with Local Government polls expected by year end.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert confirmed this on CNC3’s Morning Brew while referring to Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s addresses.

He emphasised it was not a campaign launch in the sense of a “rally” but, “the fact is, this is an election year”.

“We’re into three elections, Local Government, general elections in 2020 and Tobago House of Assembly polls due after. We have to start to focus on the issues that will be important to the electorate.” Imbert detailed some periods over which Local Government and general elections might be held.

Part One of the PM’s presentation last Sunday was billed as an address to the nation. Part Two on Monday was described as a “paid political announcement.”

On Wednesday, Imbert’s colleague, Minister in Finance Allyson West said the presentations were not made because elections are coming up or because they were a PNM campaign launch.

She said the presentations were about telling the public where Government is at.

Imbert yesterday admitted the presentations were not addresses to the nation, but “something different” the PM was “trying...something new” to get Government’s message to segments of people who did not get it before.

He said Rowley felt the approach would have appealed to a wider audience and use of graphics would allow most viewers to better understand figures and concepts since a pictorial display was much easier for the viewer.

The intent was to reach the entire population.

Imbert said there was “wide body” of people who “still” do not understand the problems the PNM encountered on entering office and after.

He admitted the last “three years have been difficult” because Government has not been able to spend as much as in the past. Imbert agreed the focus going forward should include what Government intends to do in the next two years of the term.

He dismissed the Opposition Leader’s call for a national debate with Rowley, saying she did not want to debate with him when she was Prime Minister.

The Finance Minister said Government will revise the 2019 Budget’s oil price basis from US$65 to US$55 following volatility in prices. He noted natural gas prices are “much higher than expected.” But following oil price fluctuations, he said Government’s 2019 programme will also be revised.

“But I’m not going to cut. We’ll have to look at our deficit. We projected a low one for 2019. I’ll have to revise it as I don’t want to stop the momentum in the economy. We took it from severe depression to stability and growth. If we cut back, the economy will stall again and I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Imbert indicated he had two options: withdraw from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund or increase borrowings in 2019.

He said he had to use the most suitable solution. He remained firm that Government would not devalue the T&T currency, but said 2019 was a year for Government to clear its debts.

- by Gail Alexander

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